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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What do weight problems, financial troubles, and clutter management struggles all have in common? They each stem from an imbalance between intake and outflow.
Sure, banishing clutter from your home requires getting rid of your excess stuff, but just as with weight and financial challenges, it doesn’t end there. Real long-term success also depends on how carefully you monitor and regulate what’s coming in, as well as what’s going out.
If you’ve ever experienced a toilet overflow, you know that the crucial first step is to immediately turn off the water supply before you even reach for the plunger. Failing to prevent more water from accumulating while you work on unclogging the backup can lead to an even bigger mess that takes longer to clean up. But what happens if you don’t even know where the shutoff valve is?
Thanks to reality TV shows that highlight the issue of hoarding, most of us already know that compulsive shopping can lead to big problems with clutter. But what about impulsive shopping? While it may not lead you into bankruptcy or land you on an episode of Hoarders: Buried Alive, making purchases without thinking them through beforehand could be unraveling all of your grand plans to wrest control of your home away from your jumble of belongings. These decisions are the leaks that need to be plugged in order to better regulate the flow of items into your home. But where do these poor choices originate? Well, let’s see. Do any of these sound familiar?
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with keeping some extra toilet paper on hand (as I think we all learned earlier this year), but knowing when to stop buying it is vital. It’s okay to take advantage of a great deal...on something you were planning to buy anyway. But there’s a big difference between seizing an opportunity to save money on something you need and simply accumulating more stuff you don’t need because it was on sale. And that difference is forethought.
Before you make a purchase, ask yourself:
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"Isn't it adorable?! And wow...you just can't beat that price! I'd be a fool to turn down such a steal!" If you struggle with clutter and this sounds like you, read on!
If you've ever watched one of those hoarder TV shows, you already know that compulsive shopping often leads to big problems with clutter. But what about impulsive shopping? While it may not lead you into bankruptcy or land you on an episode of "Hoarders: Buried Alive", making purchases without thinking them through beforehand could be unraveling all of your grand plans to get organized.
The first step in any organization project is to purge items that aren't really needed to create more room for the ones that are. One of the most common comments I hear from clients during this process is "But I paid good money for this and never even used it," or "I'd definitely use that if only I had a good place for it." Worse still, "Oh, I totally forgot I had these and just bought more last week."
Plan before you buy!
Whether it's a new armchair or a new paring knife, knowing when, where, and how you will use it and store it are decisions that should be made before you even get to the cash register. Without a plan in place, you run the risk of adding to your existing clutter and possibly wasting your time, effort and money. Consider the following scenarios:
Freebies aren't really free!
These questions also apply to all those freebies you collect and bring home. You'd be surprised how much less appealing all those giveaways appear when they are cluttering up your drawers and surfaces. The truth is, nothing is truly "free"...it costs you space and overhead. One of my favorite quotes from a fellow organizer is "Treat everything like a gallon of milk and put it away as soon as you get home with it." If you truly follow this rule, you won't be as likely to buy on impulse. If you don't know where its designated home will be at your house, perhaps you should leave it in the store for now. Next time you clean out your closets (or your car), you'll be glad you did!
With a little impulse control, even decluttering can be easy peasy!
Have I mentioned how much I hate grocery shopping? The crowds. The lines. The screaming kids (usually my own). The screaming moms (usually me). The reckless cart drivers. The prices. The physical labor. The MATH! …
Fortunately for my hungry family, I love to eat more than I hate to grocery shop, so I do it anyway. However, I’m not willing to suffer this torture more than once/week if I can help it and, by golly, it’s gotta be worth the effort. This means wasting as little as possible of what I buy. I’m not lugging all that stuff home just to feed the fruit flies or to let it rot in the fridge!
Besides, have you seen the price of fresh produce recently? Eating healthy requires a significant investment of both time and money (neither of which I have in abundance), and protecting that investment is key to successful consumption (something I enjoy). Otherwise, you may as well just throw those apples in the trash as soon as you get home. Let’s face it, work is work…whether you pick those apples from the orchard yourself or pick through them in the produce aisle. And I, for one, want to do as little of that as I can get away with.
