Vital Organizing

(Something everybody needs.)

Vital Organizing: Something everybody needs. Home and office organizing based in Washington, D.C. Economical, customized, small space solutions and one-on-one organization services.

How we operate, or what to expect when you're expecting professional organizers

First time clients often wonder how we operate and what they can expect from an organizing session.  

Let me explain our process:

  • First contact: We love hearing from you! Fill out our online contact form, email us, call us, 'gram us... just reach out and let us know how we can help you.  If it all sounds good, we will find a time to meet at your location for a first session of approximately 3-4 hours and send you an email with service agreement to confirm.
  • Before your first session: Don't pre-tidy! It is human nature to want to clean up before company comes over, but trust us - we want to see everything in its natural state! This helps us see how things really are so we can craft actual practical solutions.
  • First session: Your organizer (or organizing team if suitable for your situation) will meet you at your location at the pre-arranged time.  You will walk us through your space so we can have an overall picture of what goes where and what challenges there might be.  We will then pick a spot to start.
  • Your involvement: Clients have to be involved in the organizing process for any lasting change to occur, but your level of involvement can vary based on whatever is going on.  Maybe you will work with us side by side, or maybe you need to tend to the kids and just pop in for the critical decision points as needed.  It's all good!
  • What we do: Much of our session involves sorting and assessing the contents of the area we are working on.  For example, in a coat closet, we may find that there are coats and shoes and hats and sports gear and cleaning products and... any number of other things!  By grouping these items together, you will be able to determine whether 1. they are things you need and 2. whether they should be stored in that location.  We will help you to purge the things you don't need (donating or disposing) and then rearranging for easier access.  It sounds simple, but with our focused energy, neutral powers of observation, and years of experience, we will effect lasting change in your space!
  • Payment: We accept payments at the end of each session via credit card, check, or cash, and can also send invoices via paypal and venmo.
  • After the sesh: We will type up what to do next, including a list of any products that might be helpful for you and where to order them online. 
We're going to help you figure out what to do with that giant banana.  No, wait, that sounds like a dirty joke... Literally, we mean we will help you a home for for everything in your collection, even if it is a giant banana!

We're going to help you figure out what to do with that giant banana.  No, wait, that sounds like a dirty joke... Literally, we mean we will help you a home for for everything in your collection, even if it is a giant banana!

Our process is different than some of our organizing colleagues out there, so we want to highlight a couple of key points:

  • No initial consult or estimate required: We are happy to talk to you by email or on the phone about your particular situation, and give you a sense for what can be accomplished. However, we do not do in person consults or provide written estimates in advance.  This is for a particular reason: efficiency! Estimates are inevitably inaccurate as there are details of everyone's situation that make things go more or less quickly but which are virtually impossible to determine prior to actually starting the work.  So we jump right in and work hard to get things done for you in an efficient manner. 
  • Transparent pricing: We put our pricing on our website so you know what to expect and how our work can fit into your budget.  We only charge for the time actually worked in your home or on pre-approved errands.  We also do this so you can contact us with any questions without being worried about getting a hard sell!  Our rates are what they are, and we try to keep it simple.
  • We don't buy stuff in advance: We don't come to your place with any pre-bought storage solutions.  Sure, we have our Mary Poppins bags of organizing tools that we employ in our work, but when it comes to storage solutions for your space we want to make sure that you get what exactly you need. Often times, we can repurpose what you already have.  If not, we will provide you with suggestions and online purchase options so you can buy what you need efficiently and cheaply.

Sound good? Got questions? Please contact us.

Konmari - An Overview

I'm not a certified Konmari expert... yet... but Ms. Kondo herself (or probably a helper) liked one of my instagram photos, so we're basically best friends.

I'm not a certified Konmari expert... yet... but Ms. Kondo herself (or probably a helper) liked one of my instagram photos, so we're basically best friends.

What is the deal with Konmari?  I’m here to explain.   Here's a breakdown of the Konmari Method.

 

  • What is the Konmari Method?  Organizing framework by Japanese guru, Marie Kondo, and summarized in her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  Translated to English in 2014.   Konmari is an inversion of her name, Marie Kondo.
    • The basic idea is that we should only keep things that “spark joy”.
  • The Konmari Method is: Start by discarding things that don’t spark joy, then organizing your space, thoroughly, in one go.  “Ikki ni!” (In one go.)
    •  Discard – then organize.
  • Her method and mindset is “life changing” because it can dramatically change your house and your life by teaching us how to recognize what we love.

 

  • Konmari Method Prep: Instead of thinking about organizing, think about things.  Why do you own anything?  To be happy. Marie Kondo says to start by visualizing your destination. “Think in concrete terms so that you can vividly picture what it would be like to live in a clutter-free space.

