I met Carol Becker in early 2020 after she won a two-hour organizing consultation I had donated to the Park Avenue Synagogue benefit. Carol was planning on putting her apartment on the market the following summer and wanted assistance purging and organizing prior to the move. We started with her home office, and then in subsequent weeks tore through closets, pantries, and drawers at a rapid pace, each week giving away, selling, donating, or discarding bags of unwanted items. Organizing can be an intimate journey, and there were many stories Carol shared as we sifted through 20 plus years of memories and forged a friendship along the way.
Like many of my clients, Carol is a busy overachiever with a passion for life. In addition to owning the iconic William Greenberg Bakery, she is a biker, golfer, traveler, marathon runner, sports enthusiast, philanthropist, board member at Syracuse University (with a dog named Boeheim), die hard New Yorker, and a lifelong learner who will celebrate her bat mitzvah this spring. She’s also a single mother to Emily and Alison, both in their 20’s, and a warm and devoted friend to many.
1) How can I store sweaters on hangers without stretching them out or damaging delicate knits? I suggest using the children’s sized nonslip velvet hangers in the same color as the full sized hangers being used in the rest of your closet. This will ensure visual symmetry and the shoulders won’t get stretched. Of course, truly delicate sweaters shouldn’t be hung, they should be folded.
2) What is an easy, visually appealing way to store scarves? Use skirt hangers and organize by color. Or, install a towel bar (or two or three), and hang scarves over the bar by color.
3) How can I keep my (and the kids) gloves from losing their pair? What is a clever way to store them in a closet? I store gloves in the pockets of the coats. It becomes rote for you and your children to always put the gloves in the pocket when taking them off. You’ll save space (no need to allocate closet space to gloves) and time (no need to search for “matching gloves”).
4) How can I best store bulky winter boots in a closet space? Limit the number of bulky winter boots to one or two pairs per family member. Often, clients will store these on the floor of the closet, but another alternative is to put them on a high shelf. Boots are light and easy to grab when they’re stored on a high shelf, and they’re also typically not worn often (unless you live in a place where it snows often).
5) Is there a way to save hanging space with bulky winter coats? If you have a number of short coats, the best space saver is having double hanging (two hanging rods). You literally double your hanging space.
6) How can I store throw blankets in a closet without creating a blanket avalanche every time I try to remove one? If you have multiple throw blankets in a closet, consider how many you really need. If you have no more than 4, they shouldn’t topple. Throw blankets are meant to be thrown over the side of a couch, chair, or bed. Blankets that are stored should be folded to the same width with the fold to the outside and stacked by color.
For her junior year at Washington University, my daughter, Rebecca, moved into an off-campus apartment. Lucky for her, ClosetMaid had provided furniture for her dorm room the previous year that could be repurposed and paired with some new pieces to create a mature and modern space.
When we arrived in St. Louis, the living room in the new apartment was filled with boxes. Some were filled with items that had been ordered or shipped from home. Others were packed by the school when the pandemic shut down colleges the previous spring. Armed with box cutters, the first four hours in the new apartment were spent emptying boxes and moving them out of the apartment.
The apartment filled with boxes.
Once the boxes were emptied, and the items were sorted by category, the fun began. We used two X-frame bookshelves (previously split between Rebecca’s dorm bedroom and the dorm shared living space) to flank the media stand, creating a wall unit with these versatile pieces. These shelves provide ample room for Rebecca’s books as well as candles, photos, and artwork. The drawers of the media stand store cords, chargers, and notebooks while the shelves hold fun books and games.
ClosetMaid bookshelves flank the media stand.
A new couch by Best Choice Products was selected for its clean and modern look as well as its ability to convert to a bed. The coffee table with shelves, taken from Rebecca’s dorm room provides useful storage. A tray corrals the remote control for the television, and games for small gatherings with friends are stored on the handy shelves.
Couch with ClosetMaid coffee table and art work by Romi Tannenbaum
One day, as I sat in my living room answering emails, I realized that I couldn’t stand my rug. Over the course of that afternoon, I became obsessed with replacing it. Immediately. So, I raced to the D&D building in NYC, selected three potential rugs, and brought samples home to review in the space. While none of them seemed right, and all of them cost more than I wanted to spend, I’m a sucker for crossing things off my list. So I called my dear friend, Allison Peyton, for help making the decision. Allison, who has phenomenal taste and is trained as a designer, has strong opinions that she finds difficult not to express. In other words, the exact reason we’re such close friends. When I texted photos of the rugs I was considering, she let me know she “hated all of them,” and I would need to clear my calendar in 3 weeks to spend the day with her.
On the appointed day, I took an early train to meet Allison in Connecticut. Our first stop was the Elizabeth Eakin sample sale in Norwalk. When the doors opened, we burst inside, and 45 minutes later I had purchased two rugs that cost a fraction of what I was going to pay for just one rug a few weeks earlier. Feeling excited about my new purchases and the money I had saved, I asked if she thought I needed anything else.
Allison didn’t mince words. Apparently, my end tables “were so horrible she couldn’t speak” and a custom wall unit I had designed in 2002 was “a complete embarrassment, dated, and should be used as firewood.” She also thought the furniture could use a little rearranging.
As I considered her comments objectively, I conceded that the end tables and wall unit were dated. The issue was that, although dated, the wall unit had tremendous storage capacity. Its many shelves and cabinets were packed with photo albums, sentimental items, board games, books, and even a few hundred CD’s in drawers built to their specific size. Allison was unfazed. “You’re an organizer, you’ll pare down and find other places for those things,” she told me as we approached Parc Monceau, a cozy furniture/home goods store.
