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Downsizing from large home

Dear Kathi,

We are getting ready to downsize from a 3,500 square foot home to a 1500 square foot home. We obviously have too much furniture. We would welcome your professional guidelines about how to downsize.

Errol, Oceanside

Errol,

Decide what activities will take place in each room within your new home in advance. For instance, will the spare guest room double as a study or crafts room? Once you have decided what purpose each room will serve, you can begin to decide which furniture should be kept, sold or donated.

Consider making a graph to scale of each room showing all doorways and windows. Another option is to simply take a walk through of your new home and make notes about what furniture you will need for each space.

Once you have a more visual understanding of your new home, you can begin to weed through your belongings. As you pack for the move, assign a room for each item and box it accordingly. This way each possession will end up in the right area after the move. Keep a master list of each room and its contents. With this method, important items won’t get lost. It will be easier to gauge if you have too many items for your new space.

I strongly recommend that you enlist the help of a friend or professional to provide insight and help you make decisions. An outside helper won’t have any vested interest in what you keep, sell or donate. They will be able to look objectively at your space and needs.

Furniture is your first and largest consideration. Once you have decided what furniture you will keep, you are ready to begin going through your knickknacks, china and other belongings. Your furniture and the storage therein will provide preset parameters about what to keep. For instance, if you have decided the buffet will not fit into your new home, this is a major indicator that you will need to part with some or all of your good china.

Consider what your new lifestyle will entail. Will you entertain on the scale that you have in the past? Will you still host sit-down dinners with good china or relax into the informality of barbeques and paper plates? Many retired folks are happy to pass the role of formal hosting to their children or a local restaurant. If you can’t part with all of your china, consider keeping a place setting for four and sell or bequest the other 8-12 settings.

Your new home gives you permission to release the old responsibilities of a garage full of tools, a bevy of pool toys and your full scale gardening collection. Eliminate the lesser-used and redundant items. Take this opportunity to redefine what you really want to do in your spare time and purge accordingly.

Books are a heavy topic, literally and figuratively. Book collectors and avid readers have a tough time releasing books while downsizing. Realize that you won’t have the same amount of bookshelves in your new space. Pre-measure your bookshelves. Preset the number of books you will move before you begin to purge your collection. Be diligent through this tough decision making process. It might take 2-3 purges to get your library to a manageable size. Remember that you can usually find most titles at the local library. Donate your discards to the public library system. Your old books will raise money for new titles and you can personally benefit from the tax deduction.

Remember that it is very difficult to purge too much. Almost every item that you own is replaceable. Space is not. Leave yourself room to grow and flourish within your new home.

Please submit your questions to: advice@addspacetoyourlife.com
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San Diego Professional Organizer

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Purging and Downsizing

Dear Kathi,

We have acquired a lot of furniture over the years and need to get rid of a few pieces. In two years we will downsize into a retirement condominium. I would like to start getting rid of things now so that it won’t be such a large task when we actually do move. It’s so hard to decide what to keep and what to let go. I think my real question is, where to start?

Frieda, Oceanside

Frieda,

It is a great idea to begin your downsizing now. Two years will speed by, and before you know it, you will have to perform this task anyway. Take the time now, set a reasonable pace, and you will make better decisions. To decide which furniture pieces you need to keep, consider what rooms you will have in your new condo. Will you still have a formal dining room? Will your kitchen hold your current table and chairs?

How many bathrooms? Schedule the approximate move date on your calendar. Plan backward from the move date to today and note what needs to be organized. Set a completion date for each major task.

List each room and mark the sub-goals also on your calendar. For instance, Guest Bedroom: Aug 1-8 closet Aug 9-16 curios, Aug 17-24 cabinets and drawers. Take a mental inventory of what is in each room. Make a list of the items that you absolutely wish to keep. Start letting go of items that you know you won’t need in your new condo.

Place these items into boxes for donate or sell. If you are ‘on the fence’ about whether to keep or give away an item, consider boxing it for the time being. Store this box out of site with a note to yourself on the outside.