Konmari Method Step 1: Purge.

  • Konmari ikki ni – in one go. Tidying should be a special event – tackle it ikki ni while your energy is high.   A big push = big results = empowerment. (But also see my post on Konmari Light)
  • Keep only things that spark joy (or are truly necessary like tax documents)  “We have to choose what we want to keep not what we want to throw away.  To do this – we have to hold each item and say,  ‘does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it, if it doesn’t, discard.”
  • Konmari by category. Organize by category to fully grasp the extent of your items.  Don’t organize by room.“The best sequence is this: clothes first, then books, papers, komono (miscellany), and lastly, mementos.” This order will help you strengthen your joy-recognition.  See my Konmari categories template.
  • Start with your stuff – not someone else’s.“The first step is to confront your own stuff.” “To quietly work away at disposing of your own excess is actually the best way of dealing with a family that doesn’t tidy.” 
  • Banish excuses:  Every thing has a purpose it wants to fulfill.  Its purpose is not sitting crumpled at the bottom of a drawer.
    • Gifts – they brought joy to you and the giver!
    • Bought but never worn – taught you what doesn’t work!
    • Maybe could use one day (functional): That’s what Amazon is for.
    • Sentimental: Capture the memory and relinquish the stuff.
    • Recycling/donating/selling = makes it easier!

Konmari Step 2: Organize

  • Most things can be folded to increase storage capacity and enhance access.  
  • Folding Method: Everything into a square – in drawers with edges out. Search youtube for "konmari folding"
  • Storage containers: Shoe boxes are free and easily fit in many drawers on on shelves.
  • Storing:  Everything should be accessible. No real need for seasonal clothes; if space is tight – just small things like gloves and swimsuits.  Or bulky things like snow gear.  Try swapping out flipflops and hats and gloves.

Want to know more? Contact Vital's Organizer-in-Chief at Emily@vitalorganizing.com for a hands on tutorial. 

 

 

 

Elfa Drawers + Konmari folding: A DIY solution

Do you have an Elfa mesh drawer that needs a bit more structure? The entire Elfa system is excellent, but they only have drawer dividers for the most shallow drawers, and because their drawers are slightly rounded and not square, conventional one-size-fits-all drawer dividers (and shoe boxes) in fact do not fit Elfa drawers. 

I was flummoxed by this crisis of global proportions. However, after many fruitless googlings, sleepless nights, and prototype research, I finally present to you - a DIY solution!  

Lo and behold, Elfa drawer dividers.
This was the sloshiest drawer of them all - slippery workout gear! But it sloshes no more.

This was the sloshiest drawer of them all - slippery workout gear! But it sloshes no more.

I've put together this step-by-step video to help you figure out how to do it. All you need is some old stockings (or new ones - I bought white ones on sale after Easter), scissors, a marker, and a tape measure. Godspeed!

p.s. We are now accepting nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. ;)

Selling or Donating the Random Things

It's nice to know that your donations are going to good use.  Here are some places to donate or sell specific items.

Wedding Dresses

What to do with this ol' thing?

What to do with this ol' thing?

There are some great charities that accept wedding dresses, either to donate to brides in need, repurpose, or resell and use the proceeds for charity.  Some have time restrictions as they are looking for contemporary options.

http://www.successinstyle.org/cherie-amour/ (a good option with no time restrictions!)

http://www.stanthonysbridal.com/get-involved.php#donate (a great local option!)

http://bridesforacause.com

http://www.bridesagainstbreastcancer.org

http://bridalgarden.org/donations/ (within five years)

http://www.adornedingrace.org/donate/#donations (after 2005)

http://www.bridesacrossamerica.com (within five years)

http://www.st-josephs-haiti.com/3694/index.html (within 7 years)

http://www.fairytalebrides.org (site may be down)

What if you want to sell your dress?  You can try:

https://www.tradesy.com/weddings/

http://www.oncewed.com/used-wedding-dresses/

https://www.preownedweddingdresses.com/sell-wedding-dress.html

http://www.woreitonce.com/sell.cfm

Fur

If fur items are no longer working for you, there are a few charities that will make good use of them.

Born Free 

PETA (to comfort animals or clothe the homeless)

Coats for Cubs (holds an annual drive with local drop off points)

Books & Prints

First check to see if your books are worth the effort at  abebooks.com or bookfinder.com.

If so, look for local book dealers on http://www.abaa.org or sell online at http://www.baumanrarebooks.com or http://www.powells.com

For bibles, take a look at this appraisal site. http://www.greatsite.com/appraisals/index.html

As many Bibles are in print, only the most rare are worth selling, so consider donating to one of the sites listed here

For prints, try: http://www.philaprintshop.com/ or http://www.swanngalleries.com

Gifts from Former Flames

Want to sell something from your ex?  Try www.NeverLikeditAnyway.com.  Just want it gone? Post it on https://www.webthriftstore.com/donate to help raise money for non-profits.

