Thursday, March 26, 2015

How to Organize...Children's Art Projects

With each major life event, you tend to find yourself with more and more things to store.  Moving in with someone, owning your first house, all the gifts from your wedding, when a parent passes away, owning a pet and especially children.  Like gift wrapping, kid's toys would be so much easier to deal with if they were all books.  Books are easy to organize.  But I swear each one of my kids' toys is more awkward, large and pointy than the previous.

I had no idea what I was in for when my daughter started bringing home art projects from daycare.  When she was little, the teachers would hold her hands or feet and make a lot of projects that were mostly the teacher's handiwork.  And still, we cherished these projects.  We framed them, hung them on the fridge and even shipped them off to various family members as keepsakes.  Now we get 1-2 projects a day.  I don't know how to cherish that many projects except to use them as wallpaper. (Note to self, get a patent on art project wallpaper).  Even with my pack rat tendencies, I know that we need to let some of the projects go in order to organize everything, but how?

This project's inspiration came from work.  I work in advertising and I keep binders that recap all the different advertising creative that was executed throughout the year.  I'm only using a simple binder with sheet protectors but it creates a nice clean look that won't get easily damaged over the coming years.  When I realized that most of the art projects consist of 8.5" x 11 paper, it made perfect sense to use this same organization method for our leaning tower of art projects.  Here are a couple tips for organizing and storing your children's artwork:
  • Each child and each year of daycare/school gets a separate binder.  It is fun to be able to see how the artwork progresses each year. 
  • The size of the binder depends on how much artwork is coming in and how much you want to keep but I use 2" binders.
  • Sheet protectors are not an absolute must but they keep the projects from getting destroyed when you flip through the book.  You can get 100 for under $10 on Amazon.
  • If the project doesn't fit, try trimming or folding the edges
  • If/when your child is old enough, let them help you decide which projects to keep and which to toss.  It helped me feel better knowing my daughter picked her favorites.
  • We have 8 x 10" pictures of our daughters from school hanging in the house but when we switch out the new pictures each year, I place the old 8 x 10" pictures in the front of that year's binder as a cover image.  It is nice to have a visual of how old each kid was when they did the art projects. 
  • Pull out any holiday themed projects to use for decorations during the holiday.  Each holiday gets grouped together and put in a labeled folder in our filing cabinets for easy access.
  • If you are looking for creative ways to showcase your children's artwork, check out this article on
Creativity runs is in my blood.  My mom and dad both were amazing photographers and painters.  My sister is an incredible actor, comedian and singer.  And I'm fantastic at color coordinating squares on graph paper.  Since the arts are so important to our family I don't mind that we will eventually have enough art project binders to fill a bookcase.  I'm sure at some point we can scale down even more but for now, one binder per year works for our crafty chaos.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Understanding Your Organizing Style and Barriers

When I was in high school I used to pass the time in class by taking a piece of graph paper (do kids still use graph paper?) and coloring the first line with red and orange boxes.  On the second line I rotated orange and yellow boxes.  The third, yellow and green.  And so on until the entire piece of paper was a rainbow of structured color.  (Yes, the image below is one of these sheets from high school that I saved. Cough. Cough. Pack rat!)  I also used to draw cartoon characters and fill in the color by drawing tiny spirals over and over and over again.  It wasn't until recently that I realized that all the quirky habits I had growing up could be useful outside of funky art projects. 

Some people are lucky enough to be born with the natural ability to organize and de-clutter.  The rest of us struggle with one, if not both.  One of my favorite organizing blogs is what I aspire to but will never actually be able to accomplish.  For me, living in a completely minimalistic and picture perfect house (or as I like to call it the Better Homes and Gardens approach) isn't realistic but it sure is fun to dream!  Over time, I have slowly learned to work within my strengths and barriers.

I found this interesting article the other day on Real Simple.  The article helps you determine the side of your brain you use to organize through a short quiz.  Left-Brainers like to sort, keep things out of site, categorize by date and have a specific location for everything.  Right-Brainers don't follow the rules.  They are more creative and emotional and likely to hang on to items for sentimental reasons.  I'm a mix of both sides but mostly left brained when it comes to organizing.  Whether you are left-brained or right-brained, you still need to figure out what organizing tricks work best for you.  Something that often gets in my left-brained/right-brained way is that I want everything to be perfect.  Instead of coming up with a completely adequate solution, I would fixate on finding the absolute best way to execute a project and it would never get done.  Something I'm still working on improving.  Here are a few of the tricks I've learned to help you work within your boundaries:

Be realistic.  Improving and learning new skills for getting your life/house in order isn't the same as forcing fitting a process that you will never use.  If you know you are a sentimental right-brainer, don't assume that you can purge your closet once and the clutter will never come back again.  Try to find tips and tricks that let you be you but still improve on your current process.

Don't Get Overwhelmed.  Once you start looking for ideas on how to improve your organizing skills, it can be completely and totally overwhelming.  There are endless blogs and articles and even entire books dedicated to the subject.  And once you start thinking about ways to make improvements, you will see new projects at every turn.  Deep breaths...relax.  There is no reason that you need to go from chaos to clutter-free overnight.

