Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ten Tips from the Texas Homestead

I just returned to New York City after a long weekend with my family down in the small Texas town where I grew up. I spent time with my mom, my sister and brother-in-law, and their two sweet children. It’s always nice to be back home in Texas, despite the heat (which I actually miss). 

Enjoying some frosty beverages last weekend
One of my favorite things about visiting home, aside from filling up on Tex-Mex and swimming with my niece and nephew at the pool where I used to lifeguard, is that I get to stay with my mom in the house where I was raised. This was my first trip home since Christmas, just before I officially launched Urban Simplicity. On this visit, I noticed some of my mom’s organizational habits and was inspired to write this blog post. 

This week, I’m sharing ten of my mom’s best organizational tips and tricks. Straight from her Texas home to yours. And trust me, she’s a retired teacher, so she knows a thing or two about organization.

1. Invest in the amazing key hook. You’ll never again fish for your keys at the bottom of your purse. Seriously, my mom and I swear by this thing.      

2. Label expiration dates on food in your pantry. My mom uses the old, reliable Sharpie marker. You’ll be able to quickly dispose of items that are past their fresh dates. It’s a good idea to label spices as well.

3. Use one large, clear plastic container to store plastic bowls and lids. So often, take-out containers are spilling out of kitchen cabinets. Put them into a container to keep them organized. When the container is full, it’s time to throw some away.

4. Consider these cleaning tips. Keep cleaning supplies in one area of your home so you know what you have and avoid buying duplicates. Keep your vacuum centrally located so it’s easily accessible in any area of your home. And find a good multi-purpose cleaner to keep it simple.

5. Label makeup so you can quickly identify it. All of my mom’s Laura Mercier eye shadow has the same packaging, so she struggled to quickly find what she needed in the mornings. This is a particularly good tip if your eyesight isn’t what it used to be!

6. Keep a small notebook in your car to track maintenance and repairs. For example, you can keep track of oil changes, mileage, repairs, and save any necessary receipts or warranties all in one place. I remember my mom telling me to do this when I got my first car. It works well and is a very simple system to maintain.

7. Get rid of shoeboxes. They are popular homes for critters (lots of those down in Texas) and silverfish. Use plastic shoeboxes instead. I didn’t only inherit my organizing instincts from my mom. We’re also both very fond of shoes.

8.  Create a binder for manuals and instruction books for household purchases. Label and file them alphabetically in sheet protectors.

9. Create a bill-paying basket. If you haven’t moved to paying your bills online, this is a great option.  In addition to monthly bills as they arrive, include your checkbook, stamps, envelopes, return address labels, and your favorite pen.

10. Use a hanging jewelry organizer. No one has the drawer space to keep jewelry organized in trays (not even in large Texas homes), and these organizers hang easily in closets. 

Thanks, Mom, for these fantastic tips! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Great Closet Purge of 2011

This just makes me happy. 
Photo courtesy of Real Simple.
On a Sunday about two weeks ago, I undertook The Great Closet Purge of 2011. It was just over a year since I last re-organized my closets, and it was definitely time to get it done.

I made a career change earlier this year to start Urban Simplicity, and I was still holding onto clothes from my political days – mainly suits, work tops and dress shoes – which I luckily no longer wear.

It’s very common when making a major life change, like weight loss or a career shift, to hold onto clothes. People think they might one day wear them again. But that’s usually not the case, and the clothes take up valuable real estate in our limited New York City closets.

So, to get you motivated to tackle your own closet organization this summer, check-out these twelve tips. 

1. Tips to Make It Happen
  • Pick the perfect day. Maybe it’s rainy outside or your husband or kids are otherwise distracted.
  • Schedule time on your calendar to complete the project. Depending on the state of your closet, block out four to six hours. Putting it on your schedule will make you commit to getting it done.

