Transformation Tuesday #63: Entry Way Closet

As a Seattle-area professional organizer, I love getting to travel to client homes, meet new people, and learn about what their organizing challenges are. I recently got the opportunity to work with Julie - she has a gorgeous home with some space limitations.

She and her family are very creative and have found ways to modify and make things work, but she wanted some extra help to get the entry way space more functional. She had already done some purging around the house and this space was deemed "the black hole" - I think we all can relate! I have a desk as an entry way table with a mail sorter, sunglasses holder, and small cabinet underneath. I know all about how these spaces can attract clutter.

We used the living room as our staging/reviewing space to see what was in the closet. We had the typical coats, hats, and scarves along with a tool box, vacuum, gift wrap, and some other miscellaneous items. I think its this last group that we all really struggle with because it's a random thing that usually doesn't have a designated home so it winds up in whatever dumping zone (hall closet, garage, etc).

After sorting through, we were able to clear out some pretty big items like extra backpacks and even a vacuum! With some extra breathing room in this space, her family can grab what they need with ease.

 
 

Check out the floor space - now visible - in the "after" photo! 

Transformation Tuesday #62: Garage Revamp

Tired of garages yet? Nope, neither am I! I had the pleasure of working with the owner of the mom cave again, and this time her husband joined our efforts in revamping and reworking their garage. We did a walk-through together to review the goals and focus on how we could divide up tasks for the big sprucing day.

They are an outdoorsy family with well-organized gear for hiking, backpacking, and the like. They want to better utilize the garage shelving for backstock of household items like paper goods, party supplies, gift wrap, etc along with a rotation of items for their children that are more seasonal or that they will grow into. 

We started with the kids' stuff and did the usual sort/purge, boxing items back up into plastic tubs. We moved these to a corner of the garage so we could keep the space open for our next round of sorting with household items. These didn't take up hardly any space at all on the shelves which is great to have a little bit of open space to add to/shift items around. We continued this process with the outdoor gear and the mom's work supplies (extension of mom cave items that are seasonal Montessori supplies and outdoor toys/games). 

 
 

Items from each main category were put back onto the same shelving unit so it would be easy for anyone walking into the garage to identify what's what (and of course, LABELS!). We filled up my car with donations and created a much more family-friendly space, where they can grab what they need and know exactly where to put it back. 

It was a super fun morning working with this couple. They were very excited to reclaim this space, making packing up the summer items and preparing for fall a little bit easier!

Transformation Tuesday #61: A Basement Work-In-Progress

I posted the other week on my Instagram to show how small steps contribute to the bigger transformation. Most of the projects I work on are over the course of several sessions because there's a lot to sort, review, purge, and reorganize back into a space. 

I've been working with Ariane this summer on different spaces within her home, saving the basement for last. After a few household moves, she decided it was time to get this area in better shape. A lot of items were going to stay down here, but she needed to know what was where.

Organizing is definitely a collaborative process and depending on the project, there are times when I can work on my own. I spent the first two hours getting things grouped together by the categories that appeared - Outdoor Equipment, Kitchen, Games, Books, Pictures, Art, Art Supplies, and Toys. There was a lot of recycling like old, broken down boxes and even empty boxes. This made a huge difference in clearing these out.

 
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The next session, we reviewed the labeled piles to determine what was donate and trash. I was able to get all the "keep" items onto the shelves then start working away on the trickier items - pictures and papers. A lot of these were in half full boxes so I consolidated items and identified the new categories for these: Loose Pictures, Framed Pictures, Mail/Personal Documents, Paper Memorabilia (letters, cards, notes).

 
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With our final session, we went through the piles yet again to pare down further so she only had a pile of mail to sort through. Everything else was left boxed up and labeled. 

Basements (and garages) can be especially hard to work through because there's often times a mix of bulkier items (gardening tools, outdoor gear/toys/equipment, and cleaning supplies) mixed in with forgotten items like old boxes of paperwork. It can be harder to visualize what the space will look like when totally different items are like that are grouped together.

 
 

Once a space has been overhauled, it's best to revisit on a quarterly basis as the seasons change - swap out household decor, move things inside for the winter, etc. It makes it so much easier to find what you're looking for!

Meet the Minimalist: Sarah Kirsch

A few months ago, I was obsessively watching YouTube videos and Pinteresting pixie cuts in my research for the perfect cut. I stumbled across Sarah Kirsch’s Instagram, better known as Sarah Chambray.

I immediately was drawn to her aesthetic and her beautiful feed of pictures highlighting her love of capsule wardrobes, beauty and fashion, and all things chambray.

I wanted to learn more about how the fashion blogger started simplifying her wardrobe so I reached out and she graciously agreed to meet up!

It was so fun to sit down with her chat about capsule closets, KonMari inspiration, and how she wants to approach designing her own line.

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How did you first get into capsule wardrobes?

Someone mentioned it and I looked it up. One of the first bloggers I found who covered capsule wardrobes was Unfancy. I liked their blog for the explanation and it seemed like a really cool idea.

In fashion school, we were designing practice clothing lines and that idea, from a design standpoint, was really intriguing to simplify things down to one or two styles of an item. Instead of a focusing on fashion cycles four times a year, what if it was was only once a year? Things that can be layered, winter items can also transfer to summer.

Later on, I heard an interview with The Minimalists on a podcast and then attended a Project 333 event in Portland. I had already been doing a semi-capsule wardrobe and then decided to commit to it. I took my wardrobe down to about 40 items. As soon as summer hit, I took out my box of summer clothes to see what I wanted to wear. I went through my summer stuff and realized I didn’t really love any of it! You just sort of collect things thinking “this will work.”
 

 

What has changed in your approach to dressing/shopping/reviewing your wardrobe?

I had bought things that were fun and trendy, but then I didn’t really like it or the way it fit. I really am better in finding joy in not purchasing. I like admiring an item, enjoying the feel of the fabric … and then putting it back. Definitely a KonMari thing.

I’m still shopping but in a more intentional way and truly able to find joy in admiring things rather than buying them.

 

How does this impact other parts of your life?

We have a second bedroom at home and it’s really easy to dump things there. I’ve been trying to be good at regularly going through stuff and pare down.

I have a separate sewing studio with all kinds of bins and when they fill up, it means it’s time to go through it.

 

How has the capsule wardrobe and KonMari movements influenced you as a fashion designer?