 

Coins

Local to the DMV, try a well-reviewed coin dealer like this: http://www.juliancoin.com

 

Organizing Papers

One of the projects I regularly tackle with clients is organizing papers. It’s that backlog of mail, bills, and general nonsense that people often have stacked precariously all over your house. 

Here is an infographic that will help you quickly put into action all the stuff I say below.    But keep reading for more detail.

I think that dealing with papers is an overwhelming process because:

  • We want to be responsible, but don’t know what that means in the context of papers – what we should keep, what we can trash – and that uncertainty leads to indecision and inaction; and,
  • Papers keep coming, even if you haven’t dealt with the existing heap.

Hopefully, this post will help you learn about responsible paper management and show you a way to deal with the backlog and then stay current.  The process for getting on top of papers is basically a larger scale version of how you will keep current with papers going forward.  Check it out!

Step 1: Collect and pile

Collect all the papers from whatever basket or stack they’re in, and bring them to one central area.  (You may find it helpful to keep the stacks as they were, as their piles may have some meaning to you and will make subsequent sorting easier.)

Step 2: Create the filing system

Most people need three basic paper categories: Inbox – Action – Archive.

1. Inbox: This isn’t a file per se, and is the easiest file to set up.  It’s just an inbox (it could be a spot on a shelf, or an old school wooden desk inbox) where you will dump papers as they come in so that you can sort it at a point convenient to you.

  • The inbox MUST be gone through at least once per week.  Completely emptied.  Action items go in the Action file; magazines in the magazine rack; other items shredded/recycled.
  • If you want to be a next level paper ninja – don’t have an inbox.  Simply go through your mail every day when you pick it up – recycle the crap, and put items that need attention into the Action file.

2. Action File: This is where you will store the papers you need to deal with – bills to be paid or double checked, health insurance statements to review when you are sufficiently caffeinated, letters to which you need to respond. 

  • For many people, the Action File can simply be one box.  For others, a few folders may make sense – for example: Action – Kids, Action – Bills, Action – House.
  • The Action File needs to be dealt with regularly.  Once a week is ideal.  This means take the inbox, sit at your desk, or on your couch, and go through and deal with the papers in there.  Pay the bills, return the calls, write the letters in response.  This is a “human system” – and is essential to staying organized.
  • If the action is completed, you may be able to recycle the paper.  If you want to keep it (for example, to make sure a bill payment goes through), you can file it in the Archive File.

3. Archive File: This is where you store papers you may need to refer to.  This should be as streamlined as possible – which is one area where people get stuck, and why they end up with way too many papers.  Don’t fall into the habit of keeping papers “just in case” – have a reason for keeping it.  Odds are that you will never have to refer to any particular piece of paper so be judicious in your paper preservation.

  • Where to store?  Almost no one needs a big file cabinet.  You can get away with one to four “desktop” files, like these beauties. 
  • What to keep?  I cannot give you legal advice about what papers you should keep.  However, here are a few pieces of guidance from reliable sources:
    • Taxes: The IRS has some guidance out there on which tax documents to keep, and for how long. 
    • Financial Statements: Anyone with investments is familiar with the large stacks of papers they receive, annual prospectus and the like.  In general, these are mass produced public records and available online should you need to reference them at a future date.  Once reviewed (or, let’s be honest, glance at), you should be ok to toss.  Here is more information from an expert. 
    • Paid bills: If you have paid a bill and want to make sure the payment goes through, it’s fine to keep it.  I recommend keeping it in completed action items (see below).  There should be no need to keep bills that are auto-paid or otherwise unlikely to ever be an issue.
  • What categories to have?  Categories depend on what’s going on in your life.  The simpler the better.  Here is an example of the Archive File for a parent who owns a home and is an independent contractor or small business owner.
    • House: This is for any paperwork related to the house.  The tabs could be: Completed Action Items; Original mortgage paperwork; record of home improvements – may go in annual taxes for that year; Deed/Purchase Records
    • Family: Completed Action Items; Birth certificates; passports (if not in a safe deposit box); health records; school records; legal records; banking information; Warranty and Purchase records (for big purchases only); Instructions for foreign products only (most instructions available online)
    • Business: Completed Action Items; Tax records – current year; Filed tax returns; Business contracts; Banking Information
  • How to keep Archives current: There are some great guides online about keeping your Archive File current.  However, the goal with this Inbox-Action-Archive is to keep it simple so you will actually get your filing done.  To that end, I recommend going through your papers once a year and getting rid of things that are no longer relevant (e.g., warranties for product you don’t have).  Filing the papers that are newest closest to the front of each section will make this easier - stuff towards the back is more likely to be outdated and chuck-able.

