My husband used to get annoyed with me for re-loading the dishwasher after he had already loaded it. Eventually, he stopped doing that task and now just says, "I'll let you work your magic." He knows I can always get a lot more in. But it isn't "magic" at all...it's just a matter of knowing how to use the rack space efficiently.
If you've been following @EasyPeasyLiving on Facebook, Instagram or this blog, you know that I've been sharing tips all month on how to create more space in your home. We started with the Declutter Challenge to get rid of all that excess stuff you don't really need. Then in last week's blog, I explained how seeking out multi-functional items to serve double-duty around the house, instead of buying multiple items that each only serve one purpose, can save a lot of storage space. This week, I'm going to share some tips for eking out even more space here and there -- without even getting rid of anything -- just by using the space you have more efficiently.
While it is true that neatness does not necessarily equal organization and vice versa, it does tend to be the case that most truly organized homes are also neater. Mostly that's because it's easier to keep it neat when it's organized. But did you know that being neat can also save space? Consider a pile of papers...not that I'm encouraging you to have too many of these, mind you. Which takes up less space on a desk, a cascade of messy papers, or a neat stack of papers? When items are neatly stacked or folded, you can almost always fit more into a smaller space. Adopting a few simple strategies can make a big difference in just how much space you are able to save.
As you can see from the photos above, I was able to fit 20% more into the basket simply by folding the towels. Not only that, the basket fits better on the shelf where it lives and towels are more easily-accessible when they are folded. However, folding alone doesn't always result in a space savings. You must also ensure you are folding items to the right size to fit your space efficiently. Don't always fold towels the exact same way just because they are towels, or you could end up with extra, unusable space next to them on the shelf. Instead, play around and figure out how to fold them in order to fit the maximum number on that specific shelf where they are stored. You may be surprised how many more you can get in simply by changing the way you fold them. I fold the dish towels above differently than I fold the hand towels that live under my powder room sink, even though they are roughly the same size. That's because they are being stored in a different sized basket. This same principle applies to clothing, sheets, blankets...anything! It's worth taking a few minutes to figure out a folding strategy for each space! Once you do, you'll be all set.
Purchase Matching Sets
While matching sets look nice and neat, that's not the reason I'm advocating this. Stacking items that are part of a set is generally easier and more space-efficient than stacking individual random items. This is because items in a set are usually the same size or have been specifically designed to be nested together or stacked. Think about it: dishes, food storage containers, storage bins, mixing bowls, measuring spoons, towels, etc. tend to come in sets that are intended to be stored together. You'll save tons of space by nesting food storage containers and then "filing" the lids, by size, upright in a bin or basket so that you can easily find the size you need. Sometimes lids within a set are designed to fit a variety of different bottoms.
Bundle and Contain
Have you ever noticed that odd-shaped stuff has a way of spreading out all on its own? I'm talking about bags and packets in the pantry, loose contents in drawers, charger cables, empty plastic shopping bags, etc. This "clutter creep" wastes a lot of space. The way to stop it is to bundle or contain it. When you store items like this in bins, baskets, boxes or drawer dividers, you are not only defining and limiting the amount of space they consume, you can literally fit more into that space. Imagine pouring a bag of sugar out onto the countertop. What happens? It spreads out across the surface of the counter into an inefficient mound. But pouring it into a canister eliminates gaps and contains the contents, consuming a smaller surface area. The same principle applies to your oddly-shaped items. Bundling and containing them also makes items easier to find and access.
Is your closet rod too tightly packed? Consider removing all the empty hangers from the rod and placing them in a basket on the floor of your closet. It's rare that you will be storing every article of clothing you own on the rod at the same time. Usually you'll be wearing some or laundering some, so why take up precious rod space with an empty hanger? And speaking of hangers, why waste space with a thick hanger when a skinny one will do the job just as well? Invest in thinner hangers to save space. Also, keep in mind that hanging clothes is more space-efficient than folding them and storing them in drawers and makes clothes easier to see and find.
Another big "filler" is the air in your off-season clothes and spare linens. Pack them in vacuum bags that eliminate the air when they are in storage. Similarly, save space in the pantry by dumping items like pasta, cereal and chips into airtight containers rather than storing big boxes that are half full of air. If freezing food in zip-loc bags, lie them flat during freezing so that they will stack neatly and save space.