I want to design a collection and be more intentional about how I have set things up for my studio.

I grew up doing my back-to-school shopping in thrift stores. It’s so easy to buy cheap things. I would rescue clothes and love giving them new life. I realize I can’t rescue all the clothes!

I’ve always loved fashion and that shopping high from buying stuff. Working on Hawthorne, there are so many thrift shops available. I would drop in and get all these amazing things and would buy, not being very choosy about what I brought home. I’ve found that the KonMari method and minimalist philosophy helps guide shopping habits to keep them in check - don’t buy 20 things! It just isn’t necessary.

If I see something I really want, I will wait a day before going in to ask the price. I try to think about what it can go with that I already own, how versatile it is, if I have shoes that go with it. I was used to always saving that one shirt that only went with one pair of pants. For the most part, I’ve been good at purging and replenishing quickly. Nowadays, I’m just not replenishing right away.

 
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Who are some of the designers and brands that you like?

The new Gucci stuff that is heavily embroidered; it’s almost too much visually but it works somehow!

I see a lot of local people doing cool things. I really like MOORE, she has a strong, edgier street aesthetic, very different from what I wear day-to-day, but I have a piece mixed into my wardrobe that’s really fun.

I like to shop Brass. They do different sizing so you can see how it fits people differently and with different outfits; you see people who look like you!

I like Everlane, Madewell jeans (they just fit me so well!), One Imaginary Girl, and Crossroads and Buffalo Exchange are my regular go-to’s for thrifting.

 

What do you want to focus on aesthetic-wise with designing your own line?

I want to create stuff that can work for capsule wardrobes but for people who don’t want to wear tunics all the time.Think nice button up shirts with interesting collar details. Basics but with fun and interesting things on them. I love softer colors like baby blue and pink. I want to bring a fresher, different option. Clothes don’t have to be boxy and boring to be versatile.

Oh, and pockets on everything! Two dress styles, with long and short sleeves, button ups, knit hats. A few things where it’s simple enough to produce on my own or outsource if needed. I love classically shaped pieces with a touch of feminine whimsy.

 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to simplify their closet / wardrobe and explore slow fashion?

Start with shopping your own closet first, KonMari style, where you throw it all on the bed and look at each item individually. I looked at all my shirts and really only wear four of them! From there, you start to see holes form and you realize what’s missing and what you want to replenish. Start keeping your eye open for those items that will tie multiple outfits together.

Everlane is great choice for a mid-range price point and they are super transparent about their practices. Brass focuses on clothing for capsule wardrobes.

I love the Jamie + the Jones’ raw silk tops (which start around $170) but super beautiful. I’ll  save up for a really special garment that’s handmade, easy to care for.

Last fall, I experimented with wearing the same “uniform” of a white tee shirt and jeans with different sweaters. I accessorized with jewelry and scarves to change things up. No one realized I was wearing the same thing and I realized that no one really cares what you are wearing, which is crazy to think about!

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See what Sarah is up to and head over to her blog for the latest on fashion and beauty. I’m in love with her Instagram which features lots of pastels, hair and beauty inspiration.

 

Transformation Tuesday #60: Packing Light

This week's transformation is really about a mindset, and not so much the before-and-after (don't worry - plenty of those coming your way starting next week!). I have always struggled with packing for trips because there always seemed to be too many things to plan for. 

As a kid, I was used to schlepping things from my mom's house to my dad's house, so it didn't seem unnatural to haul whatever I could fit in my suitcase to my travel destination. Once I started simplifying my closet, packing became so much easier for me. I still have some challenges with shorter trips (again, what if I need something "fancy" or the weather changes suddenly?). 

For this week's short jaunt down to Portland, I knew I needed to really consolidate because I'll be carrying my bag around for a couple of hours before checking in to my Airbnb. Since I'm using my versatile Topo backpack tote as my purse, this is the perfect opportunity to use my little bag that I picked up at a Monoprix in Paris. 

My tips for packing for short trips:

  1. Stay organized by making a list!
  2. Be realistic about your travel activities - what's the likelihood of needing something for a fancy dinner out? Pick versatile items that can layer and hold up with multiple wears.
  3. Leave space in your bag for any souvenirs you plan to pick up and snacks when you're in transit
 
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How do you keep from overpacking? Would love to hear your tips!

Transformation Tuesday #59: Kitchen Clean-Up

Whoops, summer happened and I haven't been keeping up with these transformations! Don't worry, I have plenty before-and-afters to inspire you this fall when the weather turns and you don't mind organizing as much because you aren't missing out on great weather :)

This week's transformation Tuesday is brought to you by a lovely new client who wanted some help finding homes for things in the main floor of her home - living room, dining room, and her recently renovated kitchen. I am in love with this kitchen! She knocked down a wall and was able to expand the storage so she had plenty of cupboards and drawers to store everything (and soft closing drawers to boot!).

Most of the people I work with need to edit their collections to make space or at the very least, make things fit in their current space. This client has the opposite problem - with newly available space in her kitchen, she hadn't decided where to store things so the long counter tops attracted most of the clutter.

She has all these deep drawers that can store most of her kitchen appliances so I started with clearing those away, except for the juicer and coffee maker that get used on the regular. Then I focused with getting all similar dishes, food storage, spices, etc grouped together in the space they get used the most. Spices and cooking oils stay near the stove, baking items are in a cupboard above the oven, consolidating all the food storage containers with foil, plastic wrap, lunch bags.

Spending a little extra time to decide where things go allows you to start putting things away. You can always adjust and fine-tune as needed! 

 
 

Transformation Tuesday #58: Another Detached Garage!

I wasn't kidding when I said it was garage season ... this was another fun organizing project working with my lovely friend Wendall. She uses this space for additional storage for her home and plans to create more of a work bench space where the main shelving lives. 

I snapped this picture before we started - from here, you can't see the work bench area she wanted to create. We came up with a plan of clearing out large items that needed to go. Extra tools, paint buckets, empty boxes - they all needed to go.

 
 

What a difference a few hours can make! We organized all the like items together (tools, paint supplies, gardening supplies, seasonal decor) and moved any items to sell/return to others toward the front of the garage. Now she has the space to set up her work bench on the shelving next to the door. 