Step 3: Initiate

Once your Action File has been set up, it’s time to go through the heaps you made in Step 1.  Each piece of paper you have needs to go into one of these categories:

  • Recycle/shred
  • Action
  • Archive - put into proper Archive section
  • Unsubscribe - as you are going through the papers, if you are receiving papers that you can receive digitally or from which you can unsubscribe, take the time to do that.  The earth thanks you.  The Paper Karma app is a helpful resource for unsubscribing from catalogs and other junk mail.

Step 4: Stay Consistent

Going forward, your process is:

  1. Place incoming papers in the inbox;
  2. Sort the inbox into recycle/shred and Action items - place Action items in the Action File;
  3. Handle the Action items regularly;
  4. File required records in the Archives.

 

That’s it!  Once you have gone through the backlog – and it may take a while – you will find it easier to stay on top of incoming papers with your new inbox/action/archive system.

Note: This article is about papers, specifically, but to a certain degree can be applied to email and digital files.  I will post again soon about digital organizing.

Selling the surplus

Who needs a setting for 120 anymore?

Who needs a setting for 120 anymore?

When purging the surplus from our homes, it is sometimes helpful to sell some of it.  I always caution people to consider the ROI of your time before making the effort - donating is sometimes easier and rewarding in a different way.  It also gets things out of your house ASAP!  But if you

Selling silver: http://www.antiquecupboard.com/

Selling china: http://www.replacements.com

 

Time to sell this old thing...

Time to sell this old thing...

Household items and furniture:

  • Craigslist: An option in most metro areas, craigslist can be a way to sell (or give away things) quickly.  In DC in particular, there is a very high inventory of quality items as well as capable buyers.  Downside: High level of flakiness, and general annoyances.  In some areas, it is also rumored to be dangerous - so use common sense!  
    • A tip on giving things away: post your item - with a photo - in the free section as a "curb alert" if you intend to leave it out on the curb for someone to take with no need to contact you.  Post it as free - and give details on how to contact you - if you need them to.  Sometimes selling things for just a little bit - e.g., a couch for $10 - can result in more responsible buyers. 
  • Krrb.com: A curated online selling site that will crosspost your listings on other sites, like apartment therapy's classifieds.  There is less demand here than on craigslist, but significantly less flakiness.  
  • Ebay: You know what it is and the effort involved.  Proceed accordingly!

Clothes:

Sell and update your look, yo. (For info on donating fur, check out my post on Quirky Donations)

Sell and update your look, yo.

(For info on donating fur, check out my post on Quirky Donations)

  • In person consignment in DC: Not too long ago, we didn't have many options for consignment.  Depending on the quality of your items, you can try Current Boutique, Fillmore & Fifth, Buffalo Exchange, and Second Time Around.
  • Online consignment: You could try selling your clothes on eBay, but it's a lot of work!  For the best ROI, try some online consignment shops such as ThredUp - where you can box up clothes and send them to their HQ where they decide what to sell or donate - or Poshmark - where you post items yourself via an app.  Here are a few more in this article in The Washington Post.  Based on the quality of your items, and what is in demand, you will have varying degrees of success on these sites but it can beat shopping your items around in person!

Donations in the DMV

One of the best ways to overcome excuses when purging items from your home is to know that the item is going elsewhere to good use.  Here are a few of my favorite DC based charities.  Always be sure to check their hours and wish lists to ensure your items can be dropped off.  Some of the groups offer pick ups - but schedule far in advance.  If you can't drop things off yourself, I recommend hiring a delivery TaskRabbit to haul it for you.

Green Door: Petworth-based group that provides training and services to those with mental illness in the District.  They put out a monthly wish list of their client needs which usually includes gently used clothing and household items.  They have also been known to accept crafting supplies to use in their center.  Be sure to contact them before dropping anything off.

A Wider Circle: Wonderful charity in Silver Spring that donates all manner of household and personal goods directly to families in need.  They take furniture, kitchenware, non-perishable food, cleaning products.... many things!  They also take men's and women's professional wear.

Suited for Change: Great group that donates professional gear to women entering the professional workforce.  Some of the clothes are sold to raise funds - it makes a great sale opportunity worth checking out! Based in NW.  Dress for Success is a similar group in Silver Spring. MenzFit and StriveDC both accept just apparel for men.

Washington Humane Society: Accepts clean but used sheets, towels, blankets which they use for bedding for the rescued animals.  They also accept any sort of animal related product.  Locations in District on Georgia Ave NW and New York Ave NE and L Street SE.

