A Place for Everything: The Biltmore Estate

Earlier in the Summer my family met for a long weekend in Asheville.  Despite my general attraction to minimalist spaces I am in love with Biltmore Estate and could probably spend a week or two there touring the house and taking part in all of the amazing outdoor activities offered on the property.

On our trip we took a behind the scenes Architect’s Tour and found ourselves up on the roof and in rooms not typically available to visitors.  Combined with the self-guided tour through the rooms open to the public we got a great taste of the design, functionality, and beauty of the house.

Most striking to me, as a person with organization and efficient planning often on her mind, is the care taken by George Vanderbilt and his architect, Richard Morris Hunt, to address every possible need for a home this size used for constant entertaining and with an eye toward complete self-sustainability.  Biltmore is the ultimate example of the classic adage, “A place for everything and everything in its place!”

The basement of Biltmore house is one the best examples of a place for everything I’ve ever seen!  In the food preparation and storage areas in particular you will find a canned goods storage room, a produce storage room, a rotisserie cooking room(!), cold storage, a pastry preparation and keeping room, and a beautiful general kitchen area with sinks and prep counters with views out to the gorgeous countryside behind the house. The incredible upstairs living spaces include a breathtaking library, great hall for gathering and dining, reception rooms, storage rooms, and a multitude of guest rooms.

Despite the difference in the size and purpose of our homes and this great manor house, we can reflect and take a cue from this well-planned home in designing our own calm retreats.

-Take a look at each room in your house and evaluate, moving from left to right through the room, if each area of the room is serving its purpose well.

- Identify the areas where too much is happening in one place: do you have books overflowing your bookshelves, is your living room overrun by dvds, magazines, toys, or stacks of paper? Analyze what can be culled down and what is truly meaningful or actually used.

- Use the space you have as a guide to what you can keep: We have a tendency to want to find the perfect organizing item to create more space to keep things. We usually cannot make more space so living well in the space we have often requires some intense analyzing and a little creativity.

-Make tough choices: If you have 50-60 hair care products (and we have seen this many and more!) and nowhere to put them, really ask yourself what you are using daily and at this stage of your life.  If 30 of the 50 are never touched, give to a friend or donate to a women’s shelter.

- Use Peter Walsh’s best organizing principle and envision the lifestyle you want to be living.  Does your physical space and the belongings that reside there support that vision? It can be a  joyful existence to live with less, but in an environment that is calm and well-planned!

For inspiration on living well with less check out The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life

Paper Clutter Strategies & Maintenance

Paper clutter is typically the most common issue we see in organizing consultations. Between personal information, mail, work documents, and other incoming paper the stacks can quickly become overwhelming. We’ve devised a couple of simple strategies for reducing the amount of paper coming in and living in your home.

Junk Mail: Eliminate junk mail from ever making its way into your home by enlisting a service, such as 41pounds.org. The service takes your name off of junk mail lists and can even minimize catalog delivery.

Mail System: We have discussed in previous posts, the handiness of maintaining a mail processing system. Get a basic file folder container and insert 3 files. The first can be labeled ‘Action Needed’ for important items that need service soon. The second is labeled ‘Upcoming’ and should contain items that may need handling in the coming weeks. The third is ‘Interest’ which may contain coupons or information received for things you may want to consider in the future. Each week, select a day to evaluate the contents of the files and move, file, or trash items as necessary.

Business Cards: Business cards are a big problem for many professionals. The contact information is important, but the storage or entry can be a pain. Try an app such as ScanBizCards which uses OCR technology to digitize the information from a photo taken of any card.

Digital Docs: For more traditional business documents, consider using an online doc development and storage suite, such as Google Docs. Anything you produce or need will be stored online for easy access and updating.

Personal Docs: A simple trick for keeping personal documents under control is to immediately upon opening, shred or trash anything that is not necessary to keep. When deciding what to keep and what to shred, consider if the document could be obtained easily online if needed. Utility, credit card, and even medical bills are all stored online and thus physical copies are rarely needed.

Paperless Billing: Take advantage of online billpay, paperless statements, and email communications as much as possible to further curb paper in your home.

Tax Docs: For documents pertaining to taxes, use a well-labeled storage system, such as the ones recommended here. Only save items in category labeled folders for the first year and then move everything into a single folder labeled by the year following your tax filing. All tax documents can be shredded or trashed after 7 years, but for a list of what to keep and what to toss, check out Suze Orman’s recommendations.