I filled up my CR-V with donations and she rented a UHaul van to cart away trash and recycling. It can be so deceiving, but items can find their way into the nooks and crannies of a space. Until we start to clear it away, do we realize how much can hide away!

Have you started on your garage clean-out? I'd love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments below.

Transformation Tuesday #57: Garage Clear-Out

It's GARAGE SEASON, Y'ALL! I've been organizing several garages and basements this spring and summer and absolutely loving it. 

I got to spend a morning with a dear friend working on her detached garage. This is an area that's so easy to forget about because it feels very "out of sight, out of mind." My friend has been on a purging journey this year and it was time to finally tackle this space together.

 
 

We used the carport as the staging area for trash, recycling, and donation items. We worked through the garage clockwise, separating larger items to create more space before we began sorting through various tools, cleaners, and outdoor toys.

We were able to clear away two carloads worth of donations by the time we were done! There were several toys the kiddos had outgrown, furniture items like a rolling cart, lawn chairs, an old high chair, multiple BBQ grills - you name it, we found it! This was an opportunity to "shop" the garage for the "best of" items so that we could give away the duplicates.

 

A quick sweep and it felt like a new space. Sweeping is serious business. Now that several large items were removed, we could stack the bikes alongside one of the walls and create better accessibility with the industrial shelving. 

 
 

So satisfying to open up a pathway in this space! Spending some extra time to thoughtfully edit your garage or basement will free up your schedule in the future - no more hunting for tools or cleaning products. When you know where things belong, it's easier to put things away and stay on top of the maintenance of the room.

Transformation Tuesday #56: Reading Nook

Sneaking in this transformation before the day is over! I've been working with a lovely client on several spaces within their home got a chance to organize this little reading nook.

We had already done some paper purging and furniture-swapping in the study and guest rooms in our previous organizing sessions. They had a few chores they needed to tackle around the house so I asked if I could work on this space.

It's a great space situated off a hallway between a couple bedrooms. I love these projects because they are a great confidence-builder for those who feel overwhelmed with spaces like a bedroom closet or a basement.

In these areas, start with items that don't belong - remove any trash, recycling, dishes, laundry. After that, it's a just a matter of straightening up the books, art, and display items.

 
 

What are some of the "easy" areas you like to cross off your tidying to-do list? Let me know in the comments below!

Transformation Tuesday #55: Spring + Summer Capsules

Wow, it's been awhile since my last Transformation Tuesday post ... two months to be exact! I guess I needed a break. I've had a busy year and am still figuring out keeping myself organized when it comes to scheduling my own self-care, personal organizing projects, creating a content calendar, etc etc. That list seems to never end!

I enjoy sharing the process every season when I update my capsule wardrobe. My little organizing mind loves to keep track of how much I have, identify patterns in usage and what my aesthetic is leaning toward that season, and "breaking the rules" a little bit. I talked about this a little bit in January's capsule-building post. I feel way more comfortable picking the items that work for me vs. sticking to exactly 33 items.

So here's how it went these last two seasons:

April 2017 / Spring Capsule

I somehow managed to not take many pictures! Eek. I did clear out my closet like usual and it was a good reminder to swiffer the floor in there. I also invited my friend Maria over the following day because I needed my own spruce assistant to talk me through a couple items. I was on the fence on a few tops and cotton dresses that I couldn't seem to let go of. I would end up wearing them once in awhile and didn't know exactly why I wasn't ready to donate them. 

Maria asked me about when I liked to wear them and we discovered that they ended up being "work" clothes for basement/grungy days. They were all cotton, stretchy, comfortable yet cute. I was ok with getting them dusty and they were comfortable for the demands of crouching, kneeling, and all the bustling around of working on a basement. She suggested I create a mini capsule of just my work clothes. This was genius! I hadn't thought of this before and now I have about seven items in my work capsule, that I only wear for basement/garage days.

 
 

July 2017 / Summer Capsule

I actually found some time on July 1st to spend some time going through my clothes and it felt so good! In less than 45 minutes, I pulled everything out of the closet, dumped it on my bed, and started my review. I feel like I really love where my wardrobe is at. I usually treat myself in July to a birthday Stitch Fix box but I think I'm gonna skip it this year, mostly because I don't want to make more decisions about what to swap in new items for! 

This time around, I made a list of where I started and found it was easy to go in this order:

  • Outerwear
  • Pants / shorts
  • Sweaters / cardigans
  • Long-sleeves / 3/4 sleeves
  • Tees
  • Dresses
  • Tanks
  • Shoes
 
 

I'm pretty pleased with the 42 items I picked out. I'm very excited to break out the flowy tank/sleeveless tops and lots of cotton dresses!

What are you excited to wear in this summer's capsule wardrobe? 

 

Transformation Tuesday #54: Kitchen Pantry Catch-All

It's been a minute since I've posted some transformations and these next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of my favorites!

I had the opportunity to collaborate with my friend, Krista Kenner, and work on her family's catch-all pantry in their beautiful cliffside treehouse in Bellingham.

We had been chatting earlier this year, sharing ideas on what has been helpful in building our businesses when we decided to collaborate on one of her own spaces. Krista's in the business of helping people get into the right home. I'm in the business of helping people streamline and love their home. Her New Year's resolution was to get more organized. Yet once again, she found herself unorganized in February and was ready to get the help of a professional to get started. We knew this was going to be a fun exercise!

Before I arrived, we talked about what she wanted for this pantry and she sent some pictures so I could see what I would be working with. She described it as a catch-all closet. It's a great, huge space - most people would kill for a central closet like this in their home! Yet it was filled to the brim, with no system to keep things in their place, it mostly just stressed her out. 

The first step to every project is to clear out the space. We completely emptied it, spreading everything out on the kitchen table, island, and floor, leaving some walkways to navigate around the piles. We categorized everything, quickly identifying what needed to be easily accessible like the everyday items of snacks, paper goods, cleaning products and supplies. Some of the less frequently used items stayed up high like vases, platters, staging materials, and gift wrap.

 
 

Krista was so ready to edit down this closet's contents. As we sorted and organized, she was able to see shelves open up with more white space around what would be going back in. When you are in that mindset of simplifying, many of the decisions are easier to make. We talked about the difference between doing it on your own and bringing in support to work through it. In her own words:

"Having a plan, and the experience behind tackling a project like this, was super helpful. I tend to just stare at a mess, get stressed out, and walk away thinking 'I'll deal with this later." But having someone who was like "First we're going to do this, then this, then this," was extremely helpful. Because once we got started, we were on a roll and it was pretty simple."

