Toys in Toyland: Minimizing Clutter During the Holidays

Toys in Toyland: Minimizing Clutter During the Holidays

Here we are just before the Christmas holiday rush. For those of you who have finished your shopping…bravo!…you are part of an elite minority.

If you have little ones, or little ones to buy for, we like to offer some organization tips that have to do with quantity and quality. Now more than ever, we see bedrooms that spill into play rooms, that cross over into living rooms and kitchens, and basements. It is important for us to remember that as easily overwhelmed as we adults become with piles of stuff, so too, do our children.

Mounds and mounds of toys in every space make it difficult for children to discern what to play with, but also hinders their ability to understand how to properly put toys away. If items are on shelves and on floors and under beds and in toy chests, our kids won’t have a simple concept of where things belong when it comes time for pick up. To keep it simple for kids and adults, we like assigning one home for each type of item. For example, a bin for Barbies, a tub for trains, a toy chest for sport gear, etc.

This requires attention to quantities. It also requires knowing which items are important enough to keep and to store properly. Before the next round of toys arrive, we would like to suggest four ways to get your inventory under control:
1. Remove all toys that no longer match your child’s age
2. Remove all toys that no longer have ALL the pieces included
3. Donate any gently used toys that are not loved as much as the ones about to be unwrapped and enjoyed. This can be a fun ritual for your child who can help prepare the toys for another child to love at Christmas.
4. Reducee items where there are already large volumes. For example, reduce the number of books or games, stuffed animals, or costumes, etc in which quantities are high. Your child can have as much fun with 6 dress up costumes as they can with 30. Again, quantities easily overwhelm our children. Placing the right amount of items in front of our kids helps them stay interested and engaged.

Here are a few toy tips we think help with toy storage and accessibility:
1. When buying extra-large items like motorized toys or doll houses, etc, make sure you have the space to comfortably store the item long-term, or be prepared to remove some items to make room.
2. When buying toys with teeny tiny parts such as Legos or toys with small figurines, make sure that you have storage specific containers or even ziplock bags that will hold these small pieces. Also, be sure that your kids are at the right age to handle and put away the tiny parts. These items are difficult to organize for adults and really difficult to manage for little ones.
3. Plush animals are often displayed more than they are “played with.” Before buying stuffed animals, consider where they will be sitting and if space is available for them to be displayed. If your children suffer from allergies, we suggest skipping the plush toys.
4. If you own remote control items, we suggest using colored stickers to help match the remotes to the correct toy.

We hope your home and holidays are filled with joy and delight–rather than hard-to-manage clutter!
Happy holiday shopping!

Be Sociable, Share!

Space Takers: Home Office Edition

Space Takers: Home Office Edition

In our first edition of space stealers, we talked about products that eat up our precious cabinet and pantry space. But in the office, the biggest offender by far is paper, supplies and gadgets. The emphasis will be on paper though because it is something all home offices struggle with.

Saying paper is a problem, though, is an oversimplification. Let’s explore the type of paper kept and how it is maintained to get to the heart of the paper typhoon that plagues most home office spaces.

  1. Monthly Investment Statements. There was a time when we did not have access to our accounts and needed to keep the paperwork for the life span of the investment. But our accounts are available to us online. Most experts recommend that you keep the original policy and any paperwork that shows account activity, such as trade confirmations, and the year-end tax documentation. Get rid of the dense files, bankers boxes, and three-ring binders that store decades of history.
  2. Daily Mail. The only unopened mail that needs to be kept is mail that requires action, such as bills, RSVPs, or personal notes. There should be no advertisements, flyers, and marketing materials taking up any space in your home. We suggest having a recycle bin in the office or near the area where you read the mail so these can be readily tossed.
  3. Paid Bills. With online account review, the need to keep paid bill statements is not as necessary. But we set up many systems where these are stored for one year and purged after taxes. The key is the annual purge for keeping this paper tamed. In addition, we make it simple to file in monthly folders. Easy in. Easy out.
  4. Cards and Photos. You may have read previous posts of mine explaining that cards are meant to celebrate moments and are not meant to be kept for a life time. Of course, there are some with personal notes that may have special meaning; but they don’t belong in the office. Cards and photos should have a home that matches your vision of ownership in the long term. Do you want to keep them in albums? Do you hope to store them and pass them on? There are a number of photo safe storage options that should keep these out of drawers and shelves.
  5. Magazines and books. Admittedly, in the age of eEverything, this is my least favorite pile. The electronic versions are space friendly, environment friendly and convenient to keep. Give yourself some space back and let go of the outdated magazines, or the books that were just a good quick read.
  6. Notebooks with notes in them. People hold on to these because there may be a note with some value in them. Rarely are they called upon for that note of value. It may hurt, but I can tell you unequivocally to toss them and don’t look back. You won’t miss them. Find a way to use the notes program on your phone or via an app to help keep your important info or action items available to you without taking the space.

