One of the most common questions I get is “What organizing tools should I buy to get started?” My answer is simple: “Nothing!”
You don't have to spend a lot of money getting organized. While it may be tempting to purchase cute canisters for your pantry or boutique baskets for your closet, it is wiser to spend your decorating dollars on the spaces your guests will actually see than on organizing the stuff that's kept hidden behind closed doors. And contrary to popular belief, all those cute bins and cool gadgets from The Container Store don’t come with a lifetime supply of magic fairy dust that will automatically transform your home into an orderly oasis. Not to mention that going on a pre-organizing shopping spree, while a fun way to procrastinate on actually tackling your project, can end up becoming overwhelming and wind up adding to your problem of having too much stuff. The good news is that you are likely already surrounded by the best, most versatile tools on the market...you just don’t realize it! And all these items are easily adaptable if/when your needs change, unlike that task-specific gadget you paid too much for at your favorite home goods store.
December is Top Tips Month here at EasyPeasy Living, and this week I'm sharing 16 of my favorite things...ordinary, everyday objects most people already have lying around the house that, with a little creativity, you can transform into extraordinary tools for staying organized or just making life a little easy peasier. Be sure to follow @EasyPeasyLiving on Facebook and Instagram, where I’ll be sharing my top five most favorite favorites in the coming week. I may not have a magic wand, but these little gems are the next best thing.
First a word of caution: resist the temptation to hoard any of these. Most will be in pretty constant supply, so you can afford to wait until you have a specific need to begin collecting.
OK, here we go!
I recently saw a picture of a wedding gown made from 10,000 plastic bread bag clips. That may be a bit extreme, but there are lots of practical uses for these little plastic doohickies:
I love lighting candles to cozy up my home on long winter nights! From October through March, I enjoy snuggling up in front of their warm glow each evening. My favorites are the jar candles because they are less messy, keep their shape, and - best of all - the glass jars can be cleaned out and re-purposed to store all manner of things once the candle inside has burned itself out. Jar candles come in so many shapes and sizes, so the storage opportunities are endless. You can even fill them with something wonderful and gift them! Some of my favorite things to store in them:
Contact Lens Cases
Do you get a new case every time you buy solution? Don’t throw the old one out! These miniature lidded containers yield super-sized space savings and convenience, especially when travelling. Tuck them into your purse, backpack, fanny pack, suitcase or camping gear. Here are just a few of the many things you can store in them:
“Disposable” Food Storage Containers (such as Take-Along or Ziploc containers):
Closet and cabinet organizing is all about function and how to fit, find and access what you need as efficiently as possible. That's why I love these inexpensive containers for storing everything from pretzels to pencils. They come in varying sizes and are transparent, airtight, versatile, stackable and easily labeled. Best of all, you can pick up as many as you need for next to nothing and easily find them at most stores that sell housewares or groceries. Or just go "shopping" in your recycle bin.
Keeping small items organized can be a challenge. I love it when a gift or purchase comes packaged in a box with dividers, but you can also purchase plastic divided boxes at most craft stores or home goods stores that are stackable and easily transportable. Here are just a few ideas of things to store in them:
Life changes fast. Sometimes you need a low-tech communication device that travels well and can change right along with it. The dry erase marker isn't just for white boards, my friends!
Both the open-ended, soft kind or the hard, hinged eyeglass cases make great storage receptacles for so many objects inside your drawers, purse, backpack or suitcase. Here are just a few things you can store inside them:
One of the best ways to save space is to equip yourself with multi-taskers. Why buy and store a gazillion different toxic and expensive cleaners, stain removers, disinfectants, and whiteners when all you need is one bottle of this multi-purpose miracle? (Well okay, you should probably buy more than one bottle of it for all these uses.) Hydrogen peroxide has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-mold, anti-fungal and anti-mildew properties and is non-toxic and environmentally-friendly. And while it may be worth its weight in gold, it has a price tag you'll love almost as much as its versatility. Use it to:
Let's face it...we are all lazy about something. Embrace your laziness and make it work for you! These little turntables come in a variety of sizes. A few places they can help you spin into action instead of spinning your wheels include:
There's a reason our mothers and grandmothers kept a supply of these around! They’re economical, environmentally-friendly, reusable, versatile and inexpensive! Sold in most grocery or home goods stores by the dozen for about a buck per jar, they are a worthwhile investment. Or just befriend someone who likes to give homemade jam as gifts! Here are just some of the many ways you can use them around the house:
I always keep a stash of these on hand because they are so versatile. In addition to the obvious, use them for:
They say a picture paints a thousand words, but a picture frame can say a lot about how organized and creative you are! Try one of these ideas for putting yours to work for you:
Every well-stocked toolbox contains sandpaper, but you'll want to reserve a spot for it in other areas of your home when you see all its uses! Use it in your:
Shoe Pocket Organizers
With this little organizing trick in your pocket, you'll create storage space you never knew you had. Those transparent plastic or mesh shoe holders you hang on the back of your closet door are nothing less than a pocketful of miracles when it comes to maximizing on your vertical storage space! Here are just a few ideas for what to store in them:
So simple and low-tech, it's easy to overlook the power in their pinch! Next time you are near a dollar store, pick up a pack of those spring-loaded wooden clothespins. They will perform all kinds of little jobs around the house to make your life a little easy peasier. A few examples:
Maximize your vertical space with tension rods! No hardware or tools required to install these wherever you need to create storage.