List the contents within this box and the date it was taken out of the limelight. A month before your move, revisit these boxes. Read the label and the content description. See if you can visualize the items in the box by reading your label. If you have forgotten what these items are, even after reading about them, this is a good indication that you should let them go. Do yourself a favor and do not open this box. Instead, load this box into your car and take it to your favorite charity.

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Dressing for menopause with style

Dear Kathi,

I’m going through menopause and I can’t seem to find anything that feels or looks good when I wear it. Everything seems frumpy and when I flash I am unbearably hot even when the air conditioning is at full blast. Help! I can’t run around naked at the office and I can’t stand my wardrobe for much longer!

Betty, Carmel Valley

Betty,

It sounds as if you are ready for a fashion makeover. Layering your shirts can be the key to your success and comfort during hot flashes. Many women layer during this time but often choose the wrong types of fabric for this task. Find the lightest weight fabrics you can buy. Cottons and blends will help keep your temperature regulated and absorb moisture when necessary. Lightweight fabrics can be layered as many as three pieces at a time without feeling restrictive. Most importantly avoid wearing baggy shapes and choose clothes that skim your body. This will help you feel more fashionable and less frumpy.

Skirts are a great wardrobe choice if you run hot and cold. They are very forgiving during hot flashes. Make sure the waistband is not too tight. Avoid elastic waistbands because they tend to restrict your body. Opt for waistlines that lie flat against your body. Side zipper designs are more comfortable and cooler than front zips. When you feel a hotflash approaching, remove a top layer and then another if necessary.

If you work in an office, consider keeping a pair of sandals under your desk or slipping off your shoes discreetly while you are at your desk. Cooling your feet will drop your heat level a few degrees quickly.

Please submit your questions to: advice@addspacetoyourlife.com
.
San Diego Professional Organizer

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Garage organization

Dear Kathi,

We are really motivated to clean out our garage this summer. We want to play ping-pong during our Labor Day party. To do this, we need to put the garage in order. This is the largest part of the preparation for our party. It is piled high with boxes, tools and old toys.
I’m not even sure where to begin. What guidelines do you advise for this huge task?

Suzi and Kevin, Oceanside

Suzi,

Gather boxes, in all shapes and sizes along with a box of large trash bags. It helps to start this project the day after trash is emptied if possible.

Hire an expert or get a team of people to work on this project. Without a good support system, it could turn into an overwhelming task that will be abandoned part way through. While friends and family may be willing to help, be sure you have a plan in place to direct the process from start to finish.

Consider what categories of items you want to store in your garage. Does luggage really have to live there, or can it live in the attic or an indoor closet? Do you have a shed? Maybe your paints and chemicals could live there instead of the garage. Items that are typically housed in the garage are tools, gardening supplies, recycling bins, bicycles, sports equipment, camping gear, automotive supplies and seasonal décor.

Once you have determined what categories of items will “live” in your garage, begin pulling everything out of your garage, and grouping into these categories in the driveway. Use a lot of boxes during this process. Relegate loose objects to small boxes within each grouping.

Purge any excess, broken, or unnecessary items. Reconsider, donate or trash items that do not fit your categories. If you discover random parts or singular items that you need to keep, group and store them with the closest similar category. If this is too much of a memory stretch, store them in a visible place so you will remember you have them.
Once items have been consolidated like with like, you are ready to begin planning where each category should live within your garage.

Determine where you want each type of item to live by frequency of use and available space. Parking is probably your most frequent garage activity. Make certain that the area around your car is open and easy to get in and out of the car and the garage.

The recycling bin can live near the inside door to your home for quick access. Tools should live near the workbench, shovels by the fertilizers and so on. Shelves at eye level should hold the most frequently used items. A large shelf near the inside door is a great location for the extra rolls of toilet paper from the last warehouse purchase.