Upside Down Sorting: When attempting a paper sort, flip the pile upside down to start with the oldest, and likely most unnecessary, documents first.

To File or Not to File: Before filing something, ask yourself when was the last time you accessed something similar from the filing cabinet. If the answer is never, you probably don’t need to file it.

We know that paper can be a hassle, but if you stay on top of it soon after it enters your home it will never become unmanageable.

Good Luck!
TWOW

Wedding Planning Binder Categories

Planning a wedding can be stressful and complicated. To help streamline the process we’ve broken down the various tasks associated with the planning process into 12 simple categories. We recommend that when creating your to-do list, planning binder, and/or timeline you use these categories to help maintain organization.

  1. Budget: This is the most important thing to determine before planning your wedding. Be realistic when setting your budget and assume that you will spend slightly more than originally intended as unexpected costs often arise. In order to stay organized, utilize a spreadsheet with columns for item, budget, actual spend, and notes.
  2. Date: When selecting a date, take into consideration high and low seasons for pricing, weather, holidays and vacations that may cause attendance difficulties, and availability for preferred venues.
  3. Venue: Securing the location for your ceremony and reception should be done as soon as possible with help of Security Guard Services in California. When reviewing options, remember to factor in the guest count, style, seasonal weather patterns, and additional costs that the venue may cause (ex. tenting & seats for outdoor venues).
  4. Guests: After developing a guest list, plan to send save-the-dates 4-6 months out and invites 2 months out. A wedding website can also be created to provide guests with additional info. For out-of-town guests, reserve a hotel block and decide if welcome gifts are necessary.
  5. Wedding Party: Once engaged, friends and family will begin to wonder who made the bridal party cut. Decide with your significant other who and how many members will be included 1-2 months after the engagement. Advise of MOH’s and Best Men of their responsibilities (ex. toasts/party planning) a couple of months after the wedding party invitation. Don’t forget to purchase thank-you gifts for the party.
  6. Vendors: You will likely have many vendors involved in your wedding. We’ve created a list of typical vendors that you will want to engage 6-9 months ahead of time. FrameByFrame.com.sg photographer, officiant, wedding planner, florist, hair stylist, baker, makeup artist, caterer, videographer, entertainment, linen supplier, staging supply services (lighting, special effects, tents, etc.), and transportation. Keep track of vendor contact info, contracts, and information by utilizing a wedding planning binder with clear plastic sheets and tabs.
  7. Attire & Styling: Brides should select the wardrobe (dress, veil, shoes, undergarments, and jewelry) early and plan for several fittings right up to the wedding. The female wedding party can purchase dresses closer to 3-6 months out, whereas the men can reserve their outfits 2-3 months out.
  8. Ceremony & Reception: Creating the visual design of your wedding is often the most stressful part of the process. Utilize your vendors expertise to help formulate the look and scan Pinterest for ideas and inspiration. Elements of design include flowers, tableware, centerpieces, lighting, walking order, menu cards, and seating chart, etc. You will also want to complete the business part of the ceremony including your marriage license, vows, walking order, and officiant script well before the date.
  9. Entertainment: This category can alter the mood of the event greatly. Be extremely selective when picking your music provider (DJ, band), play-list, and other activities (photo-booth and canvas prints) to ensure that they can assist in creating your vision. Work with them to select ‘play’ and ‘don’t play’ lists for the reception, as well as ceremony music. If you don’t know how to organize it, call Color Pop Events.
  10. Food & Beverage: Whether it’s a buffet or 5 course dinner, you’ll want your guests to enjoy the food. When selecting a menu, keep in mind the special diets and food preferences of your attendees. Don’t forget to engage the baker 6 months ahead of time to ensure your cake will be scheduled. Alcohol can be a large expense, but time-limited open bars, cash bars, and pre-purchased beverages (BevMo wine) can assist in keeping costs down.
  11. Pre-Wedding: This is generally one area task-set that you can offload on others. Have the mother of the bride plan the shower, the MOH & Best Man the bachelor & bachelorette parties, and the parents the rehearsal dinner.
  12. Post Wedding: The best deals for flights and hotels for your honeymoon generally come 5 months out. If you’re open to a variety of destinations sites like GrouponTravel and LivingSocial offer excellent package options that include extras such as massages and meals.

Break up tasks by category and you’ll be sure nothing falls through the cracks on your special day!