Go with Corners
Whenever possible, choose square or rectangular storage containers over round ones, as they utilize the space more efficiently and leave fewer gaps between them. Also look for straight-sided bins rather than angled ones. It may not seem like this would make a big difference, but the space savings sure do add up.
Maximize Your Vertical Space
This is a big way to free up space in your home. Adjusting shelf height, using walls, backs of doors and cabinets, etc. can reap big space savings. In fact, there are so many ways to create space by going vertical that it warrants its very own blog post. I'll be covering this in more detail next week, so stay tuned.
With a little bit of tweaking in the right places, saving space without even getting rid of anything can be easy peasy.
I no longer wish for a bigger house with a bigger kitchen. It's true that, for years, I longed for oodles of counter space to spread out during my marathon baking sessions, a walk-in pantry, and plenty of space to store all manner of appliances and cooking/baking tools. In fact, when we were house-hunting for our "starter" home back in 2002, I told the realtor that a big kitchen was a must. She almost didn't show us this townhouse because of the small kitchen, but the minute we walked through the front door, we knew this was the one. Our next house will have a bigger kitchen, I thought. I can make do with this one until then.
But somewhere along the line, I came to appreciate the smallness of my space. The fact of the matter is, there's far less cleaning and upkeep here than with a bigger home, which is a HUGE benefit worth the trade-off, in my humble opinion. We seem to have adequate space for our needs 90% of the time. (Entertaining is still a challenge.) And we'll be empty-nesters in just a few years, so there's no point in upgrading to a bigger home now. But the biggest factor in me being able to let go of my dreams for a bigger kitchen is just the fact that I've learned to live quite comfortably within my available space, and I like this simpler lifestyle. With the help of these five simple strategies for organizing your kitchen, you just might learn to love your space too:
1) Maximize your vertical space
When a client tells me they need more space, the first thing I do is look behind all the doors. I'm always surprised to find many of them bare. Finding available vertical space is like finding money you didn't know you had! Here are just a few ways to make the most of this pot o' gold:
2) Corral the little or irregularly-shaped stuff
Nothing's worse than "losing" a small container of yogurt in the back of the fridge until it starts to smell bad. When you use a small bin for storing packets of spices, half-opened bags of rice or beans, etc., you can squeeze a lot in without worrying about encountering an avalanche in your pantry. It's also easier to find what you need when you can take the entire bin out into the light instead of feeling your way around the back of a dark cabinet. Use bins in the pantry, fridge, freezer or a high shelf for all those random small items, packets and bags.
3) Buy stackable containers for your pantry
I hate having to move stuff to see what's behind it in my pantry! All those Pinterest photos showing off Martha Stewart-esque pantries full of beautiful matching glass jars make me shake my head. First of all, you shouldn't have to break the bank to achieve a beautifully-organized and functional pantry, especially if it will all be behind closed doors. But also, tall containers force you to store things in front of each other. And have you tried measuring out a cup of flour stored from a canister with a narrow opening? Large, shallow, rectangular containers that can be stacked, taking up all the shelf space from front to back rather than from top to bottom, will enable you to see what you have without having to move anything to see what's in the back row. Labeling makes it a slam-dunk on grocery list-making day. As a bonus, you can easily get your hand in there to measure out the flour, sugar or rice, mess- and hassle-free.
4) Decorate with everyday items
Have you ever noticed that a well-styled kitchen always boasts an inviting bowl of fresh fruits or vegetables on the counter...attractive glass jars of staples...a pedestal of yummy baked goods? Showing off the offerings from your kitchen not only increases its appeal, it also saves valuable fridge, pantry and cabinet space. Take advantage of this little secret! Just be careful not to make your surfaces look too cluttered. Here are a few suggestions for dressed-up items you can store out in the open:
5) Store kitchen items in another room
I know, I know...this is not so covenient. That's why you'll want to limit this strategy to items you rarely use. And while we're on that topic, think long and hard about whether such items should be stored in your house, or perhaps in someone else's, if you get my meaning. I'm pretty ruthless about getting rid of stuff I don't use, but even I have a few appliances or baking tools I couldn't live without yet only use once or twice a year. It's worth the effort of having to retrieve them from another part of the house on the rare occasions I really need them in order to have more space in my kitchen every other day of the year. Here are some candidates to consider removing from your kitchen:
Most of us prepare food several times a day. If you're gonna spend that much time in one room, why not make it a pleasant and stress-free place to be. With a little organization and some space-saving tricks like these up your sleeve, even cooking in a tiny kitchen can be easy peasy.