Plan for an entire weekend. Set aside enough time to work on your project. Back-to-back days are recommended so items that are being sorted do not have to sit outside in piles for long. Plan for an entire weekend unless you are working with a Professional Organizer. A seasoned professional will usually reduce your time by half because they have been through this drill many times.

After your garage is put back into order, commit to a regular schedule of maintenance. Promptly put things away after using them and schedule a couple of hours of maintenance every season. Follow this strategy and your next Labor Day party will be a breeze!
You can read more specific advice about garage “zones” in an article published in The Coast News by visiting http://www.addspacetoyourlife.com/advice04_01_05.html

Please submit your questions to: advice@addspacetoyourlife.com
.
San Diego Professional Organizer

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How to Keep Your Refrigerator Organized ~ Maintaining Order in Your Fridge

Dear Kathi,

I can never seem to find anything in my refrigerator. I rearrange my fridge frequently but between my kids and husband, I can’t maintain any type of order. What steps can I take to organize my fridge and freezer?

Sarah, San Diego

Sarah,

Refrigerators can be a challenge, especially when you have many hands reaching in throughout the day. To create long-lasting order, consider how your favorite grocery store departmentalizes their merchandise. Mimic this template and it will be easier for you and your family to remember where to find and return items in your refrigerator.
Every refrigerator has a different configuration. Your solutions might involve a variation of the theme because of your fridge layout.

Start this process by creating spaces for “like with like” for instance, dairy with dairy, meat with meat and so on.

Most refrigerators have a butter door. Because of this, we seldom have a problem locating the butter. The margarine and cheese are probably a different story. If your fridge is not equipped with a drawer for dairy, create your own drawer. Buy a long narrow plastic bin that runs the depth of your shelf. Put all of your cheeses into this container. Following your grocery format, locate lunchmeats and other meats next to the cheese in a similar container.

There are usually more condiments than space within your door pockets. Keep the most frequently used condiments in the door and the remaining sauces grouped together towards the back of your shortest shelf.

Beverages follow a similar pattern. Keep a few in the door and the rest clustered together on the top and back of the tallest shelf, which is generally the coldest zone. If you mix your own juices, keep this decanter next to the other bottles and jugs.

Leftovers and prepared foods should have their own zone on the short shelf. Note: when purchasing plastic storage containers, buy square or rectangular shapes. Round bowls create wasted space and do not fit well side by side.

If your family eats more than a dozen eggs per week, consider forgoing the egg container provided by the refrigerator manufacturer. Instead, stack your eggs in their original cardboard crates on top of each other on the short shelf beside the cheese and meat bins. If the open access of the manufacturer’s bin appeals to you, stack it on top of the remaining closed egg crate. When you are ready to cook breakfast, all ingredients are close together. Grab the eggs, cheese and meat bins and you are ready to create your favorite omelet!

For quick snacks, consider keeping a bowl of peeled carrots, cut celery or other healthy foods in a bowl located on the front of the shelf nearest eye level. This might distract the hungry hands that normally root around and rearrange the fridge.

Stack flat boxes together in the freezer. Frozen leftovers should be stored in square or rectangular containers whenever possible. Juices with juices, ice cream with ice cream and so on.

Store your frozen vegetable bags in the door whenever possible. If you have more bags than door space, consider keeping them in their own plastic bin. This allows you to stack them together and avoid the hazard of them toppling out of the freezer when you open the door.

To optimize morning smoothie preparation, store your frozen fruits in a long narrow plastic bin. Each morning, simply pull this bin from the freezer, choose the fruit necessary to create your desired flavor and return the remaining fruit to the freezer. A smoothie bin makes it easy to grab the ingredients with little effort. It also keeps sticky fruit residues off of the kitchen counter and the freezer shelf.

Please submit your questions to: advice@addspacetoyourlife.com

San Diego Professional Organizer

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Wardrobe update for working mom

Q: I want to create a new image and update my wardrobe. My baby is going into pre-school and I will soon begin working full time and stepping out into the real world. What clothes should I buy?