TWOW

Dorm Room Essentials

Dorm living is just around the corner for many incoming college freshman. In order to help you prepare your child for independent living we’ve put together a list of our favorite dorm room supplies from Bed Bath & Beyond. These essentials will help keep them organized and hopefully productive during their college years.

Be Organized: Cube shelving with pull-out drawers make excellent storage for a variety of items. Hanging closet shelves will add additional storage for sweaters, jeans, and shorts. Over-the-door shoe racks keep shoes organized and out of sight and finally, bed lifts will add significant space under-the-bed.

Be Clean: Communal living often requires your personal belongings to be mobile. A shower caddy will help keep bathroom items together, a popup hamper will allow students to cart clothing to the laundry room, and colored towels will minimize the risk of mistaken use.

Be Studious: Extension cord/surge protectors will definitely be useful when multiple people are sharing just a few outlets. Dry erase boards are great for roommate communications, to-do lists, and notes and this iPod charging and playing lamp will allow your student to study late while not disturbing roommates with overhead lights.

Be Well Fed:
A mini fridge is key for rooms without full kitchens. They’ll also need a small set of dinnerware and utensils. Depending on your student’s meal plan and eating habits, you may also want to invest in a microwave, toaster oven, or coffee maker.

Be Stylish: While the basics are important, you’ll also want your student to feel at home in their new room. Select some spirited or fashionable bedding, frames to hold family photos, and decorative pieces like throw pillows or floor chairs.

The important thing to remember when purchasing dorm room goods is that it is not necessary to stock them with all of the amenities of home. The new experience is certain to distract them from the less than ideal living situation, so don’t feel the need to go overboard.

TWOW

Our Favorite Multifunction Products

Last week our guest blogger, Lisa, gave us some great tips for utilizing furniture and spaces in multiple functions. We love the idea of minimizing the amount of ‘stuff’ in our lives, so this week we’re going to highlight some of our favorite products that have multiple uses.

Dirty Jobs Complete Cleaner: Although many people think cleaning and organizing are similar tasks, here at WOW we dislike cleaning just as much as the next person. That’s why we loved sampling the new Dirty Jobs Complete Cleaner. The product, available at Walmart, was inspired by the Discovery Channel show and really works wonders. The best part is that unlike single-specialty cleaners, this works just about anywhere. Use it in the laundry, the bathroom, on upholstery, or the carpets; it will get the job done.

Food Processor: We love kitchen appliances, but sometimes they can be space hogs. Food processors, however, combine the functions of blender, chopper, cutting board, specialty knives, mortar, cheese grater, and more. If you are low on storage space in your kitchen, consider switching to this multifunction appliance as your go-to tool.

Ice Cube Tray: This everyday item, that many people no longer use, due to integrated ice makers are great for organized storage. Use them for earrings and rings, small junk drawer items, cuff links, hair accessories, sewing materials, crafting supplies, etc.

Dryer Sheets: Instead of tossing out your used dryer sheets, use them to freshen up other areas of the home. Rub them on the inside of smelly shoes to reduce odor, place them in the bottom of your underwear drawer or under your car seat for added freshness, or run them along a couch to pick up animal hair. The new ones will work best, but even the old ones can be put to good use.

Toothpaste: It can be a bit odd to consider using something you put in your mouth each day for other purposes, but toothpaste has a variety of household functions. It can fill in small holes in your walls, soothe bug bites, polish chrome and silver, remove crayon coloring from walls, and reduce blemishes, among other things.

These are just a few interesting multi-purpose products. What are your favorite tricks for making the most out of your belongings?

TWOW

Preparing for House Guests: A Checklist

Summer is often a time of year when we receive visitors from out of town. Although the visits can be great experiences, the preparation can sometimes be overwhelming. In order to assist in getting ready for house guests, we’ve put together a checklist of items to execute prior to their arrival.

Lodging:

  • Clean the entire house and yard
  • If you’re using a blow up mattress, test it ahead of time for leaks and pump issues
  • Launder the linens on the guest bed
  • Leave an extra blanket and a couple of extra pillows in the room in case of specific sleep style preferences
  • Clear out space in the closet and/or dresser for the guests to unpack their things

Eating:

  • Determine which meals will be had at home and buy appropriate amounts of food. Do not forget to accommodate for food allergies, preferences, and diets
  • If no major meals are to be eaten at home, at least purchase snacks and beverages
  • Make reservations for dining out ahead of time to ensure your desired restaurants do not book up

Bathing:

  • Clean and set-aside a fresh towel for each guest. If you have several colors, consider giving one color to each guest so they can easily identify which is theirs in the bathroom.
  • Ensure that the bathroom to be used by the guests is well-stocked with soap, shampoo, conditioner, and toilet paper. If you have extra travel sizes on hand from previous hotel stays, feel free to set these out in a bowl on the counter. It’s a great way to offload them.