We should also take a moment to talk about eGadgets that take up space: old phones, old computers, and that pile of cords that belong to…something. And let’s not forget the boxes that stored them! The marketing is so good that most of us keep the boxes too. Recycle the boxes and keep the product documentation if needed. There are a number of ways to recycle the gadgets and destroy hard drives as well. For example, Verizon will take old phones, and Goodwill has a program for all electronics, just to name a couple.

Take back your space! Keep your work space clear of this clutter, and watch your productivity and your mood improve!

Be Sociable, Share!

Space Takers: Kitchen Edition

Space Takers: Kitchen Edition

Home after home, we tend to see the same type of products consumed that quickly become part of the one-hit wonder pile. There are so many sleek products out there which promise to make tasks easier–and perhaps they do. But our crowded cabinet space can become easily overwhelmed by these limited-use items. Many purchases are banned to the basement and hardly heard of again–until the next time we decide to make our own gelato and homemade beef jerky.

Here are some of the key offenders for stealing prime kitchen space. And to be clear, this is a list to help us recognize what we actually use in relation to how much space is being taken. It is not a comment on value, quality, or utility. How many of these do you recognize?

Ice Cream Makers. Most clients say that either the result was not desireable and the effort wasn’t worth it. Again, I have to point out the occassional use status makes it a space stealer in the kitchen.

NutriBullet style blenders. This item has numerous parts that need stored and are difficult to keep together.

Waffle Iron. We all love them, we just don’t love the space it takes to make them twice a year.

Bread Makers. All of the above.

Specialty kitchen products such as Pampered Chef. I hate to call out a product that is quality made, but I am surprised by how often these items end up in the Donation pile. Items such as the whipped cream maker, the burger prep set, corn butterer and herb freezing tray–you catch my drift. These products are often clever, but they are also bulky, single-task products whose results can be achieved without the product.

Extra large grill tools–with a case. They are too long to store. Anywhere.

Digital meat thermometers. They take up a lot of drawer space for limited use.

Specialty slicers such as the banana slicer or avocado peeler and veggie wedger. These take up a lot of drawer space and can be easily managed with a typical paring knife.

Corn-on-the-Cob plates.

Oversized wine bottle openers. When a small cork screw with a leverage pull is all that is needed to do the job, I have to admit I don’t understand the appeal of these devices. Most drawers aren’t deep enough to open without knocking into the tool.

For the following items, you can save space by keeping only one:

  • cheese grater
  • cheese cutter
  • carrot peeler
  • garlic press
  • juice press
  • apple core cutter
  • pizza wheel
  • baster/injector
  • ice cream scoop
  • bottle and wine opener

And you can almost always find cabinet space by removing mismatched mugs, novelty wine glasses, plastic cups, and water bottles. You can also reduce mismatched plastic ware, carry-out packaging and saved shopping bags. These tend to proliferate over time and can be edited quickly to reduce clutter.

Before the holidays get bustling, we encourage you to take a look in your cabinets and release items that take more space than they deserve.

Be Sociable, Share!

Space Matters! How does your closet make you feel?

Space Matters! How does your closet make you feel?

Take a look at your closet…how does it make you feel?

When I look at my closet I see: 
_ clutter and disorganization
_ clothes and accessories I love
wasted space that is crammed full
My closet makes me feel:
like I am wasting valuable time searching for things I need
_ irritated and unmotivated
_ well prepared for the day’s events


If I could change anything about my closet it would be:
_ the contents
_ the configuration
_ the closet system materials—shelving, doors, lighting etc
_ the size
_ all of the above


 Our closet space has an impact on our attitudes about our things and our home. It also is one of the top considerations for potential home buyers. Space matters! The issue is usually size, layout, or the amount of contents we are storing. Your answers to the above should help you understand which of the three issues are bothering you more and where you might want to invest next in your closet. For example, if you are suffering from too much stuff, you may just need help sorting and determining what clothing and accessories are current and suit your style. If you feel like the space is not well used, perhaps you want to invest in functional closet products. Or if the layout is truly frustrating, then a closet system may be the best answer for you.  