A: A good wardrobe requires less pieces than you might think. You only need a few, truly great items, then wear them for every occasion. Every woman should have the “indispensables”: perfectly-fitted dark pants, flattering jeans, a pencil-cut or A-line skirt, white button-down blouse, trench coat, and little black dress. Each of these timeless pieces should be of the very best quality you can afford and should be tailored to flatter your body type. As the basis of your closet, simply combine these pieces with a few trendy accessories to keep an updated look. Your “indispensable” well-tailored pieces elevate everything else in your wardrobe. Once you find the shape that flatters your figure, stick with it despite the trends and you will always look your best. The trends can be reflected with your accessories, i.e. bright colors, large bangles, handbags etc

Kathi is a professional organizer, image consultant and event planner based in San Diego California.

Please submit your questions to: advice@addspacetoyourlife.com
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San Diego Professional Organizer

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Organizing teaching materials

Dear Kathi,

I am a Special Ed schoolteacher. I hate to spend time going through stored materials for school lessons and plans. I find that it is usually easier to just start from scratch. I don’t have a good filing system and I end up with tons of worksheets, lessons and other collaterals. I have so much that I don’t even know what I have. How can I save time in my planning?


Mary, Encinitas

Mary,

Organize your study materials by lesson categories. Consider using a four-drawer file cabinet for your lessons and collaterals. If this is not possible, due to space restrictions, follow this idea using a shelving unit. The important concept is that your lessons and related materials are grouped together into sections.

Each file drawer or shelf should have its own broad heading: Arts, Sciences, Language or whatever is applicable for your materials. Next, create major file categories within each space. Label hanging files with a tab on the far right. Split that major category into sub sections for instance, spelling, grammar, reading etc. Stagger the sub section file tabs from left to right as you create new folders. You won’t have hanging files for your shelves but instead you can create separate categories with boxes or magazine bins.

With a full file drawer or shelf for each major topic, you should have the space to store three ring binders, packets of homework sheets, books and other bulky items between the related topics of your hanging file folders.

If you still feel more comfortable starting anew each year without referring to last years’ notes, please discard your old materials at the end of each year. The only acceptable reason to keep old paperwork is that it will be referenced again. Keeping it for posterity and for some future time when you think you might want to stroll down memory lane is NOT a good enough reason. If you think you might look at these papers again, you are fooling yourself. Consider the fact that you aren’t even accessing them now to create new lessons. I have been through enough schoolteacher’s archives to know this is the truth.

If you do decide to create an archiving system, take the time to set it up with broad headings to make it easy to expand. Every year when you add materials to the folders or boxes, take a moment to purge through each file and discard the duplicate and obsolete papers.

Please submit your questions to: advice@addspacetoyourlife.com
.
San Diego Professional Organizer

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Stash Before You Trash with Semi-Permanent Storage Solutions

Although you may want to devote a single weekend to performing a complete cleanse of your closets or storage spaces, a more practical approach might be to take it one step at a time.

For one thing, if you are not using the assistance of a professional organizer, you could find yourself paralyzed by the overwhelming enormity of clearing out years of accumulated stuff in two days’ time and end up not getting rid of anything as a result. Alternatively, you might eradicate everything for which you see no immediate need and a month down the road, find yourself having to buy things you just tossed.

No, when it comes to clearing out tons of clutter, if you are not using the help of a professional organizer, taking baby steps may be a better tactic. Instead of trying to go from closet to curb by Sunday night, aim for organizing everything into labeled boxes that you can place into a semi-permanent storage space. In essence, you can give yourself some time to test out the absence of your designated ‘don’t keep’ items before you part with them permanently.

And if you do decide they belong with you for good, the items are already neatly packed away in boxes that you can relocate to a separate storage unit or leave in their new spot at the back of an unobtrusive closet, out of sight and out of your way (but never really out of reach).

Here are some tips to help you jumpstart your semi-permanent storage trial run and some best practices for cleaning up the clutter now and maintaining a clutter-free environment moving forward.