Miscellaneous:

  • Find or have a spare key made in case you are separated from your guests
  • If you have an alarm system or special entry procedures within your building, write them down for your guests
  • If there is a small child among your guests, ask the parent what childproofing should be done ahead of time
  • Plan a rough agenda for the trip and have several activity options to present for your guest’s choosing
  • Write down the internet password for your guests

Take care of these items ahead of time and the visit can be dedicated to having fun with your guests instead of scrambling to prepare.

TWOW

Simple Organizing Tricks That Make A Big Difference

Some of the best professional organizer tips are the most simple. They’re the kind of small changes that make such a noticeable difference that an entire home can feel drastically more organized once implemented. Below are some of our favorites.

Hangers: One inexpensive change is to swap out old mismatched hangers for a new set. The change will not only increase the perception of organization, but if you select a thin, slip-free variety it will also help maximize space in the closet.

Like with Like: Instead of storing items anywhere they’ll fit, take the time to group like items together. For example, in your linen closet, designate specific shelves to certain items such as pillows or sheets. This will greatly improve your ability to easily find what you need.

Labels: Organizers love labels because they work. Labels encourage a behavior of putting items back in their designated homes. There is no confusion about where things belong and thus organization is more easily maintained.

The Daily Reset: We often talk about the re-set in terms of an office, but the concept applies to all aspects of one’s life. At the end of the day, take a few moments to put things back, prepare your physical needs for the following day, and generally tidy up. The daily routine will drastically cut down on lost belongings and general disorder.

Counters: Clearing kitchen and bathroom counters of all unnecessary items can drastically reduce visual clutter. For example, if you use the toaster once per month, consider moving it inside a cupboard.  The extra counter space will make the room feel cleaner and larger.

Good Luck!
-TWOW

Wedding Registry: Do’s & Dont’s

The Well-Organized Woman often sees households in which the family has an excess of belongings that originated from the couple’s wedding registry. The items are usually still in their original boxes or stored on top shelves due to their uncommon use. These collections inspired us to develop some WOW tips for creating a registry that won’t leave you with unneeded belongings following the wedding.

Needs vs. Wants: When creating your registry discuss with your significant other what items are truly needed in the household. If you currently have a nice set of dishes, does it make sense to register for a set of fine china that will only be used once per year? Instead, take this opportunity to add items to your list that may not be considered traditional, but will go to good use in your life. Ideas include home improvement items, a computer, a washer/dryer set, or a new mattress.

Mini Dessert Serving Sets & Glass Punch Bowls: For some, wedding registries are an opportunity to stock up on all that Bed Bath & Beyond has to offer, but the reality is many of the more random gifts will go unused. Consider skipping these frivolous items and you will avoid having to donate them in the future.

Forget the Guilt: Some guests will stray from the registry and gift you something that’s not right for your lifestyle. In cases like these, don’t feel guilty about returning the items for credit towards something that you will use. As much as you would like to think Aunt Betty is going to ask to see the vase she bought you next time she’s in town, the likelihood is low.

Alternative Options: In alternative to the typical fine china registry style of earlier generations, there are now many options for receiving contributions towards larger goals, such as honeymoons (honeyfund.com), home purchases (depositagift.com), and investments (giftsofstock.com). Adding one of these to your registry not only helps lower the potential for clutter, but it can also help set you up for the future.

Cull & Donate: After the wedding, review your loot and determine if there are any duplicates either in the gifts or in your current belongings. If you ordered a new set of pots and pans, it likely makes sense to donate or discard the old ones to ensure clutter does not begin to build.

We wish you a happy & organized wedding!
TWOW

Garage Sales: How to Organize & Run a Successful Sale

The Well-Organized Woman is a big fan of donating household excess to charity, but if you’re looking to make a bit of money off of the items you’ve culled, garage sales are excellent options. Although the process may seem straightforward, we’ve pulled together several strategies that can help ensure a successful sale.

Research & Plan: Many cities regulate the number, type, and location of signs that you may post around town to advertise your sale. They may also require a permit be pre-purchased in order to host, so make sure to investigate the rules and regulations in advance of your planned date.

