Getting into the spirit of giving at the holidays is so much fun! You get to spend time thinking about those you love and dreaming up gifts to delight them.
Unfortunately, Americans will spend $15 billion this year on unwanted gifts. This year, instead of giving unwanted clutter, put on your thinking cap and get creative!
To help you along, I’m going to let you in on my secrets for coming up with the best clutter-free gifts. This list is by no means exhaustive, but consider it a jumping-off point to spark your own ideas.
Are you ready for summer fun? Get organized, and you will be prepared to take off on an adventure whenever the opportunity strikes!
Do you ever feel that you want to take advantage of the excellent summer weather, but there’s simply too much in your way to make it happen? Maybe your house is disorganized, and you feel like you wouldn’t be able to catch up on the housework when you get back?
Perhaps you can’t find the things you need, so you waste time searching—Where did we store the picnic blanket?—or buying things over and over again—I can’t find the sunblock, so we’ll just stop by the store and buy more.
By the end of the summer, when kids are headed back to school, and the warm weather is waning, will you look back wistfully and wish you’d had more fun? This year, say yes to adventure with the confidence that you are organized enough to make it happen.
Grab the Essentials
My friend Rachel is a beachgoer extraordinaire and is also a very organized person. I asked her for her best tips and learned that having the right bag packed with the essentials is the key to easy beach (or pool, or lake) excursions.
The best bag is a roomy tote equipped with outer pockets, so you don’t have to dig around in the main compartment to find what you need. Store larger items such as towels in the main compartment and fill the pockets with easy-to-grab items such as sunblock (reapply frequently!), flip-flops, and sunglasses. Bonus points if the bag has a zip-top to keep contents free of sand or dirt.
Here are some fabulous bags you might enjoy! The mesh versions are particularly good for the beach because the sand will fall right through instead of collecting at the bottom.
Zip-Top Utility Tote by Thirty-One
Shop mesh bags at Target
Dejaroo Mesh Bag from Amazon
NOTE: I don’t get a kickback from any of these products. They are bags my family personally enjoys!
Store the essentials in the bag at all times, so it becomes a ready-stocked kit you can grab on your way out the door. Rachel’s essentials include:
● Bug spray
● Aloe or soothing lotion
● Ear drying drops to prevent swimmer’s ear. (Buy premade drops or mix-up
Rachel’s recipe of equal parts rubbing alcohol & white vinegar into a dropper
One clever trick Rachel has for banishing sticky sand (and keeping it out of your car) is to stash a bottle of baby powder in your beach bag. When you get to the car, sprinkle the powder on sandy feet and legs, then rub with a towel and the sand will come right off
Aside from your main tote bag, I recommend that each family member have a smaller tote or string backpack filled with their personal essentials: bathing suit, flip-flops, coverup, sunglasses, goggles, and a beach read. This way, you don’t have to try to cram everyone’s things into one family bag.
Store all of these bags near the door, in your mudroom, or even in the garage, so they are easy to find when you’re on your way to the car. If you park in the garage and your car doesn’t get too hot, you could even store them in the trunk.
.Tackling the Big Stuff
Now that we have the smaller items organized, create some space for the larger summer adventure gear. Move the snow blower and shovels to the back of your garage or shed, or create an easy-access space in your mudroom, porch, or even basement.
Gather all your outdoor gear (beach chairs, umbrella, cooler, boogie boards, outdoor toys, wheeled cart, etc.) and arrange it in the space. Whenever possible, try not to stack more than two things or to put things in front of others because your goal is to make everything easy to remove and put back. Make use of vertical space by securing utility hooks to the wall for storing folding chairs, boogie boards, or mesh bags of toys.
Sometimes it’s not the gear that’s getting in the way of our being able to say “yes” to a spontaneous adventure, but it’s the lack of organization in our home. You want to say yes, but then how will you make dinner without resorting to a junky fast food meal. You want to say yes, but you already have a mountain of laundry to tackle and the thought of adding dirty, wet towels to the pile makes you want to cry.
If keeping up with laundry is a problem for you, read my “Get Your Laundry Organized” blog to find a strategy that will work for you. For summer adventuring, it’s most important to make sure that your washer is empty before you leave so when you get home you can shake everything out in the driveway, then dump it straight into the washer and run it..
I like to put swimsuits in mesh delicates bags, so they don’t accidentally go into the dryer and ruin the elastic. Now your beach clothes will be washed and ready for tomorrow’s excursion!
For meal prep tips, check out my blog, “Use Your Freezer to Speed Up Your Day.” My top summertime meal tip is to stop sweating at a hot stove or oven and instead, use the slow cooker or Instant Pot for healthy meals that are mostly hands-off. Search “slow cooker/instant pot summer recipes” for dinner ideas featuring lighter, fresher flavors than your winter comfort food staples.
What if your fridge is nearly empty and you have no time to go grocery shopping? Skip the store and fill your cart while you’re at the beach by using an online delivery service such as Peapod or Whole Foods. How easy is that?!