Note: Many rescue groups and vets will also take used linens (like City Paws on 14th Street NW), so try calling a vet near you for a super easy drop off.

DC JCC (Behrend Builders): This group helps the elderly and low income families fix up their homes.  They accept all manner of construction items, like paint and tools.  Call the center to see what they need. They can often pick up your donation within the Beltway.

DC Books to Prisoners: This group collects books to go to prisons.  They have some special request books - things that will help prisoners learn trade skills - so be sure to check their websites for specifics.  Drop off is at United Methodist Church on 16th street several times per month.

Note: DC Public Libraries will accept books - but not text books and certain other kinds.  Stop by your local branch to see what they need.

Thrive DC works with homeless and in need constituents in NW DC.  It has offices in Columbia Heights.  The link will take you to their wish list, but in particular they need travel and sample size deodorant, bars of soap, toothpaste, tampons, combs, etc.

For additional options, check out this comprehensive list of donation and disposal options in the DMV put together by Laura at Dynamic Organizing.

A post to follow on quirky donation resources (think wedding dresses and fur) as well as more on ecofriendly recycling options and consignment!

Green boxes make for easier packing, and are easier on your wallet and the earth, too! (promo code!)

We here at Vital are pros at turbocharging moves.  In our experience, one of the best ways to make packing easier (while keeping down your costs) is to use green boxes.  These sturdy plastic boxes make packing a breeze, and stack easily on each other for quick moving.

Reusable moving boxes

We recommend Lendabox, a woman-owned, local DC company.  Not only does the uniform size make packing and moving easier, these boxes is actually cheaper than buying cardboard!

 

Be sure to use our promo code "vitalorganizing" and save an additional $5. 

 

 

(*All Vital promos are royalty-free so you know you are getting my unbiased opinion.)

Buy, Buy baby stuff (guest blog!)

My first guest blogger!  The lovely Gina is here to share some new baby specific tips, so that when you buy for baby, you can buy (or rent!) smart.

Hi Y’all! My name is Gina, I’m the mom of a 15-month-old girl and I have a confession: I have too much baby stuff.  It’s easy to do when you’re a first time parent – your registry is long and your friends and family generous. But there are some ways that you can get around that. So, here are a few space-saving ideas for baby gear that you just might need (or don’t need) in a small space.

Borrow: My first tip is to borrow what you can. Baby gear is used for such a small time, if you have friends who will let you borrow, do it. You don’t have to store it and you’ll need it for a hot minute. And really, there are only a few things you shouldn’t borrow. Like burp cloths. Those things get gross fast. And breast pumps (thought you can replace the tubing and things are fine. Otherwise, your insurance company is required to help you get one at low or no cost, thanks to the Affordable Care Act!). The rest of it? Bottles, clothes, nursing pillows - all of it, you can borrow.

Rent: Toys. Ugh. Where do I start. They pile up. They just multiply and you can’t seem to get rid of them. But, the folks at Sparkbox, well they’ve got your back. Sign up for their toy rental service and a box of developmentally appropriate toys comes your way every six or eight weeks. And since kiddos get tired of toys pretty fast, they’ll appreciate the rotation, too.

Buy: If you do need to purchase things yourself, here are some multi-purpose, small space smart keepers.

Rock n' Play sleeper - multipurpose baby gear, or for badass babies in small apartments

Rock n' Play sleeper - multipurpose baby gear, or for badass babies in small apartments

Jack of all trades: The Rock ‘N Play Sleeper is my most beloved baby product because it serves many functions. Bassinette, bouncy seat and swing, all in one. We put this right near our bed, before our daughter transitioned to her crib. While the one we had didn’t rock itself, I’d get this one and use it instead of a swing. And the Rock ‘N Play is great for just hanging out, too. It also folds up quite nicely, and you can also use it at bath time, where if you use this method, you don’t have to buy a baby bathtub.

 

Fisher Price Deluxe Baby Booster Seat: Give a boost to baby's bottom in this multi-use child feeding throne.

Fisher Price Deluxe Baby Booster Seat: Give a boost to baby's bottom in this multi-use child feeding throne.

Eat: There’s this thing in my kitchen that has a huge footprint and is super hard to clean: a high chair. It’s beautiful. I mean, really good-looking. I didn’t realize that in the land of baby gear, good-looking often means impractical. If I had to do it again, I’d get a booster that attaches to a chair, like this one.  (adjusts for different ages, dishwasher safe... le sigh!)

In conclusion, have fun, new parents! It’s quite a ride!!

Organizing is a Means to an End

While there is a certain satisfaction in seeing something perfectly organized, we must always remember that organization is a means to an end.  By minimizing our stress and distractedness, and reducing the busywork that stems from clutter, organization helps us shape our living environment to allow us to live the lives we want. 