And all these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg! Go on Pinterest or Google or just use your own imagination to find additional uses for each of these things. If you find a new one or have a favorite thing of your own, share it with me before December 27 for a chance to win a copy of James Clear’s bestselling book, Atomic Habits. (To learn more about entering the 2020 Top Tips Contest, visit www.easypeasyliving.com/news.)
With a few of my favorite things, getting organized without any fancy organizing tools will be easy peasy!
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Several years ago, a neighbor friend of mine who knew that my husband and I wanted to get in shape offered us--FREE--a treadmill that had been sitting idle for some time in her basement. We were ecstatic! That treadmill was just what we needed to transform ourselves from couch potatoes to svelte beach bodies by the time bathing suit season rolled around (well okay...give or take 50 pounds). Best of all, the price fit right into our meager (read: nonexistent) budget. We’d have to be crazy to say no to that...right?
While impulse purchases are a real thing, most of us actually do weigh the cost vs. benefit before we acquire something new. Thus, something free + something we want = YES! So why are our closets and garages so crammed full of stuff we never use? Clearly, we are miscalculating something. Perhaps we're leaving something out of the equation. I propose the correct formula should be:
Financial cost + Space cost + Convenience cost + Opportunity cost = True Cost
Most of us don’t see past the money and never even think about the last three components of this equation, probably because they are difficult to quantify. But omitting them from the equation altogether is how we wind up feeling disorganized, frustrated and suffocated by all our stuff. Let’s take a closer look:
This is usually the primary and often the only cost we consider when deciding whether or not to acquire something new. If you want proof, look no further than the ridiculously long checkout lines at your local Dollar Tree. How many times have you bought something just because it was “such a great deal”? And note that I keep using the word "acquire". That's because considering the cost of something applies even to--especially to--items for which we paid no money at all. Interestingly, the more money we pay for something, the less willing we are to part with it once we realize it was a poor purchase. And the longer we keep it in some vain attempt to “get our money’s worth” out of it, the more it ends up costing us...in space, in convenience, and in opportunity. As my husband and I would eventually discover, that $0 treadmill was most certainly not free, after all.
Ah space…the final frontier! Most people completely underestimate the value of empty space. We see it as something to be consumed instead of recognizing the important role it plays in keeping us organized and sane. Every single item you own--from vegetable peeler to king-sized bed--costs you valuable space. Like money (and cake), you cannot keep (have) it and spend (eat) it too. Overspending your space--or cramming as many objects into your empty spaces as you can--leads to clutter, visual noise, stress, and sometimes even guilt. The more spacious your environment, the easier it is to maintain and control. Purging items you no longer need/use makes it infinitely easier to see, access and keep organized the things you do. That “free” treadmill ended up costing us significant space in our small basement.
Life gets really inconvenient when you lack space. If you’ve ever watched one of those hoarder shows, you’ll be struck by how much more effort it takes them just to accomplish everyday tasks like cooking a meal or taking a shower. When your access to the items you need is restricted, it takes more time, energy and effort just to get them out and use them...much less to put them away again when you're done. Pretty soon, you stop bothering to put things away at all. This leads to clutter, chaos, frustration and a sense of defeat as you either lose items or they continually get in your way.
Also, the more stuff you accumulate, the less visible everything becomes. If you can’t see what you have, you’ll either buy it again or you won’t use it at all. So why are you keeping it? And owning too many belongings makes you less nimble...the sheer inconvenience of moving all that excess stuff out of the way in order to make home improvements or repairs can lead to procrastination, sometimes causing or worsening damage and costing even more money in the long run. Before you know it, you’ve increased the financial cost of ownership well beyond your initial investment.
Remember our treadmill? Well, we had to sacrifice some of the space we had been using for sorting and folding laundry just to make room for it. This made doing the laundry an even bigger chore than usual. Laundry baskets often ended up stacked up on the treadmill because there was no place else to put them. Talk about a motivation killer! If you think I’m going to do laundry first just so that I can exercise, think again! In my book, Exercise + Laundry = Forget it! The convenience cost of that treadmill in doing laundry was huge, not to mention that actually being able to use the treadmill itself was so inconvenient, it ended up just sitting there collecting dust for months. So why keep it? Good question!
