Posts Tagged ‘storage’

When You Have Too Much Of A Good Thing

As much as we love our keepsakes and mementos, any collection can become overwhelming if it isn't kept in check. One of my clients actually considered building on an extra room to house dozens of antique cups — until she realized it was a choice between the renovation and her son's college tuition! Another client spent hundreds of dollars a month on storage units, because she couldn't bear to part with any of her children's clothes or toys. When your collection takes over your life, it's time to seriously re-evaluate your priorities! The trick is to establish a set of rules for sorting, storing, purging and protecting your mementos. It's important that you take care of your keepsakes — after all, your treasured memories deserve some respect!

The key to a memorable collection is that you must be discerning about your “favorites” — resist the urge to own EVERY colored glass bottle or miniature carousel horse on the planet! Perhaps you can select a few representative samples from your collection, display them beautifully, and discard (or at least pack away) the rest. Take some time to examine your treasures, asking yourself which ones really mean something to you. You may find that a once beloved collection has lost its appeal. If you no longer feel the need to own they physical items but don't want to forget the joy behind your collection, take pictures or shoot a video tape for posterity — then you can feel free to let go of the past without completely discarding years of memories.

The Discriminating Collector

Collecting, like everything in life, should be about quality, not just quantity. Determining in advance how many of something you are “allowed” to keepwill help you maintain a sense of balance with your collection. You maydecide to establish a physical limit for your belongings — you willkeep no more than 10 ceramic frogs (numerical limit), you won't buyany more shoes than will fit on this one shelf (spatial limit), etc. Or youmight function better with an in/out ratio — gettingrid of one magazine every time you bring a new one home. Either way,you are creating a very specific method for keeping your collection atan acceptable size, and you'll feel less pressure to keep constantly expanding. You never need worry about losing control again!

Once you've trimmed your collection down to the best of the best, you need a storage solution that won't get in the way of daily life. Start by selecting a space that is accessible, but not part of your active everyday storage. If you clearly separate mementos from those items you use regularly, they are less likely to get damaged or lost — and you won't be tripping over them every time you turn around. You may use any kind of container, but one with a lid will keep out dirt and dust. I happen to prefer a cedar chest, because it insures that no creepy-crawlies will decide to munch on my keepsakes. Insect infestation is a particularly important concern if you've got old clothing or dried flowers in the mix. You may want to have that baby blanket or wedding gown professionally cleaned and sealed before you pack it away. And be very careful about storing priceless treasures in your garage, attic, or basement — unprotected areas where delicate items could be damaged by moisture or extremes in temperature. If it might melt, freeze, warp, fade, or crack, think “climate control.”  Finally, be careful about the kind of packaging you use — acid-free tissue paper is a better choice than newsprint (which can leave an ink residue behind), bubble wrap (which contains harmful chemicals that might damage photos or fabric), or packing peanuts (which can melt over time).

The Most Common Collecting Challenge

Even people who don't consider themselves “collectors” usually have a huge pile of family photos that they have inherited or accumulated over the years (and possibly across several generations). Going through years of backlogged pictures and putting them in order can either be a nightmare or a fun trip down memory lane — depending on how you approach it. Whether you plan to scan your pics into the computer and store them digitally, or just get everything stored neatly in boxes or albums, you want to make sure that you follow a few basic rules for organizing photographs.

Before you do anything, go wash your hands. The oils on your fingers can permanently damage your snapshots. Now it's time to sort — the goal is to separate the good from the bad (remember that even Ansel Adams threw away his crappy pictures!) If it's underdeveloped, fuzzy, too bright, or you're making a goofy face, you can toss it. You won't go to hell. While we're at it, let's talk duplicates — why do you need 6 sets of prints from the company picnic? Keep one and give the rest to the other people in the picture.

