Spring Cleaning-It’s really all about the clutter


Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash


It is that season.  The temperatures begin to rise, the sun comes out, green emerges in our gardens and we feel this urge to “spring clean”.  And if you are like me, the picture above makes you take a deep breath and feel a sense of relief.  You want your whole house, whole office, whole life to look and feel this serene.

I realized years ago, that my bent towards organization and that spring cleaning urgency, which frankly hits me about every three months, was really a longing for space-white space.  It was a need for room to breathe.  It was a desire to be able to find things, keep up with my schedule and have moments to breathe.  In the end it meant I simply wanted SPACE- space to live, laugh, relax.

I came up with the following acrostic to help me organize and manage my time.

  • S-Sort
  • P-Purge
  • A-Assign
  • Contain
  • Evaluate

We often begin the process wrong, and so in the end, we simply do little more than move things around, finding ourselves a few months down the road, handling the same items, shifting them from one space to another.  If you can embrace my SPACE method, I promise you will find exactly that-space to live, to play, to breathe, to rest.

Step 1 is to Sort.  You can begin as small as one drawer, one closet or as large as one room.  Simply sort the items into categories:  like items together.

Step 2 is to Purge.  Take a good look at what you have.  Get rid of duplicates, broken items, the unknown…  Elect to either throw the items away or donate.  Either way have a bin or bag for both.

Step 3 is to Assign.  All that remains are the items you have elected to keep.  These should be things you use or enjoy.   Decide where you are going to put each item.  Some may find a home on a shelf, some in a drawer, some a closet.  What matters at this point is to simply decide where the item is going to live.  If the item is going to be moved to another room, take it there and simply leave it in a holding space until you are ready to address the space.  Once you have assigned each item a place to reside, step back and determined whether or not the space is sufficient to hold the items you have assigned to it.  If not-yep, hate to tell you, but it’s time to purge a little more.

Step 4 is to contain.  So many of us want to rush out and buy all these cute bins, containers, labels BEFORE we begin organizing.  PLEASE DON’T!  You will waste money and simply find yourself trying to organize the items you bought to help you organize.  Once you know what you are keeping and where you are going to put it you determine how it will be stored in the space.  If you need extra containers, hooks, boxes, etc. you will know what size and how many.  Make a list of any items you need to purchase in order to effectively contain the items in the assigned space.

Step 5 is to evaluate.  This is the step most of us want to ignore.  We want to organize our space and have it magically remain organized.  But that sweet friends is simply not reality.  We live.  Our families live.  Items make their way into our homes and at some point many of those items need to find their way out of our homes.  It is important to periodically (maybe once every 4-6 weeks) evaluate your space.  Is there an area causing you frustration?  Do you find yourself distracted each time you set out to begin a project or work in a particular space?  While this step can often be the most difficult to do, it really is the key to success.  The more mindful we become about our spaces, the more we stop to think about the impact of our spaces on our lives, the more intentional we become with our purchases and our decisions.  As we begin to live with intention and focus, we find that space we have longed for, and in that moment we take the deep, rejuvenating breath.

*this same process works for your calendar and time management system, but that’s a whole other blog 🙂



What Does It Mean to Be Organized? I Say It Means Nothing

Organization.  Purging.  Margin.  White Space.  Time Management.  Minimalism.  Simplifying.  Downsizing.

Google any one of those words and thousands upon thousands of articles, blog links, advertisements pop up.  We live in a high tech, fast paced, immediate gratification world and yet it seems all are seeking a simpler life, or ways to better manage the craziness of their life.