If you're trying to establish more order and reduce stress in your life, one of the best places to start is with your car.
Why? The only thing worse than departing your house in a stress-filled rush is departing in a stress-filled rush in a mess-filled vehicle! Most of us spend more time than we care to think about in our cars, fighting traffic, ferrying arguing kids here and there, and worrying about making it to our destination on time. A clean and tidy car can go a long way toward calming your nerves and creating a more pleasant driving environment.
Secondly, car seats can become a breeding ground for all sort of--em--"scientific experiments" that can create an unhealthy environment for your passengers. Many families eat on the go in the car. By keeping up with the crumbs and trash, you can avoid some unpleasant surprises (like the maggots my friend recently discovered under her child's car seat...gross)! Carrying less stuff around in your car makes it quicker and easier give it a quick wipe-down and vacuum when it needs it. Cleaning out your car should take you minutes, not hours!
Finally, nothing is more time-consuming and frustrating than losing track of items because you left them in the car. In an ideal world, the only items you should be keeping in your car between journeys are the things that you only use in the car or when you are away from home. Start treating everything else you bring home like a gallon of milk and put it away as soon as you reach home. You wouldn't leave a gallon of milk sitting in the car for days, right?
How? Emptying your car after each trip is not so difficult if you keep up with it...it's just a matter of getting started and staying disciplined. Start by giving the inside of your vehicle a good, thorough clean. This will help you want to keep it that way. Next, train all your passengers to share in the responsibility for keeping it tidy:
Running an efficient household requires some organization and lots of communication, especially in today's hectic world. In some ways, this has become easier with the advent of shared calendars, electronic reminders, to-do and shopping lists, and menu planning apps. But there's something to be said for leveling the playing field with an old-fashioned, low-tech solution that everyone in your household can access the same way. One has only to glance at Pinterest to see that household "command centers" are more popular than ever for keeping families connected and informed.
No two command centers are the same. Aside from being an effective means of communication and organization, yours should also reflect the personality of your family and blend in with the rest of your home, something that takes a little planning.
Here are a few tips for setting up an effective command center in your home:
To get you started with a few ideas, here's what I've incorporated in my family's "Command Central". We were very tight on space, so I had to be selective in what I included:
Dinner Menu: I've included a spot for posting the weekly menu. To save space, I display only today's dinner (to warn the kids) and tomorrow's (to remind me what I need to thaw out or prep). The cards area easy to swap out and can be saved to give me meal ideas for future weeks.
My husband and I share a Google calendar, but I post just the key events and reminders for the coming week for the kids' benefit. I purposely chose to make this a "white board" (just a glass picture frame that can be written on with a dry erase marker) rather than a traditional-style calendar to give me more room to write in. I find that merely transferring the weekly highlights from my online calendar to the board helps me better focus on the week ahead.
Mail holder: I collect the mail and sort it immediately into a file system I have that works great, but occasionally my husband gets mail he needs to deal with himself. Rather than leave it lying around on a table for him to ignore, I put it in the top slot of the mail sorter. After several weeks in here, I feel I can safely throw it away, and it least it isn't getting in my way in the meantime. ;-)
I use the other slots for important/emergency phone numbers so that we don't have to look them up and for my kids who are at the age where I am just beginning to leave them home alone for short periods of time.
The full-year calendar (with paydates circled) attached to the front comes in handy for quick reference without consuming lots of extra space.
If you really stop and think about it, the decision to get organized is a hopeful one. We hope that by decluttering our homes, sticking to a new routine, managing our time more efficiently or writing a To-Do list, we will finally, FINALLY gain control over the uncontrollable and attain peace of mind in our chaotic world. I may be a professional organizer, but as the mother of two (three if you count the big kid I'm married to), I am the first to admit that "being organized" is a matter of relativity. There's no such thing as a "totally organized" life, and even if there were, I seriously doubt you'd want to live it.