We at Birdie Brennan Custom Closets want your closet to offer a Triple A experience:
Ample enough to comfortably store your treasured and valued things
Accessible and convenient
Aligned with your home’s style

When closets are designed with your inventory in mind, peace and contentment can be achieved. The proof is in the results: contents are readily available at your fingertips, a variety of features are designed to address a variety of inventory, and your space feels updated and functional.
If your closet falls short of these goals, maybe it is time to change the relationship between you and your closet! We can help!

Be Sociable, Share!

Organized Mobile Eating

Organized Mobile Eating

I find myself eating out more and more these days when I book multiple appointments in a day.

I appreciate that there are so many options available for getting food on the go, but nutrition and expense mean it isn’t always the best option. Many times if I plan ahead, I can be ready with food that I know is good for me, instead of a drive-through meal.

The catch, is having the right foods on hand, and containing them in a way that keeps food fresh and convenient.

If you use a cooler, the sky is the limit in terms of types of foods you can carry along.

But since, I don’t like carrying foods that need chilled, I purchased a bento-style lunch box with multiple compartments that is portable. These boxes help encourage variety, which helps you feel satisfied and full.

But that’s not all. I don’t just want to avoid fast food for the sake of avoiding it, I also want to have available what the drive-throughs don’t provide: low or no-sugar foods, whole grains, no heavy sauces or fats, low carbs. This is not easy to do in general, let alone on the road.

Some of the great foods I find to be portable and meet the above “qualifications” include:
For protein              Jerky, nuts, cheeses such as Babybel
For a little sweet    Almost any fruit will do. But don’t forget dried fruits too
For some carbs     Think multigrain. A serving of Triscuits or Wheat Thins can give you a little crunch and pair    well with cheeses.
Veggies                 Carrots and bell peppers travel well, Celery with peanut butter, Sugar snap peas and edamame, sliced avocado, cucumbers and tomatoes.
Other great choices include: trail mix, protein bars, granola, smoked salmon or other meats.
You can certainly play with your choices, but have your “lunch list” ready when going to the grocery store.

Another challenge when on the road, is getting enough water. I am astonished at the small cups that restaurants offer when you ask for water in comparison to the sweet drinks available on the menu. Keeping just one water bottle is not enough for the day. Carrying large-capacity water bottles or a thermos in the car can help keep water plentiful while driving from location to location.

A couple other things to remember for mobile eats: hand gel or hand wipes and napkins stored in a container under your car seat, along with plastic cutlery.

Plan ahead and eat well while getting there!

Be Sociable, Share!

Home Check List for Fall

Home Check List for Fall

We have made many home schedules for our clients that reflect tasks for each week, each month and for each season.

Checklist for home organization

As we move further into Fall, here is a general checklist to help make your home and wardrobe Fall ready!

Fit List for Fall:

  1. Get Filters for your furnace and schedule your annual maintenance, if you haven’t already
  2. Review coats for condition and fit. Send out for any mending and/or dry cleaning. Now is a great time to donate any coats that don’t fit.
  3. Do you change bedding for the seasons? Now is the time to launder or dry clean summer covers and trade them in for warmer comforters.
  4. Cozy throw blankets will be in heavy rotation soon. Launder or dry clean so they are fresh and ready for the task.
  5. They say our shoes should be waterproofed once a year. Check leather and suede shoes for dry brushing and apply waterproof spray.
  6. While the weather is still mild, it is a great time to wash window screens and put away. And a clean winter window will allow the warmth of the sun to come through. Good to prep and wash storm windows and doors.
  7. Make sure you have umbrellas that are functional and handy.
  8. Recycle all spring and summer magazines and catalogs.
  9. Gloves, hats, scarves, etc. will need a home or homes that are convenient. Consider creating a designated space near the coat closet or mudroom for each family member’s gear.
  10. We want this to be a no scraping season! Let’s plan on getting the car into the garage. Move summer yard tools to the back or to a shed. Regroup tools and supplies, and put bikes away.
  11. Happy Fall Transitions!

    Be Sociable, Share!

