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Archive for the ‘Organization’ Category

I’ve made it a personal mission to ensure that my kids don’t grow up creatively stunted (like their mama who didn’t find her inner creative streak until age 35).  So when I was given an opportunity to test IdeaPaint, I was stoked (as were my kids).  Check out the full review in my latest column at Boston Mamas.  Enjoy!

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JA BarbieWhen I was a little girl, I was forbidden to have a Barbie.  My parents had this thing about bringing inaccurate female stereotypes into the house, and so I suffered an incomplete girlhood (sniff).  As it turned out, after a brief moment of Goth-ness in high school, I ended up being just as girly as the girliest girls out there (seriously, if there was even a 1% chance that I wouldn’t be laughed right out of the gates of the esteemed institution of higher ed at which I work, I would be sportin’ my Blair Waldorf headbands daily).  Anyhoo…my heart let out an extra thump-thump the other day when I got my weekly e-mail from Jonathan Adler announcing his new line of Barbie-inspired bath accessories.  Seriously, what could be better than pink lacquer in my house full of boys?  I might just pick up the Adler-donned Barbie and her very own mini-Lampert Sofa since I never got my Barbie-fix growing up.

Image credit: Jonathan Adler

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A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to spend the better part of a day with my good friend Marianne, helping to create a beautiful, practical space in her home.  About year ago, Marianne and her husband Jim had a carpenter build three walls of bookshelves in a small pass-through room that would become part-playroom, part-library.  But after having the shelves installed, life took over, and they became a mass collection point for anything and everything…books, piles of the kids’ artwork, kitchenwares that were too big for the kitchen cabinets, toys, even laundry.  It was time for an intervention.

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In four hours, using items Marianne already owned, we transformed her stuffed shelves into works of art.  Here’s how we did it:

1) Cleared the decks: Using tables in the adjacent rooms, we cleared off everything from the shelves and made distinct piles — framed photos, accessories, art supplies and artwork, books, and so on.

2) Decided on an approach: I quizzed Marianne….did she care how her books were arranged?  By author?  By genre?  Did she care if I mixed accessories among her books?  Was there anything that was critical to remain on display?  Nope, she said, the only thing she wanted was to be sure that her cookbooks were together.  Other than that, I had free reign.  

3) Checked the angles:  After the shelves were clear and I knew my parameters, I stood back and took in the views.  Because of the central location of the space, it could be seen from almost everwhere in the house, so I needed to be sure that I was taking the purpose and feel of adjoining rooms into consideration.

4) Created vignettes:  This is the part that is trial and error, more art than science.  I reviewed the piles we had made (which were many), and began creating vignettes among the shelves.  I started with the knowns — she wanted all of her cookbooks to be together, and I knew I wanted to group their many, many travel guides.  I knew I wanted the children’s artwork and art supplies to be accessible (low shelves) and breakable items to be inaccessible (high shelves).  I knew I wanted the wall that faced her coastal-inspired living room to be calming, artistic and elegant, and the main wall of the room to be filled with energy and color.

4) Hunted for treasure: After establishing the vignettes on each shelf, there was still a lot of space remaining (there were 28 shelves to fill artfully), so I went treasure hunting around Marianne’s house.  After hijacking a painting from a bathroom, a chinese teapot from her office, and a few other items, I filled the empty spaces and the shelves were nearly complete.

5) Assessed the situation: After finishing all the shelves, we took a hard look at what was missing, and it was only two things: a container to keep drawing paper accessible (but not all over the place), and a basket to hold the work of Marianne’s prolific little artists.  We made a quick run to the Container Store, and voila!, the space went from messy to marvelous. 

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Oval Nested Woven Nylon Bins from Container StoreToday, I’m sharing my latest contribution to the stylish and sophisticated BostonMamas.com, *the* resource site for moms in Boston and beyond.  Enjoy!

Before I (or any of my friends) had children, I remember walking into the houses of those who did and being horrified…blocks in a tumbled-down heap on the kitchen floor, dress-up clothes strewn all over the couch, cars under the toilet.  My house will never look like this, I thought.  But just a few years and a couple of kids later, I realized that toys creeping out from the requisite toybox is inevitable, and takes a huge amount of energy to combat it.

Since that moment of realization, my husband and I have tried a slew of products meant specifically for organizing toys, but it was only recently that we faced the truth.  It’s not the product but the process that can free you from having toys take over your home.

1) Purge, divide and conquer:  Take a good hard look at the toys in your home. Does your four-year-old use the Fisher-Price farm set?  Do you have two dozen puzzles? Too much stuff can be really overwhelming for kids, not to mention the adults who have to live among it.  Once your child has gone to sleep, spend an evening dedicated to purging the toy collection and organizing what’s left based on the way your child plays (dolls and clothes together, trains and tracks together, Legos separate from Duplos, etc.).  If there are items you can’t make a decision about without the child’s input, make a pile and review in the morning.  Donate or sell the rest. 

2) Choose a home:  You don’t have to have a playroom to have a “primary residence” for toys.  Dedicate a corner of the living room, your child’s room, or a room in the house that’s not used very often.  Depending on how your home is laid out, you may want to select one more “vacation home.”  This allows for distribution of different types of toys, particularly if your child plays on two different floors.  For example, the majority of our sons’ toys are kept in our sunroom on the first floor, but we keep big trucks and the bowling and ring toss sets in the basement.