One of the most common issues I uncover when I go to a new client's house is that they have at least one large, unwanted, unneeded object sitting right in the middle of the most important area needing organization...their minds. The object is a negative thought that they keep tripping over. It takes up space that could be put to much better use. It obstructs easy access to other things sharing the space. It inserts itself into every task, and creates unwanted "noise". It detracts from the peacefulness of the space and, let's face it, it can be downright unappealing.
Obviously, the first step is to remove this negative thought from your mind. Do any of these sound familiar?
Let's just face it: keeping up with everyday life is not for sissies. No matter what your station is in life...student, professional, parent, retiree...your must do/should do list always seems to outweigh your available time.
As a working mother, my list seems to grow exponentially with each item I cross off. I've found that the key to keeping your sanity is organization, and the first step in getting organized is to trick yourself into a sense of control over your environment. Quieting the "visual noise" that surrounds you will help you focus on what you need to do to actually take control. Are you with me?
No matter how messy your house is or how much you have on your plate, spending just 10 minutes each day to tidy up first will help put you in the right frame of mind and allow you to turn your attention to more important things on your list. Start with the things that will make a big visual impact while requiring little time/effort:
"Instead of spending time being bothered by things that you cannot control, invest your time and energy in creating the results you desire." - Jensen Siaw
I hate grocery shopping! Once upon a time it was fun, back when I was young and single and only cooked because I wanted to. Back then, I could meander through the aisles for hours, dreaming about the days when I had a family to cook for and imagining all the tasty, fun foods I'd make. In my little dream world, my well-rounded and appreciative children would be eager to try new foods, and there would always be oodles of time for teaching them to cook in my spacious, always-clean-and-tidy kitchen. It was a Betty Crocker Utopia. Ha!
In reality, grocery shopping with two impatient and whiny kids is like playing Supermarket Sweep, American Ninja Warrior, The Price is Right, and Survivor all at once...where the only prizes you win are gray hair, frazzled nerves and a big fat bill at the end. Oh, and then you get to cart all your stuff home and put it away. And we haven't even come to the Hell's Kitchen part of the show!
The only way I can win this game is to limit the number of times I play to once a week. That means making sure I don't forget anything, which means creating a list. I've tried those pre-printed lists you check off, using electronic lists (many versions) and even creating my own list each week, but nothing seemed quite strong enough to numb the pain to a bearable level. The lists were never comprehensive enough or not arranged the way I liked, and crossing off (or deleting) items as I put them in the cart was too cumbersome a task to perform while simultaneously trying to prevent my kids from hiding in the freezer case or climbing the piles of giant rice bags. And in my frenzied rush to get out of the store before being kicked out by the manager, I was always forgetting some key ingredient I needed.
I finally came up with a solution that's been working really well and has even gotten some positive comments from fellow shoppers, so I thought it was worth sharing with you guys. After consulting my pantry, fridge, freezer and cabinets, I created a comprehensive list of everything I typically buy. (I've been using this list for a few months now and haven't discovered any major omissions yet.) It's organized alphabetically by category. While store layouts vary, the categories are fairly standard. You may skip around from category to category on the list, but you will usually find the majority of items within a category together in the store.
The best part about this list is that it's reusable and easy to check off. You see, it fits on the front and back of a single sheet and thus can be laminated or placed into a plastic page protector and used with a dry erase marker.* Hang it on the fridge and add to it all week long as you think of things you need to buy. Check off any additional items you know you will need before heading to the store. Scanning the list itself will even trigger your memory of things you need to purchase. Then as you shop, simply rub off the check marks with your finger as you put items in your cart. No pen required! (This leaves the other hand free to yank your kids back BEFORE they pull the bottom orange out of the neatly-stacked pyramid.) Hang it back up on the fridge when you get home, ready for next week's round.
Feel free to download this printable PDF and give it a try, or email email@example.com to request a FREE editable version you can customize (created in Microsoft Excel).