Be open.  Let's face it, once you've been doing something the same way for most of your life, it is hard to even comprehend doing something another way.  Not every trick is for everyone but be open to the idea of trying something new.  A lot of the time it is only the set up of a new process that is hard.  The upkeep can easily be incorporated into your routine.

Ask for help.  Trying to get your life or house in order can be stressful.  I have a few friends who are over-the-top stressed because they feel like they need to do it all alone.  It is okay to admit you need help!  Easier said than done but you'd be surprised how many great tips and tricks your friends have up their sleeves.  Plus, you'd be surprised how easy it is to convince a friend that organizing your closet is a super fun idea, when wine is involved.

Stay Accountable.  I noticed that I am more likely to finish a project if something or someone is expecting the project to be complete.  The idea isn't to make the project more stressful but just to keep it on your radar.  For example, when we started working on our playroom for the girls it was all my daughter talked about so I felt motivated to get it done.

Be proud.  Even if the changes you are making are very small and seem insignificant, they're not.  It may be hard but you are making improvements!  Even just seeking out information is a step towards growth.  As Frederick Douglas said, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress."

Whatever your organizing style, it is key to find what works for you.  And the best way to figure out what works best for you?  Trial and organizing error.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How to Organize...Clothing Drawers

There are certain areas of your house that constantly beg for a better way.  Your current system gets the job done but it's insanely inefficient and you just know a better solution is right in front of you.  It wasn't until recently that I figured out what I'd been missing when it came to organizing my clothing drawers.  As usual, it all started with my daughters.

Tiny people create mountains of tiny clothes.  Getting a four year old dressed is like negotiating a peace treaty.  It is a never ending battle and the last thing you need is a messy drawer making it hard to locate the one outfit you finally agree on.  I also noticed that both my girls were wearing the same outfits over and over again because I'd inevitably be in a rush and grab the first thing I saw on the top of the stack of clothes.  Then one magical day I discovered vertical folding.  What is vertical folding?  Vertical folding is when you fold your clothes into rectangles/squares and place each item next to each other instead of on top so that you can view, and have easier access to each item.  It also saves a lot of space in your drawers.  The vertical concept is the same for all types of clothes but t-shirts take a little more finesse.  Let's get started!

Step 1: Lay shirt front side down on flat surface

Step 2: Fold each side of the shirt towards the center so that you have created a long rectangle. The width of the rectangle will depend on the size of the shirt and the depth of the drawer. This example is a toddler's shirt so I didn't need to create as narrow of a fold.

Step 3: Fold bottom of shirt up to where the sleeves meet the body of the shirt

Step 4: Fold top of shirt to meet the bottom fold

Step 5: Check to make sure the folded shirt fit properly in the drawer

Step 6: Repeat steps 1-4 with the rest of your shirts

Step 7: Place the stacked shirts, neck down, in your drawer like a vertical bookshelf.

Step 8:  You can also place dividers between each row of clothes to create a cleaner look to the drawer

Vertical folding allows you see each item in the drawer without digging through the rest of the clothing.  Even better, the way you fold t-shirts lets you see a little of what is on the front of the shirt so it is easier to locate the correct pink shirt out of the eight pink shirts you own.  Which we all know how important this can be to your mini fashionista.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Eliminating Clutter Magnets

We all have that hidden (or not so hidden) space that we shove the little odds and ends that don't seem to have a proper home.  But when did the crap drawer turn into a crap closet or even a crap room?  It is hard to know where to put all your stuff.  Especially when you have a hard time throwing things away and you have multiple generations of your family's stuff stored in your house, like we do.

I've been thinking a lot about why certain things or areas tend to get cluttered and others stay organized and came to two realizations.  My inspiration coming from this set of markers.

We have some how managed to keep every single marker from this set for over a year.  With the markers being owned by a four year old, it just didn't add up.  None of the markers have disappeared, none are missing their caps, none are dried out.  Why are the markers in perfect order but all of our crayons are in complete disarray?  Dumped and broken in drawers, boxes, my purse, everywhere!  We ask our daughter to clean up after she plays with her toys but it is hard to keep track of all those pieces and parts.

Then it dawned on me.  The markers have remained in their box because there is a specific spot for each and every marker.  If they had come in a box without a slot for each marker, they would be in the same condition as our crayons.  And you can apply the same idea to the areas of your house that are magnets for clutter.  You will be less likely to have clutter and chaos if you designate a specific and easy to remember/maintain spot for hard to place items (i.e. crap drawer contents).  Which is why so much of organizing is based on using labeled containers, bins, etc.

The same can be said for clutter.  If you have a drawer that has no purpose but to hold things that you don't know what to do with, it will remain your crap drawer.  We have a bowl on our kitchen table that has become the crap bowl.

I clean it out every month or two but it fills back up in a couple weeks.  (Don't worry, that's a clean diaper.)  When I remove the bowl from the table, I'm forced to find a place for all the items that I previously would have put in the bowl.  Crap bowl no more!  Take a closer look around your house and see if you can identify areas that have become a stopgap for your un-storable stuff.