2. Tips to Organize 
  • Set aside plenty of space to spread out. Because when organizing, the mess is always going to get worse before it gets better.
  • Do a little prep before diving in. Label five large boxes or bags – Repair, Toss, Donate, Keep, Giveaway (to family or friends) – so you immediately know where to put an item when you remove it from your closet.
  • Sort the keepers before putting them back into your closet. For example, during The Great Closet Purge of 2011, I realized I had four black sweaters. Now that I’m not working in an office, I rarely wear the sweaters that used to be my go-to item.
  • Come up with a system to categorize your clothing. This is definitely a personal preference sort of thing. For example, I keep all skirts and pants together sorted as suits, dress pants, and casual. I also keep them sorted by season. I classify shirts as dressy tops, day-to-day tops, t-shirts, button downs, and beachwear. (I hit the beach often!) I also keep my blazers and sweaters together. Finally, I group dresses together – from dressy to casual and sorted by season. 

3. Tips to Purge
  • If you haven’t worn an item in six months or a year, get rid of it.  Figure out what time frame works for you, set the rule, and stick to it.
  • Get rid of any clothes that are uncomfortable or just plain unflattering. Have your most honest (yet lovable) friend come over to give you an opinion as you try on questionable items.
  • For one month, put shoes you wear on a separate shelf. This is the best way to figure out which shoes you actually wear. At the end of the month, get rid of what you don’t wear.

4. Tips to Keep It Up
  • Schedule time on your calendar either once a year or every six months to re-organize your closets. Depending on how often you shop, once a year might be enough.
  • Keep a box or bag in your closet. As you come across items you no longer like, put them in the box to be donated at a later date.
  • Use the one in, one out rule. For each new item you buy, make a decision to let one item go. It will keep you from over stuffing your space.


So, what’s the real incentive to getting your closet organized this summer? First, you’ll save time, as you’ll get dressed much faster in the morning when you know what you have and can grab it quickly. Second, you’ll save money. In addition to the tax write off for any donation you make, you’ll know what you need to buy and can make smart decisions when shopping.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Urban Simplicity Featured in Daily Candy

This week, I don’t have any organizing tips or tricks for you.  All I’ve got is a little shameless self-promotion for Urban Simplicity. I hope you will forgive me, but this is big news over here…

Today, Urban Simplicity was featured in Daily Candy, an online guide to New York and a number of other cities, with three million daily email subscribers. Yeah, that’s a lot of people.

Please click here to check out the full story.

And I promise to be back next week with organizing tips and more deep thoughts on color-coding than ever. Just a sneak peak, you’ll get some insight into a professional organizer’s closet. Exciting stuff, I know!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Following The Golden Rule of Travel

Do you know The Golden Rule of Travel?

Well, get excited because here it is:  Always unpack right away when you return from a trip, no matter how late it is or how tired you are.  If you put it off, you end up living out of a suitcase for a week (or more) until you finally get around to unpacking. 

This probably sounds familiar. Well, no more! Here are seven tips to create a travel staging area in your home, which help you follow The Golden Rule of Travel.

1. Designate and clear an area in your home that can be used to prepare for trips and on your return. Your travel staging area can be in any area with extra wall space or even tucked away in a closet or cabinet.

2. Use stacked bins, each labeled for a family member and one for general items, for easy access when packing and unpacking. Bins are great if you are limited on space, because they can be stacked vertically.

3. Gather items a few days ahead of your trip and put them in your travel staging area. Packing items well in advance will take the stress out of packing and help you make good choices.

4. Invest in folding luggage racks. This will keep your suitcases open and off the floor. And never put your bag on the bed as you could transfer bed bugs.

5. Keep your trip files in your staging area.  Check out my recent blog post about creating an organized trip file.

6. Store any other items you commonly need for travel in this area, including:
  • Travel size toiletries
  • Toiletry bags
  • Travel first-aid kit
  • Travel adaptors
  • Chargers
  • Shoe bags
  • Packing cubes
  • Jewelry cases
  • Laundry bags
  • Money belt
  • Travel pillow and blanket
  • Earplugs
  • Travel alarm clock
  • Ziploc bags
  • Luggage tags
  • Trip files
  • Copies of vital documents
  • Packing checklists 


7.  Store your travel items in your suitcase, if you’re limited on space and don’t travel regularly. This will keep everything in one place.


Keep in mind that little advance planning can make packing and unpacking for a trip a breeze. Safe travels this summer!