And for my fellow suffering moms out there: I've discovered that assigning each kid an item and having them race to see who can retrieve theirs first not only keeps them occupied and teaches them where to find things in the store, it saves my energy for more important things...like chasing the shopping cart they are coasting downhill to the car.
*Laminating the list stiffens it, making it easier to write on or rub off and preventing it from creasing in your shopping bag. If using a page protector, place the two sheets back to back with a piece of cardboard in between to achieve the same effect.
"Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him." -Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
It sneaks in, disguised as an innocent "good reason", and assures you it's harmless. Then it bludgeons your dreams and possibilities and steals all your hope. It kidnaps your creativity and leaves it to starve. And when you finally realize what's happened, it blames you...saying it's all your own fault for having invited it in the first place.
Procrastination is a known thief and murderer, stealing time and killing plans for a better, easier, more pleasant existence. So why do we keep on opening the door to it and how do we overcome its charming allure?
Recognize it - Ask yourself why you are putting something off. Identifying the real reason will help you to recognize procrastination for what it is, but you have to be honest with yourself.
Plan your counter-attack - Guard against procrastination by establishing a plan for completing the task as soon as you think of it. Having a plan of attack will eliminate unexpected obstacles to getting it done and will make the idea of completing it less daunting.
Call for back up - Get help in holding yourself accountable.
Be a hero - Once you've completed your task, bask in the glow of accomplishment and savor the sense of relief that comes from getting that monkey off your back. You did it! Remember how good this feels the next time you are faced with a task you dread.
Overcoming your tendency to procrastinate will empower you to dream big and hope more because you'll have the confidence you need to tackle anything that intrudes on your ability to accomplish your goals.
Have you ever noticed that things always tend to break when you are broke...and when you really, really, really, really need them the most?
That's what happened this morning. My husband returned home from his first night shift back at work after a much-needed two weeks off and reported that the brakes in his car were making that dreaded grinding sound. You know the one. It means "Cough up at least $250 immediately" in car language. And of course it didn't happen while he was off and we didn't need both cars so that each of us could get to work. It happened right in the middle of a particularly tight budget week.
But it is what it is, and there was no getting around it. We needed that car and couldn't avoid the necessary repairs, so we put our heads together and came up with a solution within five minutes. I was so proud of my husband (aka "Mañana Man") for facing the issue head on instead of avoiding it the way he has often done in the past. I used to tease him about how whenever he noticed the car making a funny noise, he'd just turn up the radio so that he didn't have to hear it anymore. Job done...right?!!
We all have stuff we avoid. I avoided our finished basement for years because the carpet and sofa were stained, the kids' toys had taken over, and it was dark and dingy and ugly, and I didn't have the money to get new carpeting or a new sofa. I found myself trying to fit all my stuff into the main level of our house, making that more cluttered than I wanted, just so that I didn't have to go down there as often to get the things I needed. I dreaded doing the laundry, because it meant I had to spend time in that depressing environment. I refused to hang out with my husband or children down there. It felt like a dungeon.
Eventually, I got so annoyed at having to relinquish the use of one-third of my house just because it was ugly that I finally decided to do something about it. I painted it, bought slip covers and new drapes, purged all the toys the kids had outgrown and re-organized the rest, and cleaned the carpet. When I was done, I not only liked it again, I spent most of my days working down there. I even made sure we had a Christmas tree down there so that we could open up our gifts in front of the fireplace. It was awesome, and I was left wondering why I hadn't done it sooner...why I had wasted all that precious time avoiding the thing that would lead to such a positive outcome. The work and inconvenience of it was far worse in my head than it was in reality and was well-worth it. It took about three days but I have now been able to enjoy that part of my house for over a year. Winning!
One of my favorite shows on TV is "Buried Alive" on Discovery Health Channel. If you haven't heard of it, it's a show about extreme hoarders who decide it's time to get the psychiatric and organizational help they need to clear up their clutter. Avoidance is the main M.O. for practically all of them. They have developed hoarding behaviors as a means of covering up, or avoiding, their emotional pain. They avoid cleaning up and putting things away. They literally build up barriers of stuff to avoid dealing with their nagging spouse or kids. They avoid the reality of their financial issues by continuing to shop for more stuff they don't need with money they don't have. They avoid making repairs in their home and thus often go without power or water for years. Then they begin avoiding relationships because they have to hide their hoarding problem. Life eventually becomes so miserable, the smallest tasks so cumbersome, the mess so paralyzing and their self-esteem so low that they are forced to confront the issue and fix it. And most of them do and then can't believe how wonderful it is not to have maggots all over their kitchen and to be able to take a shower in their own bathroom or sleep in a bed again. They spent so many years bathing in the sink or eating takeout and robbing their kids of their childhoods that they couldn't remember how incredibly easy normal life could be in comparison.