Since we refreshed this space, she says she has gained confidence that to tackle other unorganized parts of the house. She used the same approach on her daughter's bedroom, which is turning into a play space now that her daughter is sharing a room with her older sister. Krista took everything out of the space - old toys, clothes, stuffed animals, baby stuff - and went through it all before it went back in. She got rid of a LOT of stuff. She now has an organized blank slate in which to reimagine, and is focused on making it a really usable space for the girls.

 
 

I loved every minute of this project! Plus, we had a couple of helpers who decided to pose for the camera :)

Not only did we have a beautiful space and plenty of storage to work with, Krista was excited to make the change in streamlining her home and we had it all documented by the one and only Ted Zee. Check out more pictures here in my new-and-improved project gallery

If you want to keep up on real estate trends in news in the Bellingham area, check out Krista's blog and follow her adventures on Instagram.

Meet the Minimalist: Judy Michael

I met Judy last year through our mutual friend and fellow simple-living advocate, Alexandra Perwin. We hit it off immediately - she understood what I was going through as a new entrepreneur trying to figure things out. She gave me lots of great advice and was embarking on her own adventure, having just left an operations role to take a break and explore a different way of working.

Over the last year, we would meet up, share ideas, see what’s working and what wasn’t with our businesses, and just catch up in general. In the last few months, she experienced some major changes which prompted this interview.

Read on to learn more about Judy’s experience with right-sizing her space and subscribing to a minimalist approach.

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What sparked your interest in simplifying?

It started last summer when I found myself at home after leaving a job and I needed productive things to do. That’s how I work things out emotionally - I like to do physical work and feel like I accomplished something. Many years ago after I got divorced, I was living with a friend. I was angry about some dealings with my ex, so I came home and cleaned my friend's house!

This time around, it was emotional purging as I was ending a big chapter in my life.  I cleaned out closets, steam cleaned the carpets, and cleaned out the garage. I even stained the fence in 95 degree weather! I like the physical work and having a result at the end. A cleaner physical space feels like a cleaner emotional space.

I saw the documentary Minimalism and there was something about their story that prompted me to do an even deeper emotional dive, therefore clearing out even more stuff than I had in the past. I even got up and cleaned out my kitchen drawers during the movie because I was excited about the concept.

A couple months later, I realized I needed to sell my house. What started out as a little bit of cleaning led to letting go of the house and ending that chapter of my life.

 

That’s a big change - had you thought about selling before?

I had tried to sell my house in 2011 and thought about moving to Edmonds. It wasn’t quite far enough past the recession to sell it because the market up here in the northern Seattle suburbs was still a bit soft.  In 2014, I was looking to sell it to move to the Midwest to be closer to my dad who is in his 90’s and had some health issues.  I figured it was a message from the universe because all the homes were selling in the area except mine. The third time - this spring -  really was a charm.

I was ready to be out of the house. I had minimized so much and was just ready to leave. Once I made the decision to move, it was a pretty fast turnaround.  I met with a realtor, listed it, had an offer in 48 hours.  The whole process was over within about six weeks.

 

Was preparing to sell the house the true start to minimizing and clutter-clearing?

Initial clutter-clearing began after leaving my last job.  My decluttering started as a way for me to detox from what I would call Incremental Stress. I had lost a few people, had my own health issues, and experienced the general ups and downs we have in life. Things pile up. You reach a breaking point and have to decide “am I going to carry this stress with me to the future?”

The house had a lot of symbolism; it was the “big girl” house that I bought on my own which was a great achievement. Then I filled up the space by buying things. I had three bedrooms, a huge kitchen, a walk-in closet, a garage. I just started filling up those spaces. It was time to let go of that chapter and scale down.

 

How do these changes inform your decision-making today?

It was little things I hadn’t anticipated because I hadn’t been living in a simplistic space.

For instance, my current fridge is half the size so I buy half as much food. I don’t do mindless shopping because I don’t have the space for excess things. I don’t have more than ten steps to walk to be in reach of everything I own. It saves time, effort, and having to think about it.

A friend and I were just talking about gifts. I don’t need another tchotchke, give me a gift card, or cook a meal for me. Simplicity results in fewer choices and a clearer head which is not a bad thing.

I am a bit of a numbers wonk and I think in terms of metrics. I timed it and it took less than 40 minutes to clean my apartment.  My house took over three hours to clean. I saved an hour a week in drive time because I live closer to people and stores I frequent.  Financially, I’ve reduced my cost of living by more than 30%!

 

Do you think if these events hadn’t happened, you would have discovered minimalism at some point on your own?

In 2001, I went from a 1,500 square foot home to living in a one bedroom in a friend’s basement after getting divorced and moving from California to Washington. I had to make a conscious decision on what I valued and what I didn’t. I left furniture behind. I had my clothes, dog, grandma’s china, some gifts from my parents. I’ve had several life events where I’ve had to leave stuff and a life chapter behind.

This is like the third round for me. It’s about getting back to what I value. I think I made more of a conscious decision this time around of what to keep and leave behind.

I knew I could scale down. Back in the fall of 2015, I had to go take care of my dad and slept on his couch in a one bedroom apartment in a retirement center. I lived off of four shirts, three pairs of pants, two pairs of shoes, and a borrowed jacket.  I didn’t feel deprived.  If I could live on less than 20 articles of clothing in ten weeks, I can definitely live on less longer-term.

 

 
 

Do you consider a minimalist?

I feel like a minimalist for me. I think it’s a self-defining term. I’m not the 29-year-old bro who can live with a backpack and no forks. I believe in consciously having the things that support you in your space.

If it’s taking too much of your time, money, or mental energy to support it, then it needs go.

 

What have been people’s reactions to these big changes?

The key reaction to selling my home has been the involuntary sucking in of their breath followed by “you’re selling your house?” with a panicked face.

They were either concerned for me or they may be concerned for themselves because we’re all in the same boat. I think some people were fearful of selling a house because if you own a house, you have a different level in society. “Homeowner” vs. “Renter” has a different connotation. At my age, there aren’t a whole lot of people who are on board with moving into an apartment because it can be perceived as a step down.