The easiest way to begin is to sort your snapshots by date. You can get a general idea of the time period by the film grain (black and white, sepia, full-color) and the paper on which the photo is printed (white edging is older than no edging, textured paper is older than smooth). Other clues can be found within the pictures themselves. Are those hotpants from the 1960's?  Didn't your brother have that awful mullet haircut his senior year in high school? Cousin Julie's pregnant, so that must have been 2006. This picture must have been from the family reunion because everyone's together at the lake. Separate your snapshots into piles according to the time period and the occasion. Then, label each photo on the back with a crayon or special grease pencil — a sharp pencil or pen will damage the picture. And don't forget to label the negatives, as well.

Once your pictures are in chronological order, you're ready to store them away. Always use acid-free pages, mylar/polypropylene pockets, or an acid free box — never magnetic pages, which will eventually destroy your snapshots. You will probably want to put some identifying labels on the pages or box dividers as you go along, so have a pen and some stickers handy. Keep your negatives in the original packaging, labeled in chronological order, in a photo box — or you may buy special negative sleeves that fit into a ring-binder. And keep in mind that both photographs and negatives are easily damaged by moisture and heat. The attic or basement probably is not the best place for them. You may opt to keep your negatives in a fire safe or safety deposit box, in case your photos are destroyed. After this point, be sure to keep some extra photo albums and blank pages on hand, and reward yourself for organizing your pictures and negatives as soon as you bring them home.

A Faster Way To Get It All Done

Most people's days are so filled to overflowing with responsibilities, that there's is almost no way to get it all done in the hours available. Some things (like work and school and appointments) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have little control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. The trick to successful time management is making effective and productive use of “micro-moments” — little chunks of time scattered throughout your day, in-between the other bigger commitments. Instead of watching TV, why not get something meaningful accomplished? Any time you can cross a to-do off your list during one of these normally “wasted” periods of time, you're one step ahead of the game.
  • wrap and mail a gift you've been meaning to send off
  • pay the bills that have been sitting on the counter waiting for your attention
  • clean out a cabinet or a drawer that's been driving you up the wall
  • repair a ripped hem
  • respond to a couple of emails or return a few phone calls
  • set out your clothes for the next day
  • make tomorrow's lunch today
  • sew a missing button
  • tackle a small home “fix-it” project (tighten a screw, hang a picture, etc.)
  • do the dishes and wipe down the counters
  • run the vacuum or sweep the floor
  • throw a load of laundry in the washer or dryer
  • put away a pile of clutter that's been staring you in the face for too long
  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • reorganize your CDs or DVDs in categorical / alphabetical order
  • gather up outdated magazines and newspapers to put in the recycling

See how easy that was? Wink

Kid-Friendly Organizing

Most kid-sized organizing fails because it is aiming for the wrong result. It's natural for parents to want to be able to walk through the house without stepping on Barbie shoes and toy soldiers — but the larger goal should be to help your children to get and stay organized into adulthood. Simply telling a kid to clean his room isn't teaching him any useful life skills (well-intentioned though the concept might be) — he's just doing it because you said so and doesn't really understand “why.”

The hardest part for parents is recognizing the difference between “neat” and “organized.” So much of the kid-related advice out there focuses solely on eliminating the piles (15-minute clean-ups before bed and baskets for collecting loose toys) — but clutter is just a symptom of disorganization. You know the saying, “Give a man a fish, you have fed him for today.  Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime.” I've got a new saying for the moms and dads out there — “Tell your kid to clean his room, he will have a clean room today. Teach your kid to be organized, and the house will automatically be neater every day.”

The trick to helping your kids get organized is to involve them in theprocess — organizing with them rather than for them. This meansworking together, explaining the logic behind the systems you set up,and letting your kids have a hand in deciding where things should bestored. Parents must look at kids' rooms in a new way — one that matches their schedules, activities, and lifestyles. One size does not fit all when it comes to organizing children (especially children of different ages and ability levels). Kids have more “stuff” than ever before, they play inside more than out, most have their own rooms, few have a stay-at-home parent, and they all live very fast-paced lives. It's important that you take these societal factors into account when designing the right systems for your kid's room.

