ALL POSTS IN Organizing

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I spent this summer – my last summer as a student ever – interning here at HGTV.com. The beginning of August has only reminded me that it’s only a matter of weeks before I head back to class for my final semester at the University of Tennessee (Go Vols!).

I’ve lived on campus all four years of my college experience – two years in a “traditional” two-person dorm and two years in an on-campus apartment. At this point I could probably, pack, unpack and rearrange all the furniture to maximize the space in just a few hours.

That wisdom came with experience, however. Like many other students, I spent the entire summer before my freshman year of college fretting over what to bring to my new home. Mix together my panic with graduation money and things quickly got out of hand:

What I Thought I Needed to Be Organized:

What I Actually Needed:

  • Paper shredder
  • 10 composition books
  • Multiple laundry bags
  • Laundry basket
  • More than three rolls of tape
  • Magazine rack
  • A plastic bin in every size
  • High school term papers, “for reference”
  • Pocket shoe organizer
  • Hangers

Needless to say I went overboard, much to the dismay of my poor parents who had to lug it all across the state only to have to turn around and take it all back when everything was intruding on my roommate’s side of our tiny room. Here’s what I’ve learned from the chaotic mistakes I made:

320 Sycamore shoe organizer idea

Melissa from 320 * Sycamore cut a hanging shoe rack to fit her narrow closet doors.

My favorite trick for keeping things tidy is investing in a couple over-the-door pocket shoe organizers. They’re inexpensive and readily available in stores at this time of year. They have deep pockets – making them perfect for stashing toiletries, school supplies, and snacks – and what’s best is that you can keep them behind a door or tucked away in the closet.

You could also try attaching clear folders to the wall for a neat place to hold homework, papers or a collection of menus for those late-night hunger pains:

hanging pocket folder organizer

Remember that whatever you do, organization is priority number one in a dorm room. Priority number two is not attempting to take your house with you to college.

For more creative ideas on controlling clutter in a dorm or small space, check out:

Clever Uses for Everyday Items in the Home Office

Repurposing Household Items for Closet Organization

Stylish Storage Solutions

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Jewelry storage is so tricky, don’t you think? I have my accessories draped on hooks and dumped in trinket bowls, and the whole effect comes across as sloppy. I think the clear solution is a Bling Box.

Deny Design Bling Box1

Bling Box Jewelry Case

You can customize your Bling Box with dozens of backgrounds, but my favorite is this painterly scene by artist Amy Sia. I think it would elevate my jumbled bangles and tangled pedants to a work of art.

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Confession time: I cannot remember the last time I changed our air conditioning filters at home. I am certain my gutters need cleaning. And if hard pressed I might be able to remember where the fire extinguisher is but I have NO idea how old it might be. Do fire extinguishers expire? Don’t answer that.

I have a lot of strengths, from making up recipes to mastering any craft challenge that comes my way, but home maintenance is one of my biggest failings as an adult. Enter BrightNest.

brightnest home maintenence website logo

When I happened upon BrightNest, it was as if a chorus of responsible angels started singing. What is BrightNest? It’s a lovely little website that aids you in keeping up with every home maintenance task from changing the batteries in your smoke detector to cleaning your refrigerator coils. They have loads of clever tips (check out this adorable homemade cleaning products infographic), helpful reminders, and you can even create a to-do list for a partner or roommate. My husband just loves that.

brightnest home maintenence dashboard

My favorite part of the BrightNest site is the Homefolio, which allows you to create a customized owner’s manual for your home. You can enter in paint colors, appliance manuals, warranty information, and professional contacts, all in one place. For someone plagued by a junk drawer overflowing with paint chips and food processor pamphlets, this is pretty amazing.

brightnest home maintenence owners manual

It’s totally free to sign up for a BrightNest account, and I think you’ll find it to be a handy little corner of the Internet.

So where do you fall on the household responsibility spectrum? A disorganized mess (like me), or do you have a photographic memory for home details? Can you come clean out my junk drawer?