But it’s also a difficult decision to make here in Seattle,  It’s easy to sell a house, but buying a home can be a nightmare because of the expense and multiple bids that are required.  If you sell your house, you really have to be sure of where you are living next.  It’s a great investment, but a great expense at the same time.  It’s not an easy decision to make with many trade-offs.

 

Moving into less than half the space, were there any items that were still tricky to let go of?

I knew I was going to need a storage unit. A 10’ x 20’ was close to $200/month. Was the stuff going into that space worth $2,400/year?  No, it was not. I got a smaller unit, a 5’ x 10’ with the intent to sell some more things and eventually get rid of it all together.

I had all these kitchen appliances that I would use sporadically that could all be replaced by a really good knife or a blender! Scaling down the kitchen was tough because it was a creative space of rarely used items. They were too expensive to store so I got rid of them.

There is only one thing that I miss and it’s a workout shirt that I cannot find anywhere! I gave away close to 400 pieces of clothing and this is the one thing I wish I could find.

 

What is your advice to someone who wants to start minimizing?

Ponder the question as you look at things “what is of value to me?” Just ask yourself if you even like it anymore. If you are conflicted about it, that’s likely an indicator that you should let it go.

If you are still asking the questions but/if/when/can’t … you are likely not ready to let go of it.  If you’re going to have a sleepless night because you gave away your favorite books, then don’t bother.  But find your leverage point - is it emotional, financial, or logical?

For me, it was financial leverage point which was paying $2,400 to store stuff I wasn’t really using. There were also silly emotional reasons. Did I really need to keep all those pants I could no longer wear, but just hung there, mocking me, knowing I would never fit in them again? Did I really need to have two guest bedrooms just in case someone came to visit?  Not any more.  I will happily pay for someone to stay in a hotel - it’s much cheaper!

I generally have the rule that if I can’t lift it, I’m not taking it with me. There are only two things I would need help moving - the couch and bed frame. Financial costs and ease of use are the critical points for me. For others, it might be emotional.


 

What have been the other benefits of living simply?

I’m starting up my own business of writing, coaching, and training around retirement and cash flow, how to prepare now for the future. When I approached business in the past, I was looking for the latest tools, what’s the best coach, platform, what’s cutting edge. Now, the question is “how can I simply get this done with the best effort for the least cost.” I want to provide the best product with minimal effort and cost. I spent too much time and energy doing things in a complex way before. I discovered people would rather you be authentic in your approach versus having the most exciting tools.

I enjoy thinking more clearly and having fewer choices on a daily basis. I say “no” more frequently to perceived obligations.

 

Is there anything else you want people to know about you?

Yes!  I will be publishing two books this summer.  I first wrote a book about calculating how much you need for retirement, and presented facts and figures that would incent people to take action.  I also identified what I call the “10 Retiremyths” of what we are told about preparing for retirement, and what the reality is.

For instance, most financial advisors quote a rule that you need $1 million to retire at age 65.  Seriously?  If fewer than 10% of US households are millionaires, but everyone needs to be a millionaire to retire, then why is it a rule?  Is it even achievable?

I had all these nice facts and figures about retirement, and then I started to live many of the retirement issues that I was writing about. Caring for my dad when he was ill, saving for retirement, and even facing some age discrimination issues was an eye opener.

Now, I have a story to share on a personal and emotional level that goes beyond the facts and figures.  What’s it like to live your future in a retirement home?  What’s it like to downsize?  How do you look at your outdated beliefs and institute new ones?  I was able to face my challenges, simplify, and tell a story about it.  So now I have the “before” and “after” books to publish. I am using them both to put together programs to help people look at their future and what they spend, what they bring in, and the kind of mindset they need to balance it all.

My goal is to have people take responsibility for their future financial decisions through understanding their cash and living the life that they want to create.  “Managing your cash” is a bit overwhelming for people at times, but there’s such an emotional component of having the right mental framework to use your cash where you most value it.

I can still help people and it’s from a truly experiential place. All the retirement commercials aren’t really getting people to change, but when you connect with someone else’s experience of having scaled down, dealing with health issues, caring for aging parents, that’s what will help people to change.   Your story needs to help them live their story.  It’s much like what you do with your work, Rachel.  What you’ve experienced personally and with clients helps them get through their challenges more easily!

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I knew Judy had seriously right-sized her space and minimized her belongings over the last year, but I didn’t know how this has been a common theme throughout her life. There were so many great nuggets of wisdom in our conversation, namely:

“If it’s taking too much of your time, money, or mental energy to support it, then it needs go.”

If you want to learn more about Judy’s books and programs, you can visit her website here. (Note: she’s going through some website changes, which should be completed in June 2017!)

Transformation Tuesday #53: Kid's Toy Room

I've been doing a lot of organization work with a friend and had the opportunity to help her kids work on the bedroom/playroom spaces. Honestly, I was a bit anxious leading up to working with the kids, especially the older child, who expressed how much they didn't want to let go of anything.

I talked with my friend about setting the right expectations - I mean, I can make some organizing magic happen, but only if the client, regardless of their age, is ready for the change. Thank goodness she had been talking about it a lot the last couple months, because her daughter was ready! She may have been motivated by our scheduled pizza dinner afterward, but I will take what I can get!

We spent about an hour and a half working on the toy closet/playroom. My nine-year-old client was surprisingly ready to purge and very thoughtful about items that she wanted to save for her younger brother or cousins (set aside in a bag for mom to review as a double-check). 

Once we started filling up bags with donation, trash, and recycling, she saw lots of fun books and toys she had forgotten about. It was pretty cute hearing her tell stories about some of the items, who gave them to her, why they were special. I enjoyed this so much and found myself just chatting away with her as we sorted the toys.

Our big win of the day was letting go of the dollhouse. She decided she wanted to sell it so she could earn some spending money. She even wrote the ad up herself! I love how motivated this kid is. I told her when she's old enough to work, I would hire her as my organizing assistant. I was so impressed how easy it was to talk through giving away items, especially ones that she had outgrown or that she still liked, but knew was time to give away to another child to enjoy.

 
 

Do you have any success stories of decluttering with kids? Let me know in the comments!

Also ... if you know anyone in need of a dollhouse, I know the seller will be very excited to earn a little bit of money from all her organizing work :)

Happy Mother's Day!