There are a few books out there to help us identify what kind of lives these may be.  One of my favorites is Debra Ollivier’s Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl.  In it, she suggests we Americans relax our Puritan heritage and make time to enjoy the simple things in life, like eating a good meal with friends.  Though rife with generalizations about the prototypical “French girl”, this book provides a touchstone for me to focus on what’s really important and inspiration for thinking about design as an essential, life affirming aspect of everyone’s lives (with no Puritanical concerns about indulgence.)

Ahhh... a nice place to read...

Ahhh... a nice place to read...

Sneaky Storage

Once you’ve purged the unnecessary things from your home, it is time to find some clever storage solutions for the things you're letting grace your presence. 

Where can you eek out a few extra inches of storage?  Here are some real life ideas.

 

A tension rod that was lying around gets put to good use to eek out another shoe storage spot in a small coat closet.

Tension rods hold a few extra things up off the floor.

Tension rods hold a few extra things up off the floor.

Hanging pots and a shelf above the fridge look nice and are functional.

Hanging pots and a shelf above the fridge look nice and are functional.

 

 

A strategically placed shelf with hooks below above a fridge maximizes vertical storage in the kitchen.

Front of the door spice storage.  Since this is on the front of the door, she replaced the clutter-y containers with lovely matching mason jars.

Front of the door spice storage.  Since this is on the front of the door, she replaced the clutter-y containers with lovely matching mason jars.

Meanwhile, the back of the door in a utility closet doubles as a pantry in another small kitchen.

Meanwhile, the back of the door in a utility closet doubles as a pantry in another small kitchen.

 

A bulky guitar case hides in plain site next to a similarly colored entryway catchall.

Guitar storage
Charging handheld vacuum.jpg

 

 

The slide out shelf allows for easy access to the handheld vacuum, while the charging cord lets it stay plugged in when not in use to always be powered up. 

 

Back to blog list.

 

Sentimental, my dear Watson.

Sentimental items are the hardest to part with, but let’s be honest: they’re taking up real estate.  It is time for us small space dwellers to be realistic about the sentimental stuff.

Here’s one way to think about it logically so that you keep only the bare minimum of these things, specifically those you need in their original form.

Question 1: Can I ever use this?

Yes: Examples of useful sentimental things include grandma’s china and antique clock.  Why are these stored away?  If you can use them now, you should.  (If you could but don’t want to, then you need to let it go.)  What to do with useful things:

Use sentimental things

·      Incorporate some piece of it into your daily use.  For example, my great grandmother’s china is in deep, barely accessible storage, but I have two of her espresso mugs on my shelves that receive regular use. 

20150110_104954.jpg

As another example, I gifted one of my great grandmother’s trivets to a dear friend, while I found the other one a home outside the cabinet under this plant (which also happens to be sentimental, clippings from my boyfriend’s late grandmother’s spider plant.)  These things bring me joy.

·      Commit to deep storage: There are some things that need to stay in deep storage, like the bulk of my great grandmother’s china for me.  I have made the realistic assessment that I will use this when I have more accessible daily storage, and so it remains well-packed and stored well-away.

No: Proceed to Question 2.

Question 2: Is this thing mostly a memory now?

Yes: Examples of memories are an old nonfunctioning lamp, movie stubs, kids’ art, other mementos.  Seeing these things makes most people go awwwwohmygoodness.  Sometimes, this simple revisiting is enough (for example, when you find old birthday cards) and you can just let it go.  If you can’t, the best thing to do is to capture the memory that’s there by taking a photo to be placed in a photo album.  For kids’ artwork in particular, www.artkive.com cannot be beat!  Take a photo to capture the memory and then let the thing itself go.

No: This is a precious thing, your kid’s teddy bear or grandmother’s wedding dress, or a giant banana.

·      Save a piece of it: Things like wedding dresses simply do not keep, and it does not respect the memory of the event to have its loveliness consumed by time.  You can preserve the memory with a photo and a small clipping of fabric.

·      Ok, you can keep it: Some things can be kept, though they should be stored properly.  Some things defy all logic and need to be out on display, such as my client’s daughter’s giant banana.  My client would have loved to say goodbye to this giant stuffed banana, but to her daughter, this behemoth was not only sentimental – reminiscent of a family trip – but it also tickled her pink to see its giant yellow face.  One day, this will fade, and a photo of this erstwhile companion will suffice.  But for now, it is sitting against a wall, taking up too much room, but being enjoyed every day (by some).

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Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner (unless they live in an apartment, then it’s ok)

Small space living with a baby is totally possible with a bit of focus and hard work, and some creative solutions. Here are my suggestions.