Organize While You Winterize

Organize While You Winterize

Fall is here and it is time to start thinking about car preparations for the cold months and getting organized. After a summer of trips to the pool and transitioning to school and sports programs, it is a good time to get winterized.

Here are some steps to get your car winter ready: check for changes in tire pressure once the weather turns colder, assess whether it is time for new tires or seasonal tires, check your manual to see if oil and coolant needs upgraded, consider a good sweep out and seasonal wax.

But don’t just winterize! Go a step further and get your car mobile-ready. Car organization can be a challenge because space is limited and mobile.  The items that we store need to have a “secured” home not just an assigned home such as these areas.

Supplies for the trunk. In a secured storage bin, include an ice scrapper, keep cold-weather emergency supplies such as a blanket, extra windshield fluid, jumper cables, a flashlight, sensible shoes, a set of flares or emergency light. Also for the trunk, keep your favorite shopping bags, an umbrella, and a small set of general tools.
Car and trunk organizer

Supplies for the Glove Compartment. Keep important auto papers in the glove box including title and registration, proof of insurance, car manual. If you have a AAA membership then consider keeping a copy of the membership card here. I recommend having a couple of writing instruments and notepad, and an extra car charger for your phone.

Supplies for the Center Console may be more of a personal nature: a quarter dock, extra sunglasses, gum, an extra chapstick and a small bottle of hand cream or other personal care items of your liking.

Dont’ forget the space under the seat! I like to use a thin-profile document box such as this one to store napkins, wet naps, straws, sweetener packets, and an accordion file for coupons.

Great for under-the-seat organization

In addition, if you use your car like a mobile office, a console organizer is a great tool for keeping papers and supplies to support your work.

Storage and organization for the car

My favorite car hacks are hooks that hang from my headrests. One holds a car garbage tote and the other holds bags of items for returns. They are also great for purses, book bags, and sports duffles.


One quick tip to keep your car clean and feeling good is to empty the trash every time you get gas.  After I gather the trash from my car, I take a napkin (out of the napkin “home”) and run it over the dash.  A fresh addition to your car is a dryer sheet under one of the seats to keep things fresh.

Wishing you smooth travels and safe journeys in your organized and winterized vehicle!


Be Sociable, Share!

Getting Carded

Getting Carded

Oh the lovely greeting card! In this day and age it is so nice to receive a kind, hand-written message in the mail. Greeting cards are often a lovely work of art with sentiments that ring true to everyday life. But what about life after the card–where do they end up? How long should they be kept? Where should they be kept? When is it okay to let go?

Card piles usually manifest themselves in 2 ways: they get thrown into an ever growing incoming mail pile, or they end up in boxes and boxes of memorabilia.

As a general rule of thumb, we tell our clients that the majority of cards are meant to celebrate a moment–not to be stored into perpetuity. Only ones that are particularly special, usually with a meaningful message from the sender, are the ones to consider keeping long term.

But before deciding to keep, we should determine the end game. Are we keeping to review again one day, do we want to make a collage or a card album, do we want to share them with others or put them on display–or will they live their days out in a box? The end goal is important. Here are a few ideas that might help with how to keep cards in a meaningful way:

  1. Use a photo/memory album to store favorite cards by theme. For example, I like to keep the family-photo Christmas cards together in albums. I generally have the albums available around the holidays for others to enjoy too.
  2. Do you have several meaningful cards from the same person–a favorite Aunt, perhaps? Why not collage them in a memory book or shadow box along with photos.
  3. Framing certain cards-especially that remind you of a place visited-can be a nice addition to a guest room.
  4. Photo memory boxes designated for your card memories will show nicely in a room
  5. Scanning to an app like ArtKive will help you preserve the card without keeping the pile. Apps such as these allow you to make a book, calendar or other media from saved files.

If none of these sound appealing, then card keeping may not be for you. And we never recommend holding onto a card as a reminder to send a thank-you note or to record an address. Rather, put the address in your contacts list and make a calendar notation to send thank-you’s.

On the flip side, if you know someone who struggles with paper disorganization, we recommend refraining from sending paper cards. There are a number of eCard services that will allow you to create greetings to send via email. Save a tree–save a friend.

For more tips on paper management, visit us at


Be Sociable, Share!