As a young mom, I sought to learn everything I could about managing my home, managing my time.  Some came naturally to me.  I like order.  I don’t like a lot of stuff, so shopping and collecting are not big issues for me (well unless we are talking dishes or shoes).  I am also an introvert, so staying home in lieu of a jam packed schedule didn’t feel awkward.  I ran my house with my 6 month old twins like a well oiled machine and took great pride when asked ” How do you do it all?”  From the outside my life looked great.  It was a good life.  I had healthy baby girls, a beautiful home, a wonderful husband, circle of friends through my almost daily tennis and weekly church involvement…  The truth however was that I was burning the candle at both ends.  I was quick to snap at my girls, get frustrated when they didn’t sleep as the schedule dictated.  The smallest interruption always felt like a huge disruption.  I was hard on myself and hard on my husband.

One day as my frustration had mounted, frustration with myself, I was struck by the fact that I was spinning my wheels trying to be organized-be efficient.  I was juggling all the balls and squeezing it all in, but at what price.  Being efficient was not creating the life I longed for.  God took me back to Proverbs 31, that woman we love to hate and long to be like.  As I read the passages again, God invited me to really get to know the lady, to look beyond the scripture as a litany or to do list and look at the impact of one woman’s life.    In those moments my whole view of organization changed.  I no longer wanted to be the most efficient.  Efficiency was replaced with a desire to be effective.  I wanted to live an orderly life so God could use me to impact my girls, their friends, my friends, our neighbors.  I didn’t want to be known for what I could get done in a day, I wanted to be known for having time to invest in others.  I wanted to see interruptions as opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ.  I wanted our excess to bless others, whether it was purging to pass on, or shopping for others instead of ourselves.

Organization and efficiency are the world’s ways.  There is no such thing as being organized.  There is however a way to live a disciplined life that brings order and affords you the time and space in which to serve others.  Striving to be organized leads to fatigue and frustration.  Striving to be organized means being captive to our things, our schedules, our work.  That is not God’s design.  His design is that we live free, free to serve Him, free from the confines of stuff and schedules.

I still fall prey to the world’s call to be organized.  I even make a living helping others get their stuff organized.  However, I seek to approach every day asking myself if the purging, the sorting, the stacking, the time blocking is my attempt to control an unruly life, one I no longer really manage, or is it to afford me the opportunity to bless another person, invest in another person.  I am not interested in the pursuit of efficiency unless it helps me be effective.

New Home, New Plans, Start Here

Our moving process has just about come to an end.  The painter was back for touch ups today and the last light will hopefully be hung next week.  I have had the boxes unpacked for a while, but we are still (I am still) finding a place for everything.  I have said it before and I will say it again, while I love my new home and am ever so grateful to have had this opportunity, the best part of this move has been releasing.  I tell you, this recovering perfectionist has learned a lot about releasing over the course of the past three years-releasing people, feelings, situations…  The icing on the cake has been releasing stuff as we have prepared to move.  I feel twenty pounds lighter (in my dreams, and that’s another blog post for another day).  My family has embraced this process and I can honestly say I do believe we are down to having in our home only those things we love and find to be useful!

I was born with an innate desire to have order and simplicity.  I’m not one to like chaos, although I love change.  I’m not one to like collections.  I’m not one to like lots of color and pattern, in my home or on my person. I feel better when things are fairly simple (my girls say ‘boring’).  Piles do not energize me.  They drain me, as if calling out to me, “One more thing to do!”  While this innate desire for order and simplicity has driven me to a love of organization, I truly embrace organization because of the life it enables me to live.  I don’t ever want my home, my blog, my speaking engagements, etc… to prompt anyone to go home and begin organizing so they can present a certain image, or think it is a must do.  I don’t want any of us to emulate the pristine pictures in magazines or on Pinterest.  My prayer, my hope, is that anything I write, say, picture, about organizing creates a longing in others for peace, for a life that is fully lived.  I love being organized, having an organized home because it frees me to serve others, to use my home as a sanctuary and place of refreshment and nourishment.

Over the course of the next few months I thought I’d give you a glimpse into our home and along the way pass along some of my tips for keeping things ordered.  Today we will start at the front.  Our front door opens into our entry and dining room.  This home has been a challenge.  We have moved from a two story English style home, with lots of separate rooms, to a more English country open, one story floor plan.  I love it, but boy does it ever beg for order.