Developing A Profile

The first step to creating an organized environment for your child is understanding his or her needs. If you think that reading a book or watching a TV show (then setting up that exact system in your own home)  is going to solve your clutter woes — think again! Organizing is a very personal activity — and if any system is going to work for a child it must be customized. Your child can learn to be organized, with the right methods and supplies. You  have to choose  those techniques and tools that best suit that kids personalities and preferences — and the way to do that is to ask the following questions about your kid's habits before beginning:

  • What are your child's interests? (what activities does he currently enjoy? what is he losing interest in?)
  • How are your child's behavior patterns changing? (starting/finishing a school year? moving away from toys? toward adult activities?)
  • What kind of personality does your child have? (introverted? extroverted? laid-back? tense? easy-to-please? difficult?)
  • What does your child's schedule look like? (lots of structured functions? not much free-time? school? extra-curricular activities?)
  • What is your child's ability level? (can he open drawers? reach the closet rod? read? understand categorizing?)
  • What are your child's social habits? (lots of friends over to visit? more time visiting friends? socially active? loner?)
  • What habits has your child developed? (throwing clothes on the floor? picking up before bed? collecting Beanie Babies?)
  • What are your child's priorities? (spend less time cleaning? have a big space to play? be able to reach everything?)
Once you identify your kid's behaviors, attitudes, habits, and way of maneuvering through the world, you are more likely to create systems that “synch” with these behaviors — and more likely to make lasting organizational changes with your child.

Creating Centers

One constant in organizing kids' rooms is the need for centers — distinct areas within a child's living space, each set up for a different kind of daily activity. If you've ever sent your little one to preschool (especially a Montessori facility), you will recognize this concept — a section of the room for finger painting, another for playing with blocks, a third for nap time, and a separate area for lunch. It's a great way to teach kids how to categorize objects and supplies, as well as how to store things closest to the point where they are used. Setting up centers makes clean-up easier — and a change in geography smooths the transition from one activity to the next. These are the building blocks for developing good organizing skills later in life.

Children naturally crave order. But when kids get home to find their books thrown in with puzzles, art supplies stored in the same drawer as socks, everything mixed together — it's no wonder they don't know how to keep it all organized! To help develop good organizing habits at home, try breaking your child's room into four basic areas:

  • grooming area (centered near the closet and contains the dresser, a hamper, and any additional grooming supplies — hairbrush, accessories, etc.)
  • play area (contains games, active toys, and a large floor space or table space to spread out)
  • rest area (should be free from “stimulating” activities like busy or noisy games, the TV, etc. — put bedtime story books on the nightstand and a soft light nearby — whatever your child associates with relaxing and winding down for the night)
  • work area (includes a desk or table, office and art supplies, a good light, and perhaps a bookshelf or computer, as you see fit)
You might also decide to set up other more specialized centers for your child as you see fit — a “reading” center (with a lamp, bookshelf, and a comfy chair), a “dress-up” center (with costumes and props and a big mirror), or an “art” center (with crayons, paper, paint, clay, and a big drop-cloth for making a mess!)  

Different Age Groups

The final step in helping your child develop good organizing skills comes when you recognize and acknowledge his or her current skill level. While it's important to challenge your kids and encourage them to expand their abilities, nothing frustrates a child more than being given a task or responsibility that is beyond what he or she can handle — intellectually, emotionally, or physically. You must design systems that take your child's size, strength, and mental faculties into account if you ever hope for your organizing efforts to succeed. The good news is that this is easy — if you make use of those organizing methods which have been proven appropriate for each age group.

For example, toddlers (age 1-3) operate according to the belief that out of sight equals out of mind — so use open containers and exposed shelving if you expect them to put things away where they belong.  And while littler kids may not be able to read yet, that doesn't mean you can't label — use a photo or drawing of the item as a label (picture of a car, picture of a doll, picture of Legos, etc.)