I want to wish a very Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, but especially to my own mother. I've mentioned before that she inspired me to turn this organizing thing into a job. She taught me how to live light in a smaller space, to respect the things I owned, and how to create a home for myself (pro tip: paint is easiest way to transform a room!).

She has always encouraged me, offered advice, listened to my ups and downs, and acted as my cheerleader. I am forever grateful for everything she has done for me, my siblings, and our family and friends. I feel a little guilty that growing up, we really struggled with her request of "peace and quite" as the gift she wanted for her birthday and Mother's Day. We would say "ok, so like, we're not really sure how to do that so what can we buy you?" 

Since I've spent the last year and a half simplifying and creating harmony in my own space, I'm starting to get the peace and quiet bit that she requested. I think she just wanted us kids not to be squabbling, but she also just wanted a calming space which translated to a tidy home.

When the outside world feels really stressful, I want to retreat into a comfortable place - a freshly made bed with a good book, or sinking into the sofa with a blanket and a cup of tea. So, thank you, Mom, for teaching me how to enjoy these simple pleasures. I not only get to enjoy this in my home, but I have the privilege of helping others find this kind of joy in their homes as well.

 
 

Meet the Minimalist: Sunny Gill

I worked with Sunny about a year and a half ago and would gush about the latest KonMari adventures in my home with him (and make the occasional request that he create some kind of tidying emoji for me). I didn’t realize how tidy and truly minimalist he really was until I visited his home in Beacon Hill. There was a lot of open space and everything had a purpose or meaning for him. I wanted to learn more about his minimalistic approach not just with his home, but work and life in general.

When he’s not at his day job as a systems support tech, he’s obsessing over his new Botanicum book, creating all kinds of ceramic pieces, and taking Spanish lessons with plans to travel to Cuba someday.

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Do you consider yourself a minimalist?

No, to be honest, it’s just a lifestyle I’ve lived since I was a kid. I’ve grown up all across Washington from Monroe, Kent, Tukwila, to Bellevue. My dad was a business owner and we moved around a lot. Every where I lived, it didn’t feel like I was there for very long.

Even now I can look around at a room and break down how I would move my stuff. Not having an extraordinary amount of stuff, it’s second nature to me.

 

Was that hard as a kid to move around like that?

This was normal for me. We had family photos up and that kind of thing in my house, but not the excess stuff you usually see in homes.

I like to have meaning behind my stuff. The tapestry I have hanging up is from a street market in Delhi. I was shopping with a friend, saw it, and had to have it. The framed art in my kitchen are illustrations by friends. If there’s no meaning in it, it eats up space.

Going to Ikea or Target and buying stuff for the sake of hanging it up, I don’t connect with that.

Literally everything around me has meaning … well, except for my plants … well, my nursery. I keep rescuing all these plants!

 

Have you ever had challenges with roommates when they don’t share the same minimalist mindset?

My current roommate is also pretty minimalist, but yes, it’s been a source of frustration in the past living with people who aren’t as organized as I would like to be. But some things you just have to let go of.



How has minimalism helped you in a positive manner?

It’s helped immensely at work. A coworker of mine left my company and they were hoarding all this stuff! I stripped it down and got rid of ⅞ of the stuff. It’s now streamlined and you can find what you need.

I’m always about keeping organized space. I don’t need extras of anything. It also looks really nice. It’s just a professional way to be.

I find that I have a less cluttered mindset when I have less stuff around me. It definitely transfers over to work for me. It kind of becomes part of you.

 

Has anyone ever given you grief for being so organized?

Sure, especially because it’s seen as a more feminine characteristic. But I benefit from being so organized. You can tell what someone’s mindset is by looking at their desk and their home.

 

What’s your philosophy on stuff?

I know that people hate getting rid of things because of the amount of money they spent on it. What’s the use of it, though, if it’s not getting used? It’s filling up space. You should connect to your stuff and find the meaning in it.

 

How does minimalism inform giving gifts to others?

Instead of giving teddy bears or chocolate or some garbage, I focus on things that are functional. Like a candle holder that can also be used as a cup. I have always given things that help people in some way that can be used like socks, a raincoat, something that can be useful.

Someone gifted me some Lego holiday pieces and I just recycled it. I didn’t know what to do with it!

 
 

What’s your most prized possession?

That mirror! It opens up the room, it extends light, and I just love having this gigantic mirror. It’s funny because it’s my second one, [my cat] Miso broke the first one. The second day we had it, it wasn’t bolted to the wall, she got curious and knocked it over. An $800 mirror turned into a $1,600 mirror (from West Elm). This one IS bolted to the wall.


 

What’s been the most ridiculous thing you’ve gotten as a gift?

Actually, the stuff from my mom! Which is funny because she doesn’t like having clutter around so she’s always trying to give me kitchen appliances, mugs, plates. I’m always refusing this stuff! It comes from a loving place because she knows I love cooking but I have what I need.

 

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned as a result of growing up minimalist?

It’s hard for me to answer this question, to be honest. I never get too comfortable with my surroundings. I think that helps. I like to move things around.

The art and tapestries have moved around. Having more space helps. One thing that causes clutter is that people get too comfortable in their space - not paying attention to what’s around them.

 

What do you want people to know about this lifestyle?

This is a reflection of my mind, really. I have an organized mind and don’t feel overwhelmed taking on chores, tasks, projects. Minimalism isn’t something you turn on and off, it becomes part of your disposition.

It’s a step-by-step situation, not something that happens overnight. Think of exercising a muscle in your body, over time it becomes stronger and more prominent. The more you practice it, the better you become at it.

 

Has this helped reduce stress around travel, moves, etc?

Definitely. Some people take multiple suitcases to India and I only take a small suitcase, not even full. Packing light makes travel easier, especially international travel.

Some people are buying these expensive things that are designer with labels. Most of what I wear don’t have labels (Nudi jeans, Everlane shirt, labeless hat).

 

What’s your best organizing hack or tip to share?

If I don’t use something for about a week, I’ll put it away or get rid of it. I bought this set of mugs thinking I would use them with guests over,  and they come over, I found that I was only using half of them.

I do a lot of bulk spices - I don’t want to use a whole thing of vanilla bean powder. I buy what I need and work it into my meal plans. I focus on what I’m going to make then go out and buy it. Maybe it takes a little more time to plan, but it saves time, money, and space.