At Parc Monceau, we ordered upholstered stools and a drink table. New pillows were selected from Gracious Home in New York City, and a burled wood console with ample storage was purchased to take the place of the wall unit. I was ecstatic, but Allison wasn’t finished. She thought my existing chairs looked “a bit tired” and suggested I reupholster them in leather, remove the skirt, and add nail heads to better complement the new living room.
Three weeks later, a handyman disassembled the wall unit (with its pared down contents), and the rugs and new furniture were delivered. Existing furniture was rearranged including the newly reupholstered chairs that were relocated to create a new seating area. The console was placed on the wall previously occupied by the wall unit. New pillows were arranged on the couch and chairs.
As I surveyed the room, I saw that what was once traditional and dark had been transformed to a space that was chic and light. With the addition of some pillows, a rug, and some well-placed accessories, I had achieved a stylish new look without spending a fortune. And, after much cajoling, Allison agreed to join my team at Life Organized.
Any home improvement project entails compromise, and the recent renovation of my kitchen and dining room was no exception. In order to enlarge the dining area in the limited confines of my New York City townhouse, I took my formally spacious laundry room and made it half of its former size. Fortunately, I knew how to maximize storage capacity and organize this smaller space to meet my needs. Here are the steps I took:
Purge After careful consideration, I decided to eliminate anything that wasn’t necessary for cleaning clothing, floors, or surfaces. This meant that I moved light bulbs, dog grooming supplies, tools, and other home maintenance items to other areas of my home.
Design With small spaces, it’s important to think vertically. I started by replacing my washing machine and dryer with stackable models. I then designed high shelves around the perimeter of the room, installed a rod for hanging hand wash (a towel rack repurposed and hung from the underside of a shelf), and created space for a vacuum cleaner, and laundry baskets. A pocket door saved additional space.
Organize I used white Nordic Storage Baskets from The Container Store to store cleaning products, laundry products, microfiber cloths, sponges, floor cleaners. Frequently used products such as laundry pods, fabric softener, and microfiber cloths were decanted in clear acrylic canisters. A horizontal desk organizer was used to hold pens, notepads, a folding board, and a scissor.
As we endure the 7th week of sheltering at home, many of us have become pyschologically fatigued. In order to remain productive and upbeat, check out my 5 tips for staying productive while staying at home.
1. Make your bed. As Charles Duhigg notes in his book The Power of Habit, “making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity [and] a greater sense of well being…” Completing one small task paves the way for larger accomplishments during the day.
How much is too much? What is the “right” amount of something to have? As an organizer, these are questions I’m frequently asked, and the answer is different for every situation. It depends on three factors:
How much space do you have?
How much money do you want to spend?
What do you realistically use?
I recently found a stockpile of brand new socks that my husband, Jeff, had stored between two stacks of sweatshirts. I was horrified. And, when I opened his sock drawer to put them away properly, I was even more horrified. There were piles and piles of socks… So, I asked Jeff to explain. Here’s how our conversation went:
Judd Spodek, President of Sit Happens, and dog trainer extraordinaire has a slogan on his company truck, “We don’t train husbands, wives, or kids.” I can relate; in spite of working with three dog trainers, my dog, Charly, remains anxious and untrained. The reason is simple; while I did everything the trainers instructed, the rest of my family did not. In time, each trainer told me I was wasting my money. Unless everyone was on the same page, the dog wasn’t going to learn. So, “sit” didn’t happen for Charly. [Disclaimer: Judd and I agreed that he wouldn’t be trainer number four until my husband agreed to follow his training protocol].
Organizing works the same way. If you want your home organized, you need the cooperation of your family. Often, one person is extremely motivated to purge and organize (probably the person reading this), but another family member, or every other family member, creates a bottleneck.
Our featured client this month is Samantha, the mother of three young children and the matriarch of a large extended family. This hostess extraordinaire often cooks for 30 family members and friends to celebrate Shabbat each weekend. In addition, Samantha maintains toys for every possible age group to ensure that even the youngest guest has appropriate entertainment. Over time, though, her home has become the self declared “weigh station” for toys, clothing, books, cookware, and furniture for relatives and friends with younger children, ones who have yet to have children, and even those who are not yet married.
Like many women who hire us, Samantha’s organizational skills are the envy of her friends (“why do you need an organizer,” is a popular refrain she hears). Yet, Samantha felt that she needed expert advise in how to streamline her life to entertain and function at a higher level. She knew it was time to take back her home – it could no longer be a proverbial ‘candy store’ for children and adults alike – and she needed our help.
Kermit the Frog famously sings that “it’s not easy being green,” but it’s easier than you think when you get organized. In honor of Earth Day, here are some of my tips (first published 5 years ago) for going green:
Reduce paper clutter by unsubscribing from catalogs and junk mail lists and opt to receive bank statements and bills online.
Donate items in good condition.
Buy less. The fewer possessions you have, the less time you’ll spend maintaining them.
Buy bamboo organizing products instead of plastic and non-toxic cleaning products.
Give experiences as gifts. A movie, a day at the zoo, or a baseball game can be more meaningful than a physical gift and don’t create clutter.
When you shop, bring your own bag or carry purchases without a bag.
Unplug electronics that are not in use.
Recycle batteries, ink cartridges, and cell phones.
Also, check out ecoATM,a nationwide network of automated recycling kiosks that gives consumers instant cash for their mobile devices, tablets and MP3 players.