3) Store based on your décor:  Where you store your child’s toys doesn’t have to be plastic and primary-colored, but it does need to be child-accessible or else you’re going to be called to action whenever your child wants the Duplo blocks.  Consider where in your house you’ve chosen to store toys.  Go vertical with shelving and baskets if you have enough wall space.  A console with sliding doors works nicely in a room that isn’t just for toys.  A storage ottoman is terrific for a living room. 

4) A place for everything and everything in its place:  In our house, we use IKEA shelving with a combination of plastic beverage tubs (to hold chunky toys like bristle blocks and train tracks), plastic lidded boxes (to hold toys that have smaller pieces like Legos and Playmobil), and built in rattan baskets for puzzles, games and dress-up clothes. Once you’ve selected your storage system, explain where everything “lives” to your child (if he or she is old enough) – this will go a long way in both playing and cleaning up.  If you have the time and inclination, take pictures of the contents of each container, then laminate and affix them as labels for pre-readers (even better, include the word and the picture).

5) Collect in key areas:  It’s inevitable – toys will make their way from where they’re stored to other areas of the house.  Figure out where those areas are (for us, it’s the kitchen and the car) and create runaway toy collection spots

6) Get on schedule:  This is the key step, because the first five won’t mean a thing if you don’t get into a regular clean-up schedule.  Whether it’s every night or the end of every week, you and your child can work as a team to clean up – return the runaway toys to their homes and pick up the main play area.  If the system is working, and every toy truly has a place, this part shouldn’t take much more than a few minutes each night or 15-30 minutes once a week.

Image credit: Oval Nested Woven Nylon Baskets, The Container Store

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DSC01025Have an empty wall in need of some color? Here’s a quick fix: hang up an under-$10 pegrail from your local home supply store (I got mine from Lowe’s for $8), and resurrect some of those scarves that you collected during the pashmina-craze of the late ’90s that work with the colors in your décor. In addition to brightening up your walls, you get the added bonus of incorporating some of those long-forgotten beauties back into your wardrobe.

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DSC00989Although I try to eat veggies and fruit as much as possible, all too often our weekly produce ends up withering away in our ancient fridge “crisper” drawer.  I spotted a better way to store those fresh peaches and get a summery design kick to the countertop at my stylish friend Marianne’s house this weekend.  Placing produce in a pretty basket (she got hers here) keeps it at room temperature and moving faster from kitchen to table.  How can you resist fresh strawberries staring you down?

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bookshelf cropI’ve been in love with built-in bookshelves for as long as I can remember.  Maybe it’s that they remind me of my childhood home, or maybe it’s just that I knew from early on, without really knowing, that built-ins can be a beautiful way to maximize a space and make it feel positively custom.  Whatever the reason, I have been ripping out pictures of built-ins and fantasizing about them since I started hoarding home design magazines a decade ago.

So my dream finally came true when after spending more than two years talking incessantly about how the knee-wall in our master bedroom would be the-perfect-spot for built-ins and making grand promises of how my ever-growing piles would transform into neat, useful, and dare I say, decorative additions to our room, my husband finally gave in.   

Enter Bill Jones of FreshAir Millworks, carpenter extraordanaire.  In one short week (and only one day in our house for the installation), Jonesy whipped up a new piece for us that delivered exactly the vision I had every night as I fell asleep staring at that wall.  I don’t know why it took us so long to move on this project — possible fear of working with a contractor (we’re newbies), not knowing how to access a contractor without getting ripped off (personal referrals are key), or just getting up the gumption to spend a chunk of money on something so — well — permanent (that’s a hard one to swallow unless your absolutely sure what you want).  But the whole process of working with Jonesy was so easy, that it’s hard to stop coming up with projects for him now. 

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Want a little bit of FreshAir Millworks for your home?  Contact Bill Jones at (508) 587-1109.

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Boot RackI had been planning on waiting until next Fall to re-think the “mudspace” at my back entry, but with all this ridiculous rain flooding us in New England, I think I might need to figure out a better system for our family of wellies before October.  This simple, utilitarian, yet handsome boot rack from Winsome Wood should do the trick.  With three shelves for shoes, a slot for umbrellas and removable metal tray for wet footwear, this looks likes a perfect fit for small spaces.

Winsome Wood Shoe Rack, $82.99

Image credit: organize.com

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Basket CropBeing a family of two working parents and two active kidlets, one of our main jobs in life is keeping clutter under control.  Generally I feel like we do a fairly good job of clutter-busting, mostly due to some simple systems we’ve put in place.  The simplest of all?  A basket that waits at the bottom of the stairs.  Rather than piling up shoes, books, toys and other random things on the first step, fill up a basket with junk that needs to find its way to the second floor and bring it up once at the end of the night.  After you’ve unloaded upstairs, do the exact same thing in the morning for items that need to get to the first floor.  So simple, yet totally effective.

{There are terrific baskets actually made to fit stairs — usually called step baskets — but becuse of our narrow staircase and clumsy boys, we just place a Reisenthal market tote on the floor.}

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surlatable cutting boardsI know, I know, I’ve heard it a million times — when prepping ingredients to cook, it’s really important that you keep your meats, fish, poultry and veggies separate.  But honestly, with the mayhem of life, I just can’t seem to remember whether I use my white cutting board for salmon or chicken.  And the red one…it’s the color of tomatoes, so it must be for veggies…or is it red meat?  So when I was visiting my best friend in Atlanta this weekend, I instantly fell in love with her super-thin, super-stylish and toomanythingstothinkabout-proof cutting mats from Sur La Table.  Complete with color-coding and little icons, now there’s no way I’ll end up with Ratatouille avec Salmonella.

Set of 4 Color-Coded Flexible Cutting Boards, $15

Image credit: Sur La Table 

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