You don’t have to Craig’s List it. You can recycle it! People always want to make an extra dollar but how much time do they spend trying to make a few bucks?

 

What’s your advice to someone who is ready to simplify?

You don’t have to go at it and be overwhelmed with everything around you. Take one drawer at a time or make one small change at a time.

With my lawn, I made one change at a time and now it looks gorgeous! It can be overwhelming trying to do it all at once. You don’t have to do a huge spring cleaning event to get there.

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If you want to see more of what Sunny’s up to, you can follow him on Instagram


 

Transformation Tuesday #52: A Year of Sprucing

I'm excited I have hit the one year mark of full-time organizing, decluttering, simplifying, and transformations! I honestly didn't know what would happen over that year. I continue to love this work more and more, if that's even possible. From blogging about organizing, to tracking business expenses, to the hands-on work with clients ... I am thrilled that I call this my job.

There are days when I question how I can sustain this. Where's my next project coming from? Am I setting the right expectations for my clients? Do I really know what I'm doing? While I will always have these nagging questions floating around my brain, seeing how I've impacted another person's life through simplifying their space is worth it and why I keep at it.

With that said, today isn't a fun before and after (don't worry, there are more to come!), but a round up of donations that have left the homes I've worked in this past year.

 
 

These pictures represent all the stuff donated to Goodwill, Interconnection, Seattle Recreative, and Second Use. What you don't see:

  • 46 trips to Goodwill
  • 2,687 miles traveled
  • 25 happy clients living lighter with less stuff

I'm excited to see what this next year holds for me and this little organizing business. Let me know what your favorite transformation has been or if there are certain spaces you'd like to see a before and after of!

 

 

 

Transformation Tuesday #51: the Mom Cave

In a recent organizing project, I had the pleasure of working with a fellow small business owner who wanted support in refreshing her home office, also known as "the mom cave."

She had great ideas about what she wanted for the space, and even had a framed peg board, ready to be adorned with all her arts and crafts supplies. The space had so many great organizing solutions - clear bins, industrial post shelving, small plastic drawer caddies ... but nothing was really working the way it should.

We spent two half-day sessions working on this space. We started here:

 
 

The biggest problem area were the large plastic tote bins. They were towering on the shelving unit, hanging off about six inches. These held all her work supplies and needed to remain on these shelves. We spent half of the session editing these down so we could consolidate as much as possible. We emptied a few bins/containers that she could repurpose elsewhere in the home and made a list of what we needed to finish up. We decided on the smaller Samla bins from Ikea and color-code the labels; this makes it easier to know what's what at a glance.

We decided that all craft supplies would live on the peg board and used the hooks she had in place, picking up a few buckets from Michaels to store all the paint brushes, pens, markers, pencils, etc. This is definitely my favorite part of this room and I would call this a Pinterest win!

We swapped out the DIY work station for a proper Ikea table (shout out to another client for selling it to us). Puzzle and paper storage moved away from behind the office door to under the table.

 
 

This was an incredible transformation and it was just a few adjustments and designating homes for items that made the difference. What's your favorite organizing tip for a work-from-home or office space?

Transformation Tuesday #50: Get Your Garage Ready for Spring!

As I've mentioned before, the garage is that critical space that most people pass through everyday, but can't seem to get a handle on keeping organized. Some people struggle with being able to park their vehicle in the garage. Oftentimes when that happens, the garage starts to accumulate more stuff from empty Amazon boxes that you don't have time to break down, to friends or family needing a "quick storage spot" and leaving their stuff for safekeeping.

I spent a half day with a client going through her garage so that we could make room for her car. We spent about an hour sorting through, box by box, grouping into these categories:

  1. Trash
  2. Recycle
  3. Donation
  4. Keep - store in house
  5. Keep - store in garage

After an hour of sorting, I started moving the categories of items around. It happened to be trash day (yay!) so clearing that out helped free up floor space. All the items she wanted to keep in the garage didn't take up that much room, so I was able to stack a few bins alongside the wall. This is a great opportunity to grab a broom and clear out the cobwebs.

 
 

I moved donation items to my car so I could haul those away then spent the rest of the time putting various household items back inside. This is what takes the longest, but after seeing a newly cleared space, should give you a little boost of energy so you can finish out the project.

Are you ready to work on your garage this spring?

 

 

Meet the Minimalist: Rachel Corwin

A year has flown by since I joined the world of self-employment and I couldn’t be happier! It has been an incredible experience, learning so much about myself, this work, my clients, being equal parts terrified and thrilled to be running my own business.

So much has changed over the past year and I wanted to acknowledge that in this “interview." Seems cheesy but I also thought it was a good time to reflect on the questions I have asked others for this minimalism series and decide how I would answer them today.

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What sparked your interest in simplifying and decluttering?

I used to have one great response to this but now I have three! So here goes:

When I returned from an Australian vacation, my boss asked why I hadn’t responded to a particular email they sent. I was immediately alarmed that they would even ask this question and thought they must be joking. But they kept talking about it! Then I became frustrated and decided it was time for a change, to dial down the long hours I had been working up to my trip.

I started making small changes like scheduling a lunch break. It sounds so simple yet if it didn’t go on my calendar, it didn’t happen. I made a point to eat lunch with my colleagues outside (it was an incredible summer!) and take real breaks where I would walk around, get away from my desk, look away from my screen.

During this time, I started to realize that I wanted and needed to make a change in my career path. I had worked in human resources for ten years and the thought of changing jobs, let alone a career, was pretty stressful. I had to reflect and take my own advice that I would give to others. Think about my transferable skills, what companies would I want to work for, if I wasn’t in HR, what field would I be in? Would I need to go back to school?

I continued asking myself these questions for the next couple months when I discovered The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. This book really spoke to me because I realized that I felt out of control in the work area of my life, not knowing what to do next, and decided to take control of my stuff, the physical things around me that were cluttering up my life.

 

So that sounds like two things … wasn’t there a third?

Yes! Let me tell my long story long, self! When I was creating my last capsule wardrobe, I realized that I’ve always had capsule wardrobes and been into simplifying. When I was five years old, my parents divorced. I would pack a bag every Wednesday and every other weekend to take to my dad’s house. I had to be really thoughtful about what was going on that weekend - was there a birthday party, were we traveling anywhere, what was the weather going to be like, and pack accordingly.