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I have yet to find an entry rug I like, nor have I landed on what to put over/behind/with the small silver chest on the entry wall.  We have 14 foot ceilings in the entry and dining.  I love the expanse.  I feel like I can take a deep breath and relax when I walk in.  I decided in this home to move away from the more traditional English colors I had used in the past, deep reds, navy blues, deep greens, and gold.  I moved completely out of my comfort zone and went with tone on tone.  The trim is slightly darker than the walls.  It is a greige.  I think that’s what they call this new trend.  The walls are subtle taupe/white.  We have a lot of family wood pieces and I wanted those items to pop and yet the home to feel light and slightly more modern.  Not sure we pulled it off completely, but it is feeling like home and we all like it.

Our dining room is a big part of our home.  Not in terms of space, but in terms of how we live.  We LOVE to entertain, and so our dining room really does get lots of use.  I am blessed to have a 1960 Ethan Allen dining set once owned by my mother-in-law.   In fact, it was her gift to us just two short years before she passed.  I treasure it.  I love the simple lines.  She loved order as well, so she had great storage pieces.  There is a bar cart my husband’s father still uses, so I don’t have it yet, but one day the set will be completed again.

We keep our dining table extended, ready for seating 8.  I love to decorate for the various seasons, but always try to keep the decorations centered on the table, so nothing has to be moved in order to use the table.  It just makes life easier.  I like to throw a few books and decor items in the china cabinet, but by in large, I store china and crystal in the china cabinet.  It keeps it safe.  It keeps it close at hand for use.  For those of you who never use your china, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret.  I got to meet and hear a Royal Doulton VP speak shortly after I got married.  A real treat.  He took a china plate and through it on the floor.  It didn’t break. He took a piece of every day dishware, through it on the floor and it shattered.  Bone china is actually very strong.  It is resistant to chipping and breaking.  Now, if you slam it up against the granite counter, well, no help there.  My point is, while it may look fragile, it really isn’t.  I could go off on a whole other path here spiritually comparing women to bone china and reminding us how very strong we are, but…  I also learned that bone china is dishwasher safe.  I heard you gasp.  And yes, my grandmother and mother just might faint.  It is the truth.  bone china, even with gold or silver banding is dishwasher safe.  The trick?  DO NOT use dish detergent with lemon in it.  In all actuality using dish detergent with lemon in it is bad for ALL your dishes, glass ware, cookware etc…  The lemon causes pitting.  Use the plain Jane dish detergent.  I use the good old Cascade plain.  I have for 24 years and my china is as beautiful today as the day I got it.  My gold bands are in tact.  The second secret is to let it air dry.  Adjust the setting on your dishwasher-it’s simple.  I tell you all of this to say-USE YOUR CHINA!  Why have it, why store it, if you are not going to use it?  If it just isn’t you, not your taste, you registered to get your mother off your back, then take a deep breath and let it go.  If you love it, dream of using it, then get it out and USE IT!

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I keep my silver in the silver drawer.  You can buy replacement liners and/or spray for the liners at the Container Store.  This keeps my silver from tarnishing quite so quickly.  Again, I keep it here so I will use it.  And we do-even a little tarnished.  I also keep our table cloth, chargers, table runners, box of plate stands etc… and a box of candles in the cabinet.  I literally have everything at my finger-tips when needing to set a quick table or prepare for a festive gathering.  You’ll notice the table cloth drawer is not full.  I keep a cream table cloth and a brown one.  That’s it.  I have found those two meet my needs.  And in all honesty, more often than not we just use place-mats or chargers.  I know there are TONS of gorgeous table cloths out there.  I know many of you have drawers brimming with them.  My question is, “Why?”  Do you use them?  How often do you think about using them, only to decide you don’t want to iron them or you don’t want them to get dirty.  My challenge to you is this-free up the space.  Get rid of them.  Life is way too short to fret over table cloths.  Keep the one or two you REALLY use.  Release the rest.