Step 1:  Purge

In step one, you will make space by purging the stuff you don’t love or need.  In the words of beloved Mari Kondo, keep only those things that “spark joy” or are truly necessary (like certain tax documents and leases.)

To think one day, I'd be writing not only about small babies in small apartments, but also about messy desks...

To think one day, I'd be writing not only about small babies in small apartments, but also about messy desks...

You will be surprised at how much room you can make with this method.  I’m not suggesting you should say to your partner, “What do you love more, your empty Playstation boxes or your new baby?”  But it’s not a bad mindset when you are on the fence about purging certain items.  Be ruthless.  Now is the time to get rid of that box of cds you digitized ten years ago and your collection of competitive bocce ball league shirts.

Now that your bundle of joy is approaching, it is time to cull those things that are clogging up your apartment and your life.  This is a great time to call in a professional organizer, or a neutral friend – someone without attachments to the things in your home who can help you logically assess them.

A few tips: 

·      When you’ve selected things to purge, get them out quickly to the trash or donation - don't leave the piled up in your home.

·      Don’t be too unrealistic about pre-pregnancy clothes.  We all know not everything fit back then.

·      Really focus your efforts but don't overdo it – chunks of 2-4 hours can be very productive!

 

2.  Design 

Once you’ve made room, it’s time to find some clever ways to make room for baby furniture, clothes and accessories, and storage.  Check out sites like apartmenttherapy.com and search for your specific trouble areas.  Here are a few of my ideas.

Consider what you really need and then purchase wisely.  Changing tables for exmple seem de rigeur, but wouldn’t it work fine to have a changing pad that you can lay on the bed or sofa?  Similarly, consider whether you need a full crib, or if a bassinet with a smaller footprint would suffice.  When it comes to strollers, the lighter and more compact, the better.  See if you can find one that folds up and can be hung on the back of the door or in the entryway. 

Consider whether you can repurpose certain spaces.  Offices are the easy example – can you create a smaller workspace in the living room?  Sometimes actual renovations make sense.  For example, could you turn a closet into a baby room and store your clothes in an armoire?  This is precisely what my parents did in our NYC apartment to my much coveted walk in closet when my brother was a few months old.  While it seemed cruel at the time, it was definitely logical.

Finally, consider how you will be storing baby’s things so it does not look like a Babies’r’us truck dumped its contents in your home.  Have a baby corner in the living room, where toys can be played with and stored. Dedicate one drawer of your dresser to baby clothes and diapers.  Your baby will be enough of a (cute, precious) diva without having his own closet full of tiny hangers and singular outfits.

A few extra tips:

"Sure, you like it now... but where you gonna keep it?"

"Sure, you like it now... but where you gonna keep it?"

·      Avoid stuff: Both gifts and tempting doodads can cause you to accumulate more than baby really needs.  Resist the urge to buy everything for your new baby, and specifically ask friends and loved ones (ahem, future grandparents) to be realistic about the number and size of gifts, and amount of duplication of, say, tiny hand knit booties. 

·      Buy things in a timely manner – like toys that are age appropriate, purging younger toys and acquiring new ones as the baby grows. 

·      Talking to neighbors: Tell your neighbors about your new addition. Advance, apologetic warning to your nearest neighbors for the inevitable late night crying will go a long way to earn you some sympathy down the line, but more importantly, it is an entrée to discussing things like stroller parking.  Would it be possible in your walk up building to store your stroller in a common area on the first level?  Definitely worth finding out.

 

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I got Konmari'd.

My apartment is as organized as I need it to be to know where things are and feel restful.  As I said, I’m not Martha and do not have any compulsion to, say, alphabetize cans of soup.  But, you know, it’s pretty organized and, I thought, pretty paired down.

Enter Mari Kondo and her Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  While I could not relate to her lifelong need to organize, I was immediately struck by the logic of her keep only those things that spark joy.

Mari recommends a very particular order of operations, starting with clothes.  Her order helps you tackle the easier things first, thereby strengthening your ability to recognize what sparks joy.  Here is a template you can use that breaks down the categories.

It's a Chicago 8 box by bludot.  That is actually being used to store things.  Gasp!

It's a Chicago 8 box by bludot.  That is actually being used to store things.  Gasp!

So, immediately after I finished reading, I disregard that particular advice and started by tackling my books. (I have since devise what I call "Konmari light" - an adapted version of her methodology that adjusts some of her recommendations to the real world.)

 

I piled up the books by category (as she recommends), and brought books from other rooms in, too.....

 

 

 

 

Hatfield did not enjoy the process.  It disturbed his nap.

Hatfield did not enjoy the process.  It disturbed his nap.

Hatfield did not enjoy the process, as it disturbed his nap....




This is less than half of what I purged!