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Today we celebrate our nation’s independence (I hope everyone has a relaxing, fun-filled day planned).

To keep with the day’s patriotic theme, I highlight Bungalow’s stylish collapsible white and blue storage bins. Yes, the “red” may be missing, but still — they have that “4th” feel to them.

Junk Trunk

A lot of these types of bins are on the market, but Bungalow promises theirs are different in that they are “sturdy enough to last.”

I like that tag line. It’s the same sentiment I have for our country. Happy 4th of July, everyone.

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OMG, the *books*. Piles of nonfiction, stacks of mysteries and romances, dusty autobiographies and Norton Anthologies (Norton Anthologies? really?!)…. I’ve carried books with me since I was in college — in the last century.

But as I found out during my home office reorg, in my gypsy lifestyle, books were important. The people behind them, the writers and the characters, were extended family. The Nortons represented happy college days in the library. Even though I didn’t have a house, they were my physical roots.

During my first coaching with Julie Morgenstern, author of SHED Your Stuff Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck, I marked the books as being the things to which I had the highest emotional attachment. In this organizing process, you first get rid of the things that are 100% obsolete, to which you have no attachment, building momentum to the obsolete items you’re most attached to. (As a quick reminder: SHED = Separate the Treasures, Heave the Trash, Embrace Your Identity and Drive Yourself Forward.)

My cookbooks, arranged on a built-in bookshelf

Dude! I can find my cookbooks!


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Julie Morgenstern, author of SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck is helping me organize my embarrassingly disorganized home office.

SHED is Julie’s process for helping people through transitions, so they can tame the chaos and make their unique contribution.

The four steps are: Separate the Treasures, Heave, Embrace Your Identity From Within and Drive Yourself Forward. In my first coaching, we focused on Separating the Treasures and Heaving.

Julie and I looked at my photos of the room. Um…super-embarrassing. I mean, look at this place!

Wow, does this home office need some organizing help!

Yes, that hat-shaped thing is a beaded lampshade. On the floor.

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Last December, I was interviewing organizing experts for an upcoming article. One of them was Julie Morgenstern. You’ve probably seen her here on HGTV.com, or other places like Redbook or Good Morning America.

“Why do people have so much clutter?” I asked.

“Going through stuff requires time and decision-making,” Julie said. Most people don’t have a clear head or a clear schedule, and they hang onto clutter because they need abundance. Or it gives them a feeling of fullness, of having enough.

Some people feel comfortable when their home is 60% full; some people feel better at 20%. There’s not a universally perfect amount of stuff — the key is, if you feel like you’re suffocating, you have too much.

That hit hard, because I was suffocating in stuff. I’d recently gone through a divorce and had one of those shameful rooms. You know the one: boxes leaning in precarious floor-to-ceiling stacks; bags of unsorted bills; piles of old clothes; cat brushes, jars of seashells, even 20-year-old floppy disks….

Clutter on a desk in a home office

I swear my desk is under there somewhere!

I asked Julie if I could use her book, SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck, as a template for a reorganizing process, and tackle that room. She said she’d do me one better: she’d coach me through it.

Yeah, I jumped on it.

Starting next Friday, I hope you’ll go with me on the journey as — in 3 coachings — Julie helps me purge that room by targeting why I let that much clutter pile up in the first place.

Until then, here’s a clue: You clear out the obsolete so you can make room to move forward. When I say it’s fueling and energizing…well…you’ll see.

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Organization is my middle name (well, that and Elizabeth), so I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to share our latest video – a closet makeover! Ken’s been hard at work building a custom closet solution that we designed for our master suite, and you guys? It turned out beautifully. Take a look…

What do you think, friends? It’s a vast improvement, that’s for sure. And if you’re inspired to try the look in your own home, feel free to ask any specific construction questions in the comment section; I’ll be popping in to answer any and all!

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