While scheduling the sale, there are several things to keep in mind. First, do a bit on online research and see if there are any other neighborhood sales already scheduled that you can join in on. These tend to draw larger crowds and increase your opportunity for sales. Second, take into consideration that holidays, days in which there are large local events scheduled, and vacation season may not be the most ideal times to host your event.

Advertise: The most important thing you can do to drive traffic to your sale is to advertise. For physical signs, choose brightly colored paper and use arrows to indicate directions to your location. Include cross streets on signs that are posted farther out and utilize sales slogans such as, ‘everything must go’ to excite passersby. Additionally, you can make use of online resources, such as craigslist.com, garagesalestracker.com, yardsalesearch.com, garagesale.com, and various social media sites. For smaller communities, newspapers and bulletin boards can also be helpful tools. Generally, advertisements should be posted 1-2 weeks before the sale.

Organize: Prior to the big day, plan to spend some time preparing your goods. Every item should be clean (to a reasonable extent), priced, and bundled with coordinating accessories. It is also helpful to group like-items together, to make shopping easier for your patrons. For example, kitchen items can be placed on one table, while clothes are on another. When pricing items, be thoughtful about the expected deals shoppers intend to find. Unless the item is brand new, the price should be deeply discounted.

Hosts should also prepare for the sale by procuring change, including more one and five dollar bills than you think you will need. It is also smart to have a plan for the cash exchange process. Will one person handle all sales or will several? Will the change be stored in a box, a wallet, or somewhere else? Having answers to these questions ahead of time will save confusion and hassle during the sale.

Display: Just as stores merchandise their products in a fashion that is both pleasing to the eye and easily shoppable, so too should you. While setting up your sale, take time to display your goods in a way that is organized, but also interesting. For example, if you have china or decorative pieces, consider setting them up as a set table thus illustrating to your customers the way the set could look in their home.

With a bit of planning and a lot of organization you are sure to have a profitable sale.

Good Luck!
TWOW

Sentimental Clutter: How to Manage, Store, and Let Go

Photos, kids’ artwork, and cards are all examples of items that can build up in numbers to the point that much of your storage space is dedicated to their housing. While these items can be physical representations of treasured memories, they are in their essence just sentimental clutter. Whether this clutter is inherited or created over the years, with a few basic rules you can keep things under control.

Choose One, Not Many
When working with clients, we often come upon large collections of cards, ticket stubs, and letters. For this type of excess clutter, we recommend selecting one or two (depending on your collection’s size) particularly meaningful items to keep and toss the rest. For example, if you have 100’s of cards from birthdays, anniversaries, etc., toss the ones that are simply signed or auto-generated (digital Christmas cards) and keep those that have thoughtful inscriptions. When you have occasion to receive new cards, keep this process in mind before adding the new ones to storage.

Gift & Donate
The inheritance of family heirlooms or estate items can sometimes cause recipients to feel guilty about the misfit of the item into their current life, space, or style. Instead of accepting the item only to dread its storage, consider offering it to another family member who may treasure it more. If it’s not wanted by anyone else, a charity donation may allow the item to be of use to someone in need. Think of this not as a dishonor to the item’s gifter, but a blessing for the new recipient.

Preservation
Over time, many sentimental items, such as photos and journals, can start to deteriorate. While having the original may be ideal, creating a digital image or copy is definitely better for long-term preservation and clutter-free storage. Services like Gophoto.com will turn hard-copy photos into digital files, traditional scanners are great for uploading paper documents, and your digital camera can capture the image of things like kids stuffed animals and other delicate items.

Display/Use
If your ideal space for storing sentimental clutter is in a box, in the back of the basement, it probably isn’t as important to you than you think. If this sounds familiar, dedicate some time to sort through the items. Choose those that are actually meaningful and find a spot for them on display or a use for them in your daily life. The rest can be donated, sold, gifted, or tossed. If you would like to store some items in a box, make sure it is waterproof, sealed, and limited in size. In order to not grow beyond the chosen size box, maintain a strategy of removing one item before adding a new one.

Dealing with sentimental clutter can be emotionally exhausting. As a general rule of thumb, we suggest taking small amounts of time to sort and make decisions, so as not to overwhelm yourself. Having a friend or someone who is not emotionally invested in the items help can ensure that final decisions are rational. They can also be excellent at handling the business side of things (selling/donating), which can be especially taxing.

Good Luck!
TWOW

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