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I change out the art next to the china cabinet by season.  It’s an easy spot to add some holiday decor, yet doesn’t clutter things or require moving a lot of other stuff around.   During the fall I actually have framed pumpkins my kids did back in the 3rd grade.  I loved the look of them and as a mom, I struggled during those elementary years with storing their art.  I actually have quite a bit of it framed and we use it in our home.   It’s amazing how many comments we get.  I love it.  My girls love it.  One day I hope their children will love it and be inspired.

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As I have sought to become less of a perfectionist and more of an organized mom seeking peace, beauty and a full life, I have come to realize that having less often means having more.  Our dining room is fairly simple.  I have let go of a lot of stuff-and I am ashamed to say so.  Good grief the decorations, table cloths etc… I have spent money on.  Oh well, lessons learned.  As you can see.  I use every inch of the china cabinet and keep the table open for guests (which also means I don’t have to store the table leaves).  I have tried to be creative with my kids’ art, saving money at the same time.  While simple, we love our dining room and we use our dining room.  We serve friends and family there.  We play games there.  On occasion the table is cleared and we work on scrapbooks there.  We enjoy it.  And that dear friends, is a full life.

I challenge you to rethink your dining room.  If it’s really not your style to have one, then repurpose the room.  I have helped a client turn hers into a craft room.  A friend of mine uses hers as a billiards room.  If you want to use your dining room, then do.  Clear out the chests, get rid of the excess.  Use it, enjoy it.

Well Planned (intentional) Home: Master Bathroom & Closets-tips for organizing and building

We are embarking on a new construction build and family move.  It requires a great deal of planning.  Last week you saw the items I use to ensure the plans are just right and all the building information is in one place, organized and readily accessible.  This week I am giving some tips on how to plan for living in your new home, ensuring the spaces and storage fit your needs.  After all, why else would one go through the tedious process of building?

The process begins with knowing what you have.  This is yet another great time to purge!  And everyone knows how much I love to purge!  The point is not to make the move easier, but to ensure you are taking with you to your new home what you love and use.  Knowing what you are taking, provides you the perfect opportunity to build the cabinets just right, include the perfect shelves in your closets etc…  Too often we just get excited about a new home, new possibilities and we fail to remember the same people will be living in the new home, taking with them all their same stuff, including habits!  The new plan not only needs to flow, but you need to know exactly what you will be doing in each room, how you will use the space, and what storage items you will be taking with you.  It’s the nitty, gritty details that will create the home of your dreams.  You can have a great floor plan, beautiful flooring, extravagant light fixtures, but if you don’t have the right space for your stuff, you will be frustrated and unhappy.  You might as well take time now to try to get it right!

So, where to begin that overwhelming process.  I begin by taking one room at a time.  I write down all the things I love about the room.  Next, I write down all the things I dislike about the room-decoration, function, storage etc…  Then I attempt to brainstorm solutions.  Once I have completed that process (which can take a couple of days and MUST include interviews of the other family members sharing the space) I get out the new plans and consider where and how I can implement the solutions.  Most often this requires lots of measuring, looking on line for inspiration and even some catalog shopping.  I know, it sounds tedious.  It is a little, but it can also be inspiring!

This week the Master Bathroom was assessed.  Currently there are separate his and her walk in closets.  The new space will have one big closet.  Immediately it became apparent there would need to be some clear delineation using built-ins so the space felt “separate” and husband and wife each had “their” space.  There is no linen closet, and neither party wants those items in the closet, so clearly some linen towers/cabinets need to be built into the separate vanities in the new home.  Neither husband or wife likes clutter, so drawers, and cabinets need to be able to hold toiletries and be easily accessible.  Here are some shots from the current master bath.

