Yearly Lessons

February 13, 2014

What!? It’s 2014 already!? How’d that happen!?


2013 was a crazy busy year for me – too busy to blog! My first niece was born in April, we finally finished our basement, got married in August, honeymooned in Greece, sold our place and moved into an incredible house that my wife spent the year renovating, got a new job in September, and got pregnant (due this June)!

Needless to say, lots of activity that required lots of organizing, right? It’s true.

My lessons for the year, which have become my resolutions for 2014:

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle! Most of us own way too much crap. I’m sorry, but it’s true. We have so many things that we don’t need, and don’t use, but we hold onto – cluttering our lives and our spaces. Rather than waiting to tackle clutter “all at once,” take short increments of time to go through small spaces and areas often, throughout the year. It only takes 10 minutes to go through an overstuffed junk drawer, a medicine cabinet, or that To-Do file that always seems to be bursting full. Reduce your stress, reuse (or re-gift) those things that you forgot you even had, and recycle the rest.
  • If you can cheat, borrow or steal, (when it comes to ideas) DO! Seriously. Why reinvent the wheel? Whenever I start a new project (like organizing my wedding) I go online and search for tools, templates and cheat sheets that some other brilliant, organized person has already put together. Use their template as-is, or take snippets from a bunch of tools and create something personal that works for what you need. Saves time. Saves money. Saves sanity.
  • If it takes 5 minutes or less, do it now. Don’t wait. Don’t write it on your to-do list for later. Don’t ignore it because it stresses you out. Just do it. You’ll feel SO MUCH better when it’s done. And your to-do list will stay shorter. Why let mail pile up all week long into a big scary mess, when you can spend 30 seconds opening it when you first bring it in the house?
  • Find ways of making modern technology do the multitasking for you.  Think about the things you need to get done, and plan out your attack in the most efficient way – beginning with anything that can run on its own while you do other activities. Need to back-up your phone and computer? Plug it all in and let it go while you vacuum. Must to laundry? Start a load before you walk the dog, and then you can switch it after you get home. Need to call the doctor’s office to sort out a bill? Pop in your earbuds and unload the dishwasher while you’re waiting on hold. And most importantly – if you have an errand to run, see if you can fit in a second stop on the way there or way home, and knock two errands off your list with one trip. Drop off those donate items on the way to the grocery store (take the sting out of a $200 shopping trip knowing you just got a tax deduction for the same amount).

What resolutions are you making for this year to help you get or stay organized?

Multi-purpose Murphy

January 7, 2014

Here’s a long overdue post about a really fun project I worked on turning a seldom-used guest bedroom into a multi-function guest room/craft room/library space.

This project was especially fun because it was for my moms, at their beautiful Madison condo, an airy, spacious 2-bedroom plus den that has been perfect for them for the past several years, since becoming “empty-nesters.”

Over the years the den in the condo had become a fully functional office, a library for books and media, and a storage space for most (but not all) craft supplies in the house. When my mother’s artistic pastimes grew to include loom weaving and stained glass work, it became obvious that the den was not going to continue to work as the “catch-all” work spot in the house, and what made the most sense was for the generously sized guest room to become a more functional multi-purpose space.

What started off as some brainstorming around adding in some simple shelving, soon escalated to ideas about pulling up the carpet and re-evaluating the furniture, even bringing in the same local Amish craftsman who had built their kitchen cabinets for some custom storage solution. They asked me to help them design a full room plan for a workshop of sorts, which could easily transition into a comfortable, mess-free guest room when needed.

I suggested a murphy bed to maximize the space during the majority of it’s non-guest usage, with a drop down table that could be flanked by built-in shelving and cabinetry with doors to hide away supplies and projects-in-process.  A few hand-drawn sketches of my ideas (here’s one: Murphy bed wall design )turned into a wonderful collaboration, resulting in an absolutely beautiful, functional space that the moms love working in, and I love staying in when I come to visit!

Custom murphy wall unit (closed) with built-in desk.

Custom murphy wall unit (closed) with built-in desk.


Update to Cranky-pants 1/20/12 Pinterest Post

June 20, 2012

I totally take back my snarkiness in my earlier post – Pinterest is the greatest thing ever. Since I’m constantly collecting ideas about how to do things better, differently, more – I’ve found that I can categorize all those ideas in an organized way into specific boards. A few I’ve started with include:

  • Cleaning Tips
  • Small Item Organizing
  • Clever Tricks for the Home
  • Organized Furniture and Home Design
  • Laundry and Mudroom Organizing

I also LOVE the new secret board capabilities. I can set up boards of draft ideas that aren’t fully flushed out yet and keep them on the down-low (my personal dream home design ideas, for instance, or a board for a very specific project or client).

I’m following a few other pinners and boards and am enjoying receiving email updates with recommendations for others I might like to follow, or pins I might like.