Create a manageable plan that includes realistically attainable goals.
Much of the battle against a bulging closet is won or lost before you even attack. Embrace the ‘baby steps’ philosophy by breaking the entire project up into easily digestible portions:

  • Separate entire portions of the home into rooms: ‘Organize the upstairs’ becomes ‘Organize master bedroom’ and ‘Organize office’ and so forth
  • Separate entire rooms into single spaces: ‘Organize master bedroom’ becomes ‘Clean out dresser’ and ‘organize master closet,’ etc.
  • Separate single spaces into individual tasks: ‘Organize master closet’ becomes ‘Straighten shoes’ and ‘Swap out seasonal clothes’ and so on

From here, you can use the individual tasks as opportunities to streamline your items, remove the excess, and straighten up the space in general.

For example, the task ‘Swap out seasonal clothes’ allows you to pull aside all of your winter clothes and replace them with your spring and summer wardrobe. During the transition, eliminate from both categories as you go and divide the items into boxes that you’ve pre-labeled Keep, Donate, Recycle, and Trash.

  • Keep everything that you are likely to wear next year like currently-fitting jeans, sweaters, pants, shirts, etc. If they don’t fit or you don’t want them when next year rolls around, conduct another elimination round at that time, but you are allowing yourself room to change your mind in the meantime.
  • Donate everything that is still in good condition but that you are unlikely to wear again – because it doesn’t fit, it’s no longer your style, or it’s no longer age-appropriate. This is the box of transitional items that you can place in the back of the newly-de-cluttered closet and hold onto for another six months to see if circumstances are still the same. If you need to take any items out of the box or add to it, you can do it then and deliver the box at the appropriate (in season) time to the designated charity.
  • Recycle and Trash are more applicable with papers, documents, and broken or damaged items (toys, ripped clothes, etc.) that can be discarded immediately – no waiting period required.

But maybe ‘current clothes’ aren’t the source of your clutter. Perhaps you’ve accumulated a plethora of miscellaneous items over the years that you need to tame. For those, here are some questions to help you decide what stays for re-discovery down the road and what needs to go immediately:

Does it have important sentimental value?
You might find sentimental value in every pint-sized pair of socks and shoes from when your kids were little, but unless you’re only keeping the truly memorable pieces, the collection of clothes can get out of hand in a hurry.

Select some of the most important items like their Christening gown, their first pair of shoes, and even a few of the more subjective items (like the monogrammed dress that she wore in your favorite Christmas card from 15 years ago) that you want to preserve and do that – have them professionally preserved or properly packed away in a place wherein they’re out of the way but are protected until you pull them out again in a few years.

Other items that fall into this category might include:

  • Yearbooks
  • Photo albums
  • Cards announcing births, engagements, weddings, and other important milestones for those most dear to you (sorry, second cousins you haven’t seen in a decade don’t count)
  • Wedding items (a gown, shoes, jewelry, etc.)

Does it have important functional value?
You love the stack of magazines you’ve accumulated over the years, but when they grow to the point that they need their own storage unit, it’s time to pare them down. Go through them and pull out important articles or recipes or inspirational photos – whatever you’ve kept the magazines for – and create a single scrapbook or photo album with those and recycle the rest.

To take your organization a step further, scan the clippings and create an electronic copy of them and recycle the originals with the rest of the stack.

Moving forward, only buy items that you need and try to buy them only when you need them. And by keeping an eye on your clutter before it grows, you can avoid these semi-permanent storage solutions entirely.

Until then, what other items have you placed in semi-permanent storage and what did you end up keeping at the end of the trial period? You will find that there was hardly anything that was kept out of sight was missed or needed when your trial run was over.
You will discover it much easier to let go in the moment after you go through one of these trial storage solutions!

About the Author: Garret Stembridge is part of the team at www.extraspace.com, a leading provider of self-storage facilities. Garret often writes about storage and organization topics for homes and for businesses.