It was devastating to forget something at my mom’s when I really wanted to wear a particular shirt for an event during a weekend with dad or misplaced a book that I needed to read for school. From a very young age, I had to get into planner mode and be resourceful with what I had and make it work.

 
The first picture I posted on my blog of myself in the midst of organizing! So nice to enjoy an empty space.

The first picture I posted on my blog of myself in the midst of organizing! So nice to enjoy an empty space.

 


What’s your philosophy on stuff?

As a child, I think like a lot of kids, I wanted things - books, dolls, crafts, games, clothes, etc. I was very good at sharing, growing up with three other siblings. I loved my things and had great respect for them.

Moving back to Seattle after college, I had accumulated a lot of random crap. I think during high school, we keep so many weird knickknacks, notes, pictures, mementos and we don’t really go through it until we start moving our things, whether it’s moving for school or for a job. I just kept all that stuff in a box and didn’t really think about it until I settled in my current home, which I’ve been in for nearly ten years.

We need stuff to do stuff. I need some mugs to drink my tea, I need some clothes to wear to work, etc. It’s the excess that drives me crazy! All the deals/bargains/coupons out there are telling us that we need multiples of all the things and we just don’t.

Recently, I treated myself to a Stitch Fix box, mainly because I had a referral credit and gift card on my account, so I could probably get one or two items. I have a history of buying the entire box because 1) I have an awesome stylist (shout out to Natalia!) and 2) there’s a 25% discount when purchasing all five items.

At a glance, I loved all the items she sent me. Two tops, a lightweight sweater, a dress, and a statement necklace. I tried everything on and didn’t love the dress or the striped shirt. I mean, I liked them enough that I was willing to spend about $100 to keep the whole box. Then I thought I could sell the two items I didn’t plan to wear on one of the Stitch Fix Facebook groups. And then I took my own advice that I’m always giving to clients (when they ask!): choose only what you truly love, forget the rest.

I really didn’t need another statement necklace and the two items weren’t a great fit/I wasn’t thrilled with the material. I knew I didn’t really want to spend time posting the items and waiting around for someone to buy so I dropped them in the return bag and sent off right away.

 

Do you consider a minimalist?

I do now! Minimalism for me is about having a few choices and making the best one that works for me and the lifestyle I want. It’s also about investing in things that I want to last so that I’m not constantly shopping for the perfect sofa/dress/skillet whatever … I don’t want to use all my brain power on these decisions and I want to channel that energy into doing things I love like being with my friends, traveling internationally with my partner, that kind of thing.

A friend’s mantra is if you have less stuff, you have less to take care of. To me, this means I don’t have to move things around to sweep the floor, it’s not a chore to find something because it’s not buried at the bottom of a closet.

 

What has been the most beneficial to having a minimalist mindset?

I don’t impulse shop like I used to! I’m much better about taking a list with me and sticking to it. I can easily window shop and not feel like I’m missing out when I don’t buy something.

I also try to focus on using up what I have. I’ve wasted so much food over the years because I didn’t pay attention to expiration dates on things and would overbuy (and not always clean out the fridge or pantry in a timely fashion). This has helped me get more creative with meal planning because I need to make do with what I have.

 

Will you ever be done organizing your own home?

I don’t think I will ever be completely done because life is happening all around me! I’ll have an especially busy week with clients and I can tell by looking at my entry way - there may be a pile of laundry, stacks of mail, the random to do items that creep up.

Each season, I create a new capsule wardrobe and it’s a good reminder to pull things out of the closet, dust them off, decide what to keep, what I’m ready to let go of.

 

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned as an organizer?

That it can take time to let go of things. I noticed this for myself when I was doing another round of editing my clothes and knickknacks in my bedroom. I have a drawer where I store some jewelry and random things. I finally let go of these pins that I had since I was 14! Never took them out of the package and I wasn’t saving them to give to someone in particular.

Also realizing that it’s ok to not like something that you used to, whether it’s a book, article of clothing, a gift from someone. You have permission to not enjoy it anymore and that means it can be enjoyed by someone else, it does not need to take up space in your home or space in your mind.

We hang on to these ideas of “I should love this {insert name of thing} because {insert reason}.” Guess what? These ideas can go out the window and it doesn’t make you any less grateful for having given the thing a home because it was a gift, or you used to love that jacket but it’s just not your style anymore. If you can keep these things to a minimum, putting them into a box or having them in a space in your home where you are reminded of them, but don’t need to make a decision about right away, can be really helpful. Then, when you’re ready, it feels so effortless to give it away.


 

What’s your advice to someone who’s ready to start simplifying?

I know I love a good transformation and can be tempted to do things in one fell swoop, but that isn’t always practical. That method itself can be too overwhelming and dramatic.

Each person needs to figure out what works for them and I really do believe starting small is a great way to go. This starts with the question of why do they want to simplify - are they feeling overwhelmed by stuff, work, relationships?

This was something that my friend Alex talked about when she starting simplifying - she started saying no to the never-ending obligations, requests, and invites.

Talk about it with people that are important to you - your partner, kids, friends, parents, colleagues, neighbors. This might spark ideas on how you can help each other create that positive change together and build in accountability.

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So that’s my interview - thanks for playing along!  I would love to hear any questions you have for me after reading this - let me know in the comments.

Transformation Tuesday #49: that bathroom drawer again!

In my sprucing adventures last week with my mom, she found she had all kinds of extra little clear containers which I decided to repurpose for this week's project: that bathroom drawer.

I think this is my third iteration on this drawer but now I feel like it's just how it's supposed to be, know what I'm talking about?

My mom gave me a larger clear container that I turned sideways so I could shift things around. Also, since I recently cut my hair short again, I could move the hair ties and bobby pins toward the back (always good to have a few of these around). 

If you need a quick tidiness/happiness boost, here's how to conquer the toiletries drawer:

  1. Empty the entire drawer and wipe it down
  2. Have your cat join you for moral support (Archie just stared at me the whole time)
  3. Replace like items back into containers (hair, skincare, makeup, dental care, etc)
  4. Toss anything that's expired and donate unused shampoo, toothpaste, lotions, etc (or partially used, depending on the charity - the Ballard Food Bank accepts half used toiletries)
 
 

And voila! A quick tidy up can save you a little bit of time when you're getting ready to head out or when you're sleepily washing your face before  you crash for the night.