What are you missing out on because you’ve acquired too much stuff? If you had just said NO to some of those “great deals” would you have had the money to go on a weekend getaway with your sweetie? If you could've just made do with fewer kitchen gadgets, might you have more space to share your love of cooking with your grandchildren? If you cleared all the “some day maybe” stuff you paid good money for out of the guest room closet, would you be more likely to entertain overnight guests?
It was summer when we said yes to that treadmill, so we forgot that the only spot we had available to put it in is where we normally put our Christmas tree...right across from the fireplace, next to the big recliner where my husband reads ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to the kids every Christmas Eve before bed. There was no room for our tree in the basement that year. No enjoying the beautiful lights by the warm glow of the fire. That treadmill ended up costing us a valued family tradition that Christmas, and it was truly a bummer.
The good news is that you can mitigate the costs of the things you own if you just ask yourself a few simple questions before you acquire anything new:
We’ve all made mistakes in saying yes when we should have said no, but that doesn't mean you have to keep paying the price for your error. That treadmill? We gave it back to our neighbor and joined the gym instead. You see, we concluded that the financial cost of a gym membership was worth what we would save in space, convenience and opportunity. Don’t let what you paid (or didn’t pay) for something interfere with righting what's wrong.
With a little honest contemplation about the true costs of ownership, even saying no to a blowout sale can be easy peasy!
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When it comes to saving space - and money - nothing beats the power of multi-taskers. Getting in the habit of investing only in items that serve a double-duty function can yield some big dividends when it comes to creating more space in your home.
So what does this look like? Well, consider the many areas of your life where you can get double the usefulness objects:
The key is to get into the habit of brainstorming how you can use your belongings in more ways than one. Before you buy something new, look around to see if you already have something else that will fulfill your need. You'll be surprised how much space (and money!) you'll save...and trips to the donation dropoff too.
With a little creativity and a few multi-taskers, even creating more space in your home will be easy peasy.
An average American family of four spends between $146 and $289 per week on groceries, according to the USDA. That's an annual investment of at least $7500, and possibly as much as $15,000+!
Where you fall within that range depends, of course, on where you shop and what you buy, but it also has a lot to do with how much food you waste. With a little planning and effort, you can save significant money on your grocery bill each year without ever clipping a coupon or hoarding cans from a warehouse store. I call it my 4S approach: Strategize, Shop, Safeguard, and Substitute.
Strategize - Planning out your meals each week will not only save you time but also money. You'll be less likely to resort to expensive takeout or prepared foods if you've got a strategy in place for what to make for dinner. With minimal effort, you can plan your menu around ingredients you already have on hand and not only reduce waste but shorten your shopping list. Pull double-duty on the items you buy to get even more bang for your buck. For example, if you're buying a head of cabbage to make coleslaw, why not plan to make stir-fry that same week and use up the rest of it before it goes bad?
Shop - Creating a shopping list will save you trips to the store for forgotten items, as well as time in the store once you're there. You'll also avoid over-spending on impulse purchases. Build your list as you plan your weekly menu to be sure you have everything you need on hand, and add only what you need for other meals. Take stock of what's already in your fridge and pantry so that you don't duplicate or overbuy. Nothing breeds waste like buying more produce than you'll be able to use before it goes bad. Don't fall victim to deals that aren't really deals. Regardless of the price, if you weren't already planning to buy it, it's not really a deal!
Safeguard - Preserving your perishables until you are able to use them is one of the best ways to lower your bottom line at the grocery store. Instead of allowing excess meat or produce to spoil, prolong its life so you can use it another day by cooking, freezing, or canning it before it goes bad. Peel and freeze overripe bananas for later use in bread or muffins. Microwave and mash extra sweet potatoes for baking. Cut bread ends into cubes and freeze for later use as croutons or breadcrumbs. Protect your produce from premature spoilage with proper cleaning and storage.
Substitute - Switching up ingredients in your favorite recipes to use up what you already have on hand can also save you bucks at the store. Use up that extra yogurt no one wants in place of milk for your muffin recipe or toss that leftover half bag of frozen green beans into your casserole instead of making a separate green vegetable. Get in the habit of freezing your "throwaways" to use as substitutions later. For example, freeze the juice you drained from your can of tomatoes and use that instead of buying tomato juice for a recipe. Use some crushed up cornflakes to coat your fried chicken instead of buying breading.
Look for more outside-the-box ideas for using up what you already have to save you money.
Whether you spend your savings on a special dinner out or some nice wine to go with your home-cooked gourmet meal, the 4S approach will have you laughing all the way to the bank!
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.