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The current bathroom has some great storage.  This either needs to be replicated or cabinets with similar measurements built in the new house.  The use of Lazy Susan’s is one of my favorite tools.  In this cabinet there is a his and hers.  The shelving is adjustable so tall items can be incorporated.  Perfect spot for those items you use multiple times a day.  Another great space for storage is the front of the sink.  A pull out tray is great for holding toothpaste, floss and toothbrush.  If you choose to keep a toothbrush here just know you will have to wipe it down once a week to keep mildew from building up.  Clear acrylic trays are great for makeup, nail clippers, hair brushes etc… Again though.  These items need to be measured and given to the cabinet maker so drawer dimensions will accommodate the storage items already owned and utilized.  Storage over the toilet is a must for me.  It just keeps life simpler.  Toilet paper is in reach.  Medicine can be kept sorted, contained and out of reach in handy $5.00 Rubber Maid white bins from Wal-Mart. Again, measure!  I would not go to the expense of having adjustable shelving in here, making it even more critical you know your measurements and what you want to store.  Having items already organized in this way also makes the move easier.  Like items can be packed together, the storage items placed in the same box, and in the case of the bins over the toilet, they can be packed with all the items remaining in them.

The closets can be a little trickier.  Remember, that the new space must be usable, not just pretty.  And it must be usable for the person using it-not you as the designer or planner.  Rods should be hung at different heights-not just for pants, dresses or etc… but also based upon the height of the person using the closet.  My husband’s rods are hung 8 inches higher than mine.  This eliminated an extra shelf in the top of his closet, but ensured taking things off the rods would be comfortable, and his clothes would not drag the floor.  It is important to also include shelving for shoes, or if like me, space to place a store purchased shoe organizer.

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What are we doing different?  We will have a second linen tower.  I don’t keep a lot of linens (remember only two sets of towels per person) but we still seem to need more storage than we have now.  We have also agreed we would like space to sit in the new bathroom or master closet, along with a landing spot for rings, watches, wallets etc…  The decision has been made there will be two chests, one on each side, of the new closet.  I have also determined that in the middle of the closet, tucked close to a center wall of shelves (16-18 inches deep for shoes and storage bins) will sit an old hope chest from my husband’s family.  It has been an item moved from place to place, never quite finding a home in the current house.  A pretty rug underneath and maybe a seat cushion will turn it into functional storage-perfect for keepsakes, special blankets and a place to sit and put on shoes.  I am thrilled to know this family piece will finally have a home, serve a purpose and no longer prove to be a decorating challenge.

Going through this process took some time.  I had to take extra time to really talk to my husband about his ideas, things that worked or didn’t work.  I had to be intentional.  That theme has been running through my life.  Maybe I need to call it the Intentional Home, in lieu of the Well Planned Home.  Being intentional makes us better.  Being intentional provides opportunity for creating better spaces.  Being intentional makes us think about how we live, what we want to change, what we love and who we are.  Whether you are moving, building, or just trying to get your home in order, remember just that.  Be intentional.

Next week I’ll hit the kitchen.  Hmmmm-dishes are my weakness, this could be tough.

January-It is All About Linens

January is typically the month retail stores put linens on sale.  I kind of like the idea-new year, new sheets!  However, as we all know, linens aren’t cheap to begin with, so even on sale, they can still be pretty expensive.  So each year, as much as I’d like to run out and get new sheets, new towels, and refresh my home, I have to stop and really consider my needs.  I have also learned, as I carry out my organizing services, that all too often it is linens that take up valuable space in a home.  So, I thought I’d share a few of my linen tips and challenge you (as well as myself) to do a little January linen check-up over this next week.