The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of extra time or effort to lengthen the life of your produce. You’ll not only make up that time (with interest) later, but you’ll be more likely to actually eat all the yummy, healthy goodies you lugged home. As soon as you get home, wash and dry your lettuce, fresh herbs, “bowl fruit” (apples, oranges, etc.), grapes and berries before putting them away. They’ll be ready to eat/prepare when you want them, last longer and look more inviting.
If you have the time, go ahead and bag up individual portions of fruits and veggies before putting them away so that you or your family members can grab a healthy snack any time. I find that non-organic cut bell peppers, celery, carrots, and cucumbers will stay fresh for up to a week if stored properly in the fridge. This saves me oodles of time on lunch preparation throughout the week, because I can bag it up as soon as I get home from the store and then just toss it into the lunch boxes each morning. (If you shop organic, the shelf life may be shorter, so you’ll have to figure out what works best.) One cutting board + one knife + one time washing them and putting them away = three reasons for this busy/lazy mom to smile.
Just to be clear, I don’t wash everything before I put it away…just the things I’ve found make a difference. Here are a few tips that have worked well for me:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
I'm bracing myself for a barrage of hate mail for posting this, but my recent discovery has brought me such freedom that I simply must shout it from the rooftops!
I'd like to think I've proven myself as a reasonably frugal consumer. When I say "frugal", I mean that I am budget-conscious and put some effort into finding decent bargains while also recognizing that my time is at least as limited as my finances.
First an admission: I do not coupon (gasp). I found it to be too time consuming and confusing. On top of that, in order for couponing to work, you have to actually remember to give the cashier your coupons...oops! I used to be a regular shopper at warehouse stores like Sam's and Costco because of the low per-unit price you could get by buying in bulk. But then I realized that while spending $400 in one week for 3 different items may save me money in the long run, my short-term cash flow was precisely that...short. So I began shopping at a discount grocery store that stocks mostly off-brand products but where the prices (and the quality) are at least as good as the coupon and warehouse deals without the hassle or the huge outlay.
Finally, I had managed to secure a low unit cost without having to purchase a high quantity. I began to see the benefits of fitting normal-sized products into my tiny pantry (pictured left...I just love my pantry). Gone (eventually) were the 2-liter bottles of soy sauce and vats of olive oil. Crackers, pretzels and cereal were no longer going stale before they could be consumed. I was able to reclaim part of my garage for storing other items besides overflow food. And it no longer took the National Guard to help me unload all the groceries each week.
Unfortunately, I kept buying more cans and boxes than I actually consumed each week out of pure habit..."just to have some on hand". I still had one large shelf reserved in the garage for storing all my extras. In the garage, mind you...where I hate to go. I would send the kids down to get stuff for me, so I lacked a keen sense of what was actually there. I was always buying things we didn't need and not buying something we did need simply because I assumed we already had more of it down in the garage.
And then something happened to knock some sense into me. I fell down the stairs and dislocated my shoulder...badly. I could no longer carry as many groceries and was forced to shorten my weekly shopping list to only what I knew we would use in the next week or two.
Eureka! Now I can fit everything into my pantry where I can easily see at a glance just what we need. Everything is fresh and actually consumed rather than wasted. Putting the groceries away is quicker and easier, and I now have even more room in my garage. I feel so FREE!
All of this has made me realize that being a "frugal" consumer means respecting not just your financial and time limitations, but your space limitations too. My father used to always say, "Space is at a premium." It surely is a precious commodity to be used wisely. Don't squander your spacial budget just to stretch your financial or time budgets. Find a balance of all three.
How do you balance your financial, time and spacial budgets?
Note: Your Sam's or Costco membership may still be worthwhile for purchasing household items, office supplies, electronics, etc. at a great price or for when you are feeding a large crowd. I am not suggesting you ditch it! Just don't let bulk purchases of regular groceries eat up all your space.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.