One of my clients this week told me that she found herself avoiding looking at the new "Action" folder we set up for her incoming mail and other papers. After asking her several probing questions to get to the bottom of the issue, it came to light that she was afraid she'd make a mistake in filling out a form or would not be able to find some important document she needed in order to submit her health insurance claims. I pointed out to her that there are very few mistakes in life that cannot be corrected, and there is almost always someone somewhere who has a copy of any missing document or who can help you figure out how to achieve your goal without it. Perhaps it will require some inconvenience or may cost time or money you think you don't have, but there is always a solution as long as you look for it instead of avoiding it. But more importantly, finding the solution is how we grow and learn, and isn't that the whole point of living in the first place? To avoid the problem only avoids finding the solution, which in turn avoids learning and growing and living.
The old adage, "Never put off until tomorrow that which can be done today" really means, "Never put off the relief and joy and sense of accomplishment you feel when overcoming an obstacle if you can experience it today". So next time you find yourself avoiding an unpleasant task, realize that you are also avoiding the sense of freedom that only comes from having completed it.
I'm lazy. There, I said it!
They say that "necessity is the mother of invention", but my cleverest organizing ideas are born out of pure laziness. The truth is that the reason my home is so organized is because I'm just too darned lazy to live in clutter. I will literally spend hours organizing one cabinet in just such a manner as to never have to lift something up in order to get something else out. I clean out my closets very regularly because I figured out a long time ago that the less stuff I have, the greater percentage of that stuff can occupy the prime real estate in my home. The more stuff occupies prime real estate, the easier it is for me to find it and put it away. Laziness... the secret key to an organized home. Who knew?
I may have mentioned this before, but I am a huge Pinterest addict. I spend most of the time I save from not having to look for stuff and lift stuff on surfing Pinterest for new ideas on how to be even more organized and efficient. It's pretty pathetic, I know, but I really enjoy seeing all the clever ideas people come up with for storing things in non-conventional, super-accessible ways. Using a cupcake stand to store tiny craft embellishments without having to open any containers... stuffed animals hung conveniently on the wall in a mounted planter where they won't fall out easily and have to be picked up... pocket shoe organizers for holding the entire contents of a cabinet where you can see it all at once and not have to move anything...Brilliant!
But there's danger lurking among the boards, too. In the pictures, the cabinets always look so nice and neat and orderly with their matching containers and coordinating labels. It can be a little intoxicating and make you forget yourself a little. Before you know it, the quest for efficiency can turn into a Martha Stewart Living nightmare. I recently saw a photo that made me shiver. A professional organizer had helped someone organize their linen closet and attached beautiful labels indicating the sheet size to each sheet set using safety pins. Say what?!! Oh, it looked gorgeous, but it failed the laziness test immediately. Who on earth is going to un-pin and re-pin those labels every time the sheets are used or put away?!!! Not me!
Never underestimate the power of the slightest inconvenience to prevent you from doing something you don't want to do anyway. If your drawers and closets are too full, you won't put things away, so you may as well just pile everything up on the tables and chairs instead, because that's where they're going to end up anyway. Closet door broken? Sock drawer stuck? Can't reach that top shelf? Maybe it isn't such a coincidence that the things that live there never made it back home last time you finished using them. Take a good look at your biggest pain points and ask yourself why they are so painful. Dig deep down into your subconscious and identify the problem. Nine times out of ten, it's because of some minor obstacle you've tolerated (or haven't) for too long without even acknowledging its existence.
Let Martha keep her matching hang tags and adorable zippered pouches. She's got a whole TV crew to put stuff away for her! Lazy works just fine for me. In fact, I'd even say "It's a good thing".
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.