My final organizing tip for summer adventures is to keep an “emergency excursions” kit consisting of a picnic blanket, sunblock, and bug spray in your car. When you see a picturesque meadow, hiking trail, or pond, you’ll be ready to pull over and make some memories.
The frenetic pace of the holiday season can put us into a flurry of shopping confusion. Read on for a simple solution to gain control of your gift buying!
Have you ever been out shopping for gifts, braving the holiday crowds, when you spied the perfect plaid scarf for Aunt Betty, made your way to the checkout counter with your prize in hand, only to stop yourself and wonder in puzzlement, “Uh-oh. Wait. Did I give her a plaid scarf last year? Or was that Aunt Dot?” Since you can’t remember and don’t want to risk giving the same gift twice, you get out of the checkout line and go back to the gift drawing board. Ugh!
Solution: Keep an ongoing gift list.
As I clicked open my own gift list spreadsheet last week to jot down some Christmas ideas, I looked at the tabs along the bottom and realized that I have been keeping a gift spreadsheet since 2005!
[My teenage daughter’s reaction to this news was to sigh, “Of course you have a gift spreadsheet,” accompanied a roll of the eyes.]
But really, it’s an easy thing to do and a great tool for holiday and birthday planning and budgeting, especially if you buy gifts for lots of different people: immediate family, extended family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, teachers, service providers, etc.
If you’re like me, making a spreadsheet helps you organize your thoughts and ideas into tidy rows and columns. However, if the mere mention of the word “spreadsheet” sends you into panic, fear not! You can keep an ongoing gift list with whatever tool you prefer.
Whether you use a spreadsheet, a notes app, or good old-fashioned paper, a gift list will keep you organized and ready for holidays, birthdays, and any-occasion
For a non-spreadsheet digital solution, use a word program (Google docs will allow you to access your notes online from anywhere.) or a list app (I still love Wunderlist but there are other great ones out there.). If you are a paper person, use a page in your planner or designate a little notebook as your Gift Book.
My spreadsheet is pretty simple, consisting of just three columns: name, gift, and amount. You can set up your spreadsheet or notebook the same way.
So this year, streamline your gift-giving by following Santa’s example: make your list and check it twice!
Spreadsheets don't have to be complex and intimidating, but can be a simple way to organize lists of information, such as my Gift List.
Click here to watch my latest segment with Emily Volz and learn how to organize your basement for the seasons.
If your basement is used primarily for storage, one big issue to keep in mind is combatting moisture.
Store items in plastic bins so they are impervious to surface moisture on the floor. Raise the bins on garage-style shelving or pallets. Label the bins so the contents are easily recognizable.
A dehumidifier is a key appliance. If possible, run a hose from the dehumidifier to the utility sink so they unit can drain constantly and you won't have to empty the tank every day. Check with your local utility company for rebates on new, energy efficient models.
Keep the area around the boiler, hot water tank, water meter, fuse box, etc. free of clutter so they can be accessed easily when they need to be worked on.
The main factor in keeping things organized is to create zones for the different types of items you store in the basement, rather than storing everything in one big area with no distinction. For example, you might have different zones for laundry, rarely used or seasonal kitchen items, holiday decorations, outdoor furniture storage, tools and household repair items. Distinctions between zones could be as simple as using different shelves or using painter's tape to mark off areas of the floor. Labeling everything helps the whole family know what goes where. If you don't have a label maker, just use painter's tape and a permanent marker.
Now is a great time to air out your basement and get it organized!
When the weather gets warmer, it's time to head to the garage and get it cleaned out for the season!
Of course, you might want to park your car in the garage, but aside from that the garage is a convenient place to store outdoor gear. That means making space for both lawn and garden tools and sports gear.
The first thing to do is actually clean the garage. It doesn't need to be pristine like the interior of your house, but it's a good idea to work from top to bottom (ceiling to floor) and banish the cobwebs, dust, leaves, and other debris that accumulates. A good wool duster works well and an extendable one will help you reach to the top of the ceiling.
Use cleaning wipes or a microfiber cloth to get the dust off of boxes and bins. Sweep the floor to evict the leaves and whatever dust that fell off the bins you just cleaned. Finally, open the doors and give the space a good airing out.
Now that the cleaning is done, let the organizing begin!
The goal with organizing the garage is accessibility. To take advantage of the few months of good weather, you'll want to be able to grab what you need and go.
After you've finished spring cleaning the garage, be sure to reward yourself: ride the bikes, take a walk, or plant some lovely flowers!
Check out the first in my 4-part Spring Cleaning series with NBC10's Emily Volz.
In the first video, I talk about switching your coat closet from fall/winter to spring/summer.
Here in New England, many of us have older homes with small coat closets or mudrooms. So instead of trying to squeeze all the coats into the closet, we have to make some adjustments and put at least the bulkier coats away for the warm seasons.
Before putting coats away, be sure to follow these steps:
Once the bulky coats have been put away, use a small vacuum to clean the closet and wipe the shelves to get rid of the dust.
Now you're ready to stock the closet for spring and summer. Replace the heavy coats with light jackets, windbreakers, and raincoats. Hang summer caps and hats on hooks attached to the closet doors or along the side walls.