Pros and Cons of Merchandise Subscriptions

Pros and Cons of Merchandise Subscriptions

Many who struggle with organization struggle with one or more of the following issues: issues with quantities and having more than is useful, issues with consumption and buying more than is useful, or issues with time management and challenges with attention span.

So when I see the trend in the merchandise subscriptions who will send unspecified merchandise on a regular basis to members based on a profile, it gives me pause. This can be in the form of clothing, jewelry, or beauty products, and specialty foods. Some convenience companies offer the opportunity to return anything unwanted, for others, you agree to keep what is provided. I don’t usually write opinion pieces, but I can’t imagine a more dangerous consumption pattern for those who struggle with organization.

On the positive side, if you are someone who is new to a product line or has trouble pulling together an outfit, this type of service offers the potential to be exposed to merchandise you may have never otherwise tried. In addition, it eliminates the time commitment of shopping for such items.

But there are also drawbacks with receiving “surprise” merchandise. If you haven’t decided you want something or need something, there generally is not a reason to make a purchase. We become passive consumers instead of savvy shoppers when we receive items whose value we have not identified, or when quality and best price have not been considered. Admiring an item is not the same as wanting to purchase an item. Imagine that you are window shopping: you like all of the things that you see and appreciate how attractive they are, but you choose not to purchase because you don’t want or need it. Recieving items in the mail which may at first appear interesting but aren’t actually desired, is the equivalent of receiving the items in the window display.

Receiving something random in the mail may stimulate the pleasant feeling of receiving a gift, but the unconscious reception of goods likely results in receiving unwanted merchandise. Like gifts from well-meaning friends and family, it is so easy to miss the mark.

Once the initial feeling of interest has passed, you are left with a relic that will need to be managed, i.e, stored, maintained, paid for. Or if you don’t like it, you must take the time to return the item. So many clients struggle with completing returns that the errand often doesn’t get completed. Now we are putting time toward managing this item that we did not intentionally decide to bring into our home.

Another concern is waste. Many of the convenience services for beauty products send random sample-size items. Like the “free” cosmetics we receive with purchase, many of these items don’t get used and go to waste. Are we just throwing it away? Are we having it pile up in a drawer? The potential for waste is concerning.

From an organizational point of view, I think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. But for those who have tried convenience services, I would love to hear your experience and tips for managing unwanted items. For more discussion about organization, visit us at

Be Sociable, Share!

Buy, Sell, Trade, Donate?

Buy, Sell, Trade, Donate?

For individuals who are downsizing or planning a move, we often see the same types of home goods that families tend to want to let go of. But some items are easier to remove than others. Some things are good for resale while others might be better to donate. And some items won’t budge unless a hauler is hired. Here is a list of some the more difficult things to downsize before a move:


  1. Pianos. Locally, we like to try Graves Piano for potential resell. Check out their page for guidelines before contacting them. Also, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore may accept pianos if you are willing to ship it to them. Again, you will want to contact your local HFH to make sure your piano will be accepted.
  2. Treadmills and Bowflex machines. Most donation centers will not take them, but often a neighbor will. We recommend placing on your front side walk OR posting to a local buy, sell, trade site.
  3. Pool Tables. If the new homeowner isn’t willing to take it, you could be left with a heavy chore. We like Best Billiards for potential resale.
  4. Mattresses. All the charities say they need them–but they are looking for ones in excellent condition.
  5. Desks. Charities are not accepting large office-style desks.
  6. China sets and dinette sets. The supply is much larger than the demand. As our lifestyles evolve, the desire for fancy dinnerware is falling to the wayside. Though they may not sell well, dinnerware is still a great donation item.
  7. Non-flat screen TVs. Hard to find anyone who will take these anymore. Best Buy will recycle these for free if smaller than 32in. Most charities will not accept them.

Items most likely to sell or consign:

  1. kitchen tables
  2. dressers
  3. leather couches
  4. decorative mirrors
  5. occasional chairs
  6. vintage household items
  7. patio sets
  8. tools

Items especially needed for donation:

  1. beds and bedroom sets
  2. shoes
  3. coats
  4. kitchenware
  5. tables and end tables
  6. small and large appliances in good working condition

Online selling has come a long way from Craigslist and eBay. Try your local Facebook Buy-Sell-Trade sites. Also clients have reported good luck with these apps: Letgo  letgo  and OfferUp  offerup.

We’d love to hear your buy, sell, trade story!

Be Sociable, Share!