Keeping the Car Organized

A classic Tip of the Week from August 22, 2004

Cars can often become one of the last frontiers as far as organizing goes, especially for those of us who use them often, have families, or simply have a lot of stuff we keep with us when we're on the road. 

The glove compartment is a great place to start, as it tends to be a catch-all for any bits of paper or random items that might enter the car. Try this trick (from Martha Stewart Living): use a check organizer or other small accordion file to store registration and insurance info, auto club information and numbers, the car's owner's manual, maps, and directions. You may also want to file the records pertaining to the car's latest check-ups and oil changes. 

In addition to an accordion file, I recommend keeping in the glove compartment a tire pressure gauge, a pen or two, a few moist towelettes, and an unmeltable energy bar or granola bar; a Ziploc bag will keep these things together and prevent them from migrating throughout the glove compartment. 

There are a wide range of products designed to help you maintain organization in the rest of your car, from dividers that attach to seat backs to those that strap to sun visors to flexible seat-top bins. You can find many of these products at your local hardware or department store, or try an online store like Stacks and Stacks. 

Finally, keep your trunk in order with a trunk organizer. Again, there are many to choose from, so you can select one that's small enough to fit in your trunk and large enough to hold what you need. The one I use tucks easily into a corner, features a strip of velcro on one side (to help it stick to the trunk liner) and a strip of reflective tape on the other (so it can be used to help others see me if I break down at night), and came packed with car-care basics, including flares, jumper cables, fix-a-flat, and a well-stocked first aid kit. 

Spend some time this week cleaning out your car and getting it organized; in less than an hour, you can make sure your chariot has everything you need to get where you're going. 

Storing Kitchen Pots, Pans, and Lids

A classic Tip of the Week from August 1, 2004

Anyone with more than two pots in the kitchen is probably familiar with the challenge of keeping cookware and lids neatly and efficiently stored. If you don't have space for a ceiling- or wall-mounted rack, you likely rely on cupboards to store your pots and pans. 

Stacked cookware doesn't need to cause chaos in your cupboards. An inexpensive wooden peg rack (essentially two horizontal strips of wood with vertical dowels of various lengths attached) is a convenient way to store lids; simply line them up by size, and keep the rack accessible in a cupboard. 

Pots and pans can easily be nested, but it's worth taking a simple precaution to protect them. Place a layer or two of coffee filters or soft paper towels between each pot to prevent nicks and dings. (You can also use felt circles cut to fit each pot.) 

Finally, you can increase the efficiency of your cabinet storage space by installing a slide-out tray in the cupboard you use for pots and pans. Rather than having to reach behind stacks of other cookware to reach the pans in the back of the cupboard, simply slide the tray out and grab what you need. 

"But I Might Need It Someday!"

A classic Tip of the Week from July 25, 2004

"But I might need it someday!" These six words entice many people to keep things they aren't using, don't have room for, and might not even remember they have. What do you do about the stuff--often in perfectly good shape, and possibly even of some value--that you've been keeping around because you might need it someday? 

I encourage my clients, when faced with a pile of "might-need-its," to ask themselves these questions about each object: 

  • When was the last time I used it?
  • What might I need it for? When might I need it?
  • If I did need this object again after I got rid of it, how easy would it be to get another one like it?
  • Which is more valuable: knowing that I have this object on hand should I ever need it, or creating a living/working space that's free of clutter and of things I don't use on a regular basis?

These questions can be deceptively difficult, but they're often useful in terms of providing some perspective on the benefits of getting rid of the things you don't often (or ever) use, even if they might come in handy someday.

Along the Way

A classic Tip of the Week from July 11, 2004

(This tip comes from Cindy Glovinsky's book Making Peace with the Things in Your Life.)

You're cleaning your living room when you come across one of your daughter's sweaters, which belongs in her room upstairs, and a few board games, which go in your basement rec room. 
  
Rather than interrupting your cleaning flow by making trips to put the items away immediately, and rather than leaving them in the living room, where they don't belong, try putting them in "way stations" at the appropriate stairways. These way stations can be baskets or boxes you keep on or near the stairs; fill them with items that need to go elsewhere in the house, and make a habit of emptying them at least once a day. (Enlisting the help of others in the family to help clear out the way stations is also a good idea, as it gets everyone into the habit of returning things to their proper homes.) 
  
Using way stations will help save needless trips throughout the house, and will also help get items at least partway where they need to go. 

Pretend You're Moving

A classic Tip of the Week from July 4, 2004

This is one of my favorite organizing tricks, hands down. It doesn't require that you pull out the moving boxes or padding, or that you empty out your fridge and pantry as it would if you were actually moving. Rather, it's a simple and useful exercise to help you get rid of things you're not using and don't need. 

When you pretend you're moving, you go through your things with an eye to what you'd be willing to pay a moving crew to pack up and transport to another location. To make this even more effective, imagine you're moving somewhere far from your current home, and that you're being charged dearly for every box you take with you. 

Would you pay someone to move that collection of old bowling trophies? How about those stacks of magazines you haven't read in years? The boxes of old LPs you're sure will be worth something someday? The shelves of books you keep intending to read? 

At the very least, separate out the things you're sure you would not be willing to go to the expense and trouble of moving, and get rid of them: have a yard sale, sell them online, or donate them to a local charity. With your excess stuff gone, you'll find you have more space—and perhaps more money—to enjoy in your current home, no move required.

Traveling with Toiletries

A classic Tip of the Week from June 27, 2004

Full-size toiletries and personal care products tend to be bulky, take up a lot of space, and are potentially messy to travel with. Besides, unless you're planning to be away for several weeks at a stretch, you probably don't need the entire box or bottle. 

Many toiletries come in trial or travel-size versions that pack easily, provide just enough product for a trip of a week or so, and can be left behind when you're done with them. Another option is to make your own travel-size products by emptying small amounts of your everyday toiletries into reusable plastic bottles. (Nalgene, the company known for its durable water bottles, makes a series of high-quality and reasonably priced toiletry bottles.) 

A final option, if you're staying in a hotel, is to call ahead and ask what products they supply. Many hotels—even those on the budget end of the spectrum—provide shampoo, lotion, and soap automatically, and will also hand out products like toothpaste, razors, and deodorant if you ask. 

Whatever option you choose, make it a goal to come back with less than what you bring, whether that means reusable bottles emptied of their contents or, better yet, nothing at all. All of those mini hotel soaps and bottles of shampoo may be tempting, but unless they're truly special or luxurious, they're probably not worth the clutter they'll cause in your bathroom at home. 

{Update! For travel-size everything, including toiletries, personal care products, and baby care products, check out Minimus.biz.} 

Keeping Tabs on Hotel Room Keys

A classic Tip of the Week from June 6, 2004

To avoid finding yourself frantically searching for your hotel room key as you're ready to head out for the day—or, worse yet, locked out of your room altogether—get in the habit of choosing one spot in the room to store your key. If you return the key to that spot every time you come back to the room, you won't need to waste time hunting it down when you're ready to leave again. 

{And here's a current-day addition to this classic tip: beware storing your room key too close to your cell phone. Phones often do a great job of messing with the magnetized strip on electronic keys. Cue the sad trombone.}