This is less than half of what I purged!

 

 

But I was able to purge ten Whole Foods bags of books, papers, and miscellaneous whats its.  You can recycle books in DC!

 

On another day, I tackled my closet, which I had gone through pretty thoroughly two months before.

My beloved Elfa.

My beloved Elfa.

I piled everything up by category....  I put a clean sheet on the ground to give me space to work.

And found two trash bags of things from my seemingly paired down closet that could go.


 

When I found a sad sock, stretched out from being rolled in a ball (just as Mari had said I would), I decided I would try her folding methods, too.

 

It's working for me.

Stretched out sock.jpg
Before....

Before....

After....

After....

The immediate benefit to this redo has been that I now do not wear the same grey shorts, blue shirt combo I was wearing every day.  I can see and therefore choose to wear a greater variety of clothes.

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The Konmari Way (& Konmari Light)

How to Konmari in real life

Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing guru.  Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has fundamentally framed the way I think about organizing.  Basically, she asks, “Wouldn’t it be great to be surrounded in your apartment only by things you love? (or really need, like tax documents)?” 

If you buy only one of the many books out there on organizing, it should be this one.  Although the book’s methods can seem a bit extreme, and her anthropomorphism sometimes a humorous distraction, this book is spot on – organize things by category, not room, using the “does it spark joy?” mindset.  Because as we know, organizing is just a means to an end - an enjoyable lifestyle.

In this post, I want to share a way to use her method with moderation.  We’ll call it Konmari light.  Here are a few of my modifications.

 

1.     Konmari: Do one big push and sort everything in one go. Konmari light:  Focus on one category at a time, completely finishing that category before moving on to the next.  Work on each category through to completion - put the keepers away and prepare the rest to be purged.  For example, this Saturday, start with clothes - go through them by type (tops, bottoms, etc.), then fold them and either set them aside (if you're rearranging your space) or put them away.  Try to work in 2-4 hour bursts to avoid decision fatigue. (though she is right that the decision making gets easier with time!) 

Don’t be afraid to give things away that don’t spark joy, and definitely responsibly toss things that are beyond their useful life. (books can be recycled in D.C.

2.     Konmari: Dump everything out on the floor.  Konmari light: She’s basically right on this one – you need to handle things, including books, to really assess them and their importance to you.  Take books off the shelves from every room and lay them out in one central area by category (general, reference, photo, other.)  If you can't do all of your books in one go, it's ok to work by bookshelf.  For your clothes, try working on the bed, or put a sheet down on the floor for more space.  

 

3.     Konmari: Thank each item you purge.  Konmari light: This actually is pretty helpful, but it works just as well if you say it in your head, because, you know, things are telepathic.  She is right that you can thank things for many reasons - because you wore it one time and looked really good, or you bought it (and got a spark of joy at purchase) but never wore it - and it taught you what just didn't work for you style-wise.

 

4.     Konmari: Fold everything with edges out, and put away by heavy to light and by color gradient – dark to light.  Konmari light: Her various insights into folding are actually pretty helpful and a good use of space, but if you are hesitant to try her method because of the intense changes to your folding routine, just stick to what you’ve been doing and try to implement gradually.

 

5. Konmari: Get rid of everything that doesn't spark joy, or isn't absolutely necessary.  Konmari light: You really should do this, but there are some things that you can't really part with until you get a replacement.  For example, your one pair of (ratty old) sweatpants that you wear every night in the winter, or that pan you use every day but that has seen better days.  For these things, I suggest keeping the, but maintaining a running "upgrade list" on Evernote or elsewhere of things you will replace (and remove) when you have a chance.

 

For a write up of phase one of my pre and post-Konmari’d apartment, click here.  Here is a link to a writer's experience at LuckyMag, and a photo of one Konmari'd project.

 

For a template on how to do Konmari light, including a breakdown of her brilliant categories, please click here.

 

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No, I am not Martha - and that's good news!

Many clients have asked me, “So is your home organized to perfection?”  

To answer the question once and for all, no it’s not!  My house is as organized and functional as I need it to be for my own sanity and aesthetic enjoyment, and no more.

This is for you, dear clients.

This is for you, dear clients.

For you see, I am not Martha.  My proclivity for organization and efficiency was forged by my own focused determination to be successful in school and in my career.  Growing up in a beautiful but small NYC apartment and attending a challenging high school, I compensated for my naturally distracted and disorganized (it's true!) tendencies by creating an organized space and task management systems.  This is a real picture of me in 7th grade, before I got my act together. 

Fast forward ten years, after I work really hard to be successful in school and my career, and I have locked down the ways to set up systems to overcome my tendency to drop my keys in a random place each day.  I am happy to help you learn to forge your own solutions.  

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