Preschool kids (age 3-5)  are ready to start dressing themselves, but have a hard time manipulating drawers and reaching high closet rods — so low rods and open crates are best. Adding lettering to your picture labels will allow your child to begin to associating the words with the object — a good way to encourage reading skills, as well. Just remember that, at this size, your kids may still need a little supervision whiletidying their rooms. Don't leave them to do it themselves then getirritated when the task wasn't completed to satisfaction — show your little oneshow until you know they've mastered putting their toys away.

School-age kids (6-11) know how to read — so labeling shelves and containers will help make sure their belongings end up back in the proper home. Older children will also have strong opinions about where they want things stored, so let them have a little independence. It's not unreasonable to expect children to school-aged kids to keep their rooms and homework areas neat without reminder, as part of their weekly household responsibilities — a chore chart and consistent rewards/consequences will make this easy.

Adolescents (age 11-17) can be made responsible for more complex organizing jobs — like cleaning out their closets and deciding which items to donate to charity. If you've trained them well, you will also see them applying the organizing techniques they learned at home in other places — at school, in their after-school jobs and extracurricular activities, etc. And be sure to give yourself a pat on the back as a parent — by customizing your organizing efforts to match your child's developmental level, you are one step closer to success each year!

A Faster Way To Get Kids Organized

Contrary to popular belief children were not put on this planet to perpetuate chaos — hell-bent on undoing your housework and leaving piles of clutter trailing behind them. Kids actually thrive on order, but it's not something they can easily maintain until you teach them how — and children have short attention spans, so you can't expect a 6-year-old to stay focused as long as an adult might. You'll get a better response (and your children will experience a greater sense of achievement) if you ask your kids to complete just one small task at a time — something concrete and specific.  With the right action plan, there will be no misunderstanding about what you expect from your offspring, and your kids will soon be picking up after themselves without you even asking! Have your kids:

  • sit down with you to draw up a chore chart for the week
  • help prepare a week's worth of packed lunch “basics” (veggies, cookies, crackers, fruit, etc.)
  • collect up all their scattered pairs of shoes and coats to put away in their closets
  • go around the house, gathering their stray toys from each room into a basket
  • put away any games or toys as soon as play time is over
  • sort their dirty clothes into “whites,” “colors,” and “darks” on laundry day
  • put away their newly cleaned laundry
  • clean out all the broken crayons and used-up paint in their art supplies
  • go through their school supplies and clean out anything they no longer use in class
  • label each of their drawers with a picture of what's stored inside (shirts, pants, undies, socks, etc.)
  • sort their craft paraphernalia into separate tubs (for beads, glitter, markers, construction paper, etc.)
  • pull out any toys that are too childish for them to donate
  • try on last year's school clothes and get rid of what no longer fits
  • go through their art papers and pick only those favorites to hang or put in a scrapbook
  • go through their school papers and pick only those favorites to keep as memorabilia
  • choose their school outfits for the next week
  • gather up everything they need for school the next day and sit it by the front door
  • group their books together by author or type (coloring, picture, story, etc.)
  • put all their CDs, DVDs, and software discs back in the correct cases
  • sort their sports equipment into containers according to the game and label with pictures

See how easy that was? Wink

Making Mealtime A Bit Easier

Today, pay attention to the way that you move while you cook — and the energy you expend in the process. How many times do you cross the length of your kitchen in one evening? Do you find yourself doing squats to get at your pans? Stretches to reach your dishes? Are you becoming a world-class hurdler, jumping over the dog's dish every time you go from refrigerator to stove?

And what about the time it takes to get dinner on the table — how many hours have you wasted looking for the right utensil — or trying to find your double boiler in the back of an overstuffed cabinet — or making a last-minute run to the store because you ran out of a vital ingredient? Would you be more likely to cook if your pantry wasn't cluttered with outdated canned and boxed goods that you know you'll never use? It only takes a few minutes of cleaning out and rearranging to make your kitchen storage function more efficiently, saving you a lot of time and energy in the long run.