Goodbye giant 3-ring binder full of torn magazine pages and web print-outs. Hello new digital idea book!

Pinterest, will you forgive me? I think we can be bestest friends.


Inspired Tuesday

May 22, 2012


I absolutely love this short snippet from, of all places, the latest Rejuvenation mail catalogue:

A Place for Everything

The organized kitchen was a place Harriet Beecher Stowe longed for women to have. She and other 19th-century progressives wanted to reform “women’s work” by modeling kitchens after factories, reasoning that knowing where things are make people more efficient.

De-clutter on a dime!

May 9, 2012

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get organized!

Ok, so yes, it would be wonderful if we could all afford to get beautiful, built-in closet systems and matching shoe storage boxes… But the simple truth is that you really don’t have to spend much, if anything, on getting yourself organized.

In fact, DON’T BUY ANYTHING AT ALL before you start your organizing projects. One of the biggest misconceptions is that you “need” to get more shelving, or you “need” storage boxes, or you “should” have a system in place to put things as you go…..

While it certainly may be helpful to have a bunch of empty boxes on hand to help you sort your belongings, you don’t need to buy them. Collect some empty paper ream boxes from the office and bring them home for the sorting part. Figure out what you have as your first step. You’ll probably surprise yourself with how much stuff you end up getting rid of, and don’t need to store afterall!

Organizing small spaces, like a jewelry drawer or a bathroom cabinet? Use kitchen mixing bowls or plastic food storage containers to help you sort your stuff into categories – and keep the garbage and recycling bins nearby – you’re going to need them. If you haven’t gone through your medicine cabinet in a while, you will find that half the stuff in there is probably expired.

Simply going through your belongings and figuring out what you have, what you are giving away, and what you are actually keeping is the first and most important step.

After you determine what you have and use, THEN you can figure out a plan for how to arrange, display or store it, and if you really need to buy anything to help you get it done.

You’ll save time and money!

Two kids in one room

March 23, 2012

I recently helped a mom of three organize a bedroom for two of her boys who had just moved in together to make room for their new baby brother to have his own nursery. Making a bedroom for one into a room for two can feel a little overwhelming – especially if you think the space is small to begin with.

This room was plenty big enough for the furniture that the family already had – a twin bed, a convertible crib, a large dresser for the boys to share, and a small bookshelf.

The furniture all fit inside the room perfectly – around the outer wall perimeters, but all of the nooks and crannies (drawers, shelves, and closet space) was either underutilized or overflowing.  So we made a few adjustments by categorizing like items together, putting often accessed toys and games at floor level for little hands to reach, and we found a place for everything – with room to grow!

The convertible crib that the family already owned had built-in storage – an added bonus! Because the pull out storage drawer is not accessible when the crib side is lowered, we put extra blankets and linens into it – things that aren’t frequently used. A dual-purpose piece of furniture like this is a great thing to consider when outfitting a kid’s room.

Search Results for "crib with storage drawer"

When we were cleaning out the closet, we found a collection of adorable small storage boxes that the family had received as a gift, tucked away in the back and forgotten about because no one felt sure about where or how to use them.  We creatively rearranged some books and displayed the storage boxes on the bottom of the book shelf so that the kids could use them to stash their favorite plush toys and knick knacks.

Kids' bookshelf

The boys love being able to pick out bedtime story books on their own!

Deduct your de-cluttering!

March 18, 2012

The countdown is officially on for 2011 tax season. If you haven’t filed yet, you have one month to do so.

If you itemize, don’t forget about those charitable deductions – ESPECIALLY all of your drop-offs of gently used items to neighborhood charities, thrift and resale shops.

Didn’t do any of that in 2011? Turn over a new leaf in 2012 and reward yourself for de-cluttering your home or garage!

Gently used, good condition items of ALL kinds can be donated to various charities for a tax write-off:

  • Appliances can be donated to housing and rebuilding charities, like Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore
  • Extra housing supplies (trim, siding, paint, hardware, etc.) can be donated to a Rebuilding Exchange like the one in Chicago
  • Clothing, shoes, and other household items can be dropped off at places like Goodwill, or the Salvation Army
  • Many places, like the Purple Heart or Vietnam Veterans even pick up at your house, for instance, if you have furniture, or a large volume of give-away bags through, which allows you to schedule online. How’s that for an “easy” button?
Make sure to photograph the items you’ll be donating and stash a copy along with your charitable receipt for tax purposes.
The Salvation Army provides an online guide for fairly estimating the monetary value of your donation (always talk to your tax/accounting professional about any questions or doubt you may have):
If you do your own taxes and use a tax preparation tool online, look for additional software options, like Turbo Tax’s “It’s Deductible,” which allows you to enter individual items you donated, and then generates the actual acceptable donation value for deduction purposes.

Reward yourself for making positive change in your home at the same time you make positive change in your community!

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