Because my spring jackets take up only about half the space of the winter coats, I have room to add a storage bin unit to my closet in the warm season.
As you can see in the photo, each of my two daughters has a drawer for her bathing suits and flip flops. One shelf has the sunblock container along with another container for goggles and a water-resistant zippered case to take along to the beach. The rest of the shelves are stocked with towels, which I roll to make them tidy and easy to grab.
At the bottom of the closet, I keep a first aid kit and two picnic blankets handy.
Now you're organized and ready at a moment's notice to enjoy the warm weather and be outdoors this spring and summer!
The calendar just rolled over to a new year, so it's time to start fresh with some new files. This goes for you whether you're mostly digital, mostly paper, or somewhere in the middle.
If you keep digital files, I recommend downloading pdf copies of the statements as a backup and keeping them in folders on your computer and backed up on a cloud server (I use dropbox, but there are many good options out there.). Now is the time to create new folders labeled with the new year so you'll be ready when this year's downloads are available.
If you keep paper files, now is the time to label some fresh new folders. If you have a file drawer, one good option is to keep two-year's worth of files available at a time so you can just rotate the files for the new year. One set of files will be labeled "odd" for odd years, and the other "even." When the new year rolls around, bring the new year's set of files to the front of the drawer, emptying them out by discarding anything no longer need to store and placing items for long-term storage (Check the IRS website for a reference list.) in an archive file location such as a less-accessible file drawer or a box in a closet, attic, or basement (Use plastic bins if moisture is a problem.).
Another option for paper files is my expanding file system. Each year, I start fresh with a new 19-pocket expanding file. For the first part of the year, while I'm preparing for taxes, I keep last year's file handy. After April 15th, it goes down to my basement on a shelf with 7 others. I store 7 years' worth of files (that's how long to save tax-related info) plus one expanding file for permanent information (tax returns, home repairs, major medical info, etc.). I like this system because it's easy, compact, and never has to be purged. After 7 years, the files get shredded and I can reuse the expanding file.
How will you make a fresh start with files this year?
I like to change my purse with the seasons, using a more compact and colorful one in the summer and a slightly larger and darker colored one in the winter. Whether or not you change the actual purse, this is a good time to take a look at what's in yours and get it organized for the coming season.
This is a great 5-10 minute organizing project.
P.S. If you often lose your keys in the depths of your purse, use a carabiner to clip your keys to the strap and you'll never have to search for them.
Here in New England, the weather is starting to change from summer to fall (even though Thursday's forecast is 78 degrees!). One quick thing to take care of right now is to put away the summer sunblock, bug spray, and other summer cosmetics.
Round up the all the sunblocks in the house and check them all, tossing any that are nearly gone, nearly expired (or will be by next summer), or just gross from beach sand and grime.
Do the same with the bug sprays. While you're at it, test the sprayers and toss any that are malfunctioning (sprays a little trickle or has to be pumped 10 times before it will spray).
Gather any other summer cosmetics such as those bottles of ear drying liquid, mosquito bite spray, aloe vera, etc. Check these too to make sure they are full-ish, not expired, and in good condition.
Put everything worth keeping into gallon-size plastic freezer bags. If you don't have much, put it all in one bag. If you have a lot, sort it by type and use one bag per type. Store the bags near your summer accessories (beach towels, bathing suits) or near your luggage so it'll be handy when you pack for that beach vacation you're taking this winter. (You're taking me with you, right?)
The weather here in New England is finally warmer, which means it’s time for the winter-to-summer wardrobe switch! Even if you took my advice (see my 9/23/16 post) and set yourself up with a year-round closet that doesn’t require the semi-annual switch, it’s still a good idea to check your wardrobe a couple of times a year to weed out old items and keep your clothes in good condition.
This year, find some inspiration and motivation from this vintage WWII postcard that I found at the Churchill War Rooms on a recent trip to London.
In those days, people were trying to conserve all the resources they could for the war effort. Today, we have an interest in being thrifty and conserving for financial and environmental reasons.
As you go through your wardrobe, look at each item and consider:
Although this sounds time consuming, make it a game to see how quickly you can accomplish this wardrobe pruning. If you’re having too much trouble deciding on an item, it’s OK to keep it for now and see if you wear it this season. Try the trick of putting the hanger backwards on the rod or putting a folded item backwards in the drawer or shelf. In the fall, when you go through your items again, you’ll know if you haven’t used it because it will still be backwards. It might be easier to part with it then.
Here are three options for what to do with the clothes you edit out of your wardrobe:
1. Consign them: This option is only for in-season designer clothes in excellent condition. Resale shops are picky!
2. Donate them: Find your favorite spot (donation box or thrift store drop-off) near you and take the clothes there right away.
3. Recycle them: This comes from my very first Tip of the Week back on 9/12. For those really tattered or stained items, H&M stores offer fiber recycling drop-off bins and they even give you a coupon for a percentage off your next purchase.
Finally, focus on the clothes you really enjoy wearing. If you “make do and mend” these beloved clothes, they’ll serve you for a long time.