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Planning a wedding on short notice

Dear Kathi,

I am getting married this September. We have just begun planning and I know it is really short notice. What is the easiest way to plan this event with a very small budget and a small amount of time? I have two girlfriends who have volunteered to help me with whatever I need.

Jenny, San Diego

Jenny,

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. I’m glad to hear you have friends to help. Have you planned a budget yet for your wedding? Establish your budget and your colors/theme now and you will have solid guidelines as you plan your wedding.

If you have a small budget, the easiest way to get more wedding for your money is to schedule your wedding for a weekday during the day instead of on a weekend in the evening.

Your budget will guide you throughout your planning process. Be aware that weddings typically go over budget by 20-30%. The small details that often escape the budget are efficient fees, bubbles, postage, parking attendants, etc.

Once you have secured your wedding and reception location, your largest choices will be food, décor and talent. With three people involved, you might want to divvy up assignments into these categories.

If your friends have particular talents or interests in any of these fields, your tasking will be easy. If not, decide now who will investigate each category.

Ask your friends to seek out referrals for florists, caterers and DJ/musicians. Once they have found a few recommended vendors, you can meet with these companies to see if they meet your expectations and budget.

Food generally eats up the largest part of your budget. Interview and hire a caterer as soon as possible. Good caterers are generally booked two months in advance. You can reduce your food costs by planning your event in the morning or early afternoon and serving a continental breakfast or lunch. The traditional sit-down dinner is the most expensive option. If your wedding is scheduled in the evening, a dinner buffet will help reduce costs. A good caterer can usually handle many facets of your event including the rentals and cake. Finding a caterer who is wiling to handle all of these details will save you time and energy.

Your colors and wedding theme will have a large effect on your flower choices. Bouquets can be elaborate clusters or single stemmed flowers. Try to use flowers that are in season. A good florist will be creative and help you stay within budget.

If you are serving over 50 guests, cake costs can be reduced by using a small 2-3 tiered cake for photos and presentation and serving the majority of the guests from a larger sheet cake.
Save money by hiring a photography student or a new photographer who is building their business.

Many photographers now shoot digital. Include a copy of the disc in your agreement so you can make multiple prints at a reduced cost.

It is impossible to advise you about every wedding planning detail within this column. There are many fantastic websites to help plan and budget your wedding. Go online and search within the broad category of weddings and you will discover a wealth of free information.

Please submit your questions to: advice@addspacetoyourlife.com
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San Diego Professional Organizer

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Simplify your life!

What can you do to simplify your life? Think about the areas in your life where you feel the most stressed. Is it your home, your office, food preparation or the chaos in your garage? These are a few of the areas in our lives that can contribute to stress.

This week, choose the most stressful area in your life. Map out the problem and spend a few minutes each day this week tackling a portion of it. Attack it with the full intention of creating order and simplifying the issue.

For instance, if you never seem to have time for fun, you have a time management challenge. Consider everything that you spend time on throughout your week. Sneak in a few minutes each day to do something you enjoy or simply nothing at all. I guarantee that your week won’t fall apart while you do this. In fact, you might muster up so much energy from this quick break that you finish the remaining tasks in record time!

If your challenge is the garage or family room, start working your way into the mess by collecting and donating the items that you no longer need. This newly created space will help you formulate the game plan necessary to create order within this disorganized space.

If you can’t ever seem to eat balanced meals and get stressed thinking about cooking and/or eating junk food, consider preparing quick healthy foods on Sunday evenings before your workweek begins.

If you can’t seem to fulfill your obligations, this is the perfect excuse to downsize your schedule. Beg off on some of your previous commitments. Honor yourself and the others to whom you have made these commitments. Admit that you can’t necessarily handle what you thought you could when you first agreed to volunteer. You are not a super heroe and there is nothing wrong with admitting that you simply need to let go of a few commitments.

Simplify and let go to increase your sanity and fully enjoy the spring season!

Please submit your questions to: advice@addspacetoyourlife.com
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San Diego Professional Organizer

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