Honey, Is This Good?

We all know how disgusting it is to pull an item out of the fridge — only to discover that it has mutated into something no longer edible and (quite frankly) a bit scary. However, we often mistakenly confuse “non-perishable” with “indestructible”. Even Twinkies have an expiration date!

Do yourself a favor today — go through your cabinets and toss out anything that is old, rancid, stale, or hairy. And as you purge, be sure to keep a shopping list of items you need to replace. It's also not a bad idea to make cleaning out the kitchen a part of your regular “home maintenance” routine. You may use these food “life expectancies” as a guide — but when in doubt, trust your gut (or your nose!):    

  • canned foods (2-5 years)
  • flours (3-6 months)
  • cereal (6 months)
  • grains/legumes (1 year)
  • pasta (1 year)  
  • dried herbs (6 months)
  • spices (6-12 months) 
  • condiments (1 year)

Five Centers

Every kitchen implement or supply that you use tends to fall into one of five categories — cleaning, food storage, cooking, food preparation, and serving. So if you can set up your kitchen and dining room to reflect these activities, both storage and food preparation will become a whole lot easier.

It's just like your kids are taught at Montessori — make it easy to find the tools you need for your work, and to put your supplies away when you're done. The goal is to keep your equipment nearest the appropriate center, making it easier for you to perform your kitchen duties.

  • Your cleaning station consists of the sink, dishwasher, and trashcan. Of course, soap, disinfectants, sponges, and rags should be stored in a cabinet nearby.
  • The stove is central to any cooking activities, so keep utensils, baking sheets, pots, and pans within easy reach. If you can, also move the microwave and toaster into this area.
  • Your food preparation center should be located near a large workspace (countertop or island). You will probably want to store knives, a cutting board, mixing bowls, blender, food processor, measuring cups, and other related implements close by.
  • Food storage, on the other hand, will center on the refrigerator — and should include room for Tupperware containers, canned foods, dry goods, and fresh fruits or vegetables.
  • Your serving center may be split between the kitchen and dining area. It is often easier to store serving dishes, linens, and candles near the table – while flatware, glasses, and plates usually work well closer to the sink (it's easier to put them away after washing).

Transform Your Existing Storage Space

In your cabinets and drawers, try to limit yourself to one category of paraphernalia per area. That may mean putting canned goods on one shelf and boxes on another — or keeping dishes separate from glasses. This just makes it easier for your brain to remember where things belong. Organize your kitchen in a way that makes sense to you, but try to avoid storing food and cookware together in the same cabinet.

Also see what you can do to make your current storage spaces work better for you. Stepped shelving allows you to see items hidden in the back of a deep cabinet — and drawer dividers will keep your utensils under control. Remember that rectangular storage containers take up less space than round ones — and pot lids and flat cookware are more accessible when lined up in a rack. Finally, don't forget the many ways to bring “dead” space back to life — including pull-out racks, lazy susans, cup hooks, stacking bins, hanging storage, and space-saving appliances.

The Triangle Theory

One final concern in your kitchen is movement from one “center” to the next. Some people claim that you should be able to reach every major appliance in your kitchen with just one step.  But that seems highly impractical to me, especially if you have a very large kitchen or a very large number of appliances. However, you can make your life a bit easier as you cook and serve and clean — if you keep motion in mind.

Try viewing your kitchen as a triangle — from the sink to the stove to the refrigerator. Your goal is to keep those paths clear! If you have to dodge garbage cans, recycling bins, or any other obstacles to get back and forth, you are doing too much work. And those of you with an island may need to have your triangle at a very oblique or obtuse angle, but you can still make it work — just pretend that your triangle has curved sides that go around the island. We're flexible here! Wink