As an organizer my desire is to help people uncover their spaces-get rid of the clutter, unveiling the beauty of their favorite spaces and items.  All too often the things we value most, the things holding memories, the things we saved and scraped for, sit buried in a storage bin or at the bottom of the closet under piles of items of lesser value-both monetarily and sentimentally.  I find that sad.  I am a firm believer in using and living daily with the things we value most.  Why not?!  What are we waiting for, saving them for?  Using my mother-in-laws vintage pink china brings fond memories and prompts wonderful conversations with my girls about the gentile lady they never had the chance to know.  I’d rather risk a broken piece or two than never use it, never share in the memories, never honor her.  Pulling out my Japanese tea service reminds me of my “second home”, the hospitality of a people I grew up living with, and the love my paternal family has for Japan. Again, great conversations take place as I reminisce with my daughters, sharing stories of a country and world that seems so very far off to them.  And this time of year, pulling out family quilts, hand knit blankets, seeing the names of kinfolk  I never met, again reminds us of our heritage, propels us to inquire, look back.  Things, stuff-we can accumulate too much.  We can hoard our things, never enjoying them or sharing them and their stories with others.  OR, we can live with our things, let them serve their purpose and bring value to our lives.

So, what do you have hiding in the closet?  What things do you have packed away for the “some day”?  I bet a lot of them are in the bottom of the linen closet.  That, or they are in the attic sight unseen because you have no room in any of your interior closets in which to store them.  Get busy, get ready.  Clean out your linen closet (wherever or whatever that looks like) and make some room for those items you love, those special items holding memories and value.

First, know that you only need two sets of sheets per bed.  Seriously, that’s it!  And in all reality, unless you have a different size bed in every room, you can get by with only one extra set of sheets per size of bed.  (ie-if you have 4 twin beds, you only need 5 sets of twin sheets)  In reality most of us strip the bed, wash and dry the sheets, and put them right back on.  Genius!  There go, minus a middle of the night bed accident (illness, bed wetting) you will rarely pull out the “extra” set.  This means you can invest in better quality sheets, purchasing fewer sets.

Second, you only need two sets of towels per person.  Again, most of us throw the towels in the wash, dry them and hang them right back up.  All those decorative sets we purchase stay in the closet gathering dust.

Third, if you really want to simplify, purchase all white linens.  They go with everything.  They can be bleached.  You don’t have to keep up with matching sets.  Now, I will tell you, I lived with this rule until my girls reached school age.  Now, as girls we just can’t resist the cute chevron, polka dots, vibrant sherbet colors…  I gave up the all white towels (except for kitchen dishcloths), but I have NOT given up the two sets per person rule and we still have cream or white sheets for all.


Fourth, remember linens are expendable.  They are meant to be used.  Whether we are talking about bed linens, kitchen linens or bath linens.  They are made to be hard working items.  They are meant to be of service to us, to bring comfort to us, to add some “pop” to our decor.  They can’t fulfill their role if we leave them in the china cabinet, back of the pantry or bottom of the linen closet.

Fifth, when it comes to bed linens please know that higher thread count DOES NOT mean better for you.  The higher the thread count the tighter the weave.  Now, this does make the sheets feel silky smooth, but on the negative side, it also means your skin can’t breathe.  That’s not good.  And if like me, you are entering menopause, that REALLY isn’t good.  400 thread count is actually the ideal count.  Some added softness, but a broad enough weave your skin can breathe.

Where to begin.  Start wherever you keep the majority of your linens.  Pull them all out.  (or go one room at a time)  Throw away any thread bare or incomplete sets.  Throw away anything stained (especially place-mats, napkins or kitchen towels)  If you don’t want to throw them away take them to the local animal shelter.  (But please, please do not take them to Goodwill.)  Next, pick your favorite two sets.  All the rest I hereby give you permission to take to Goodwill or your favorite organization.  Do it!  I don’t care if they are in perfect condition.  I don’t care if  the napkins and place-mats would be perfect for a beach themed pool party.  If you have never used them, haven’t thought about them in a year, you don’t need them and they are robbing you of the space for something else of value.  You will be amazed at the room you create in your storage space-be it drawer, cabinet or closet.  If at the end of the process you are left with nothing, then go out before January 31 and purchase some fresh linens on sale.  Just make sure you keep in mind the rules above!

I’m tackling my spaces tomorrow!