Office Tidying Status Update

I’m now about a month into the process of tidying everything. I’ve lost count of the number of car loads and trash bags full of stuff I’ve removed from my life. So far I only have 2 items I regret parting with, and neither of them are expensive or irreplaceable. So I’m doing good there. And as of this afternoon you can see the top of my desk!


Not only that but my closet has WAY MORE space. I expect that over time I’ll move a bunch of the stuff that’s out in the office into the closet.

Before, there was so much stuff on the floor that the door could only open partially. There wasn’t anywhere to store the step ladder so it just sort of hung out. Now everything is off the floor, the fabric has been moved into a new drawer set, and there’s a spot for the ladder just to the left of the drawers. My fabric cutting board, which had previously laid around in my office making it look messy, now hangs on the wall next to the fabric.

There’s still work to do in the closet, I have 3 more categories of craft stuff to go through, but it’s a vast improvement from what it was.

My desk is now clear, there’s no more piles of crap on top of my book shelf, I’ve moved my file cabinet near my desk so maybe I will actually file something someday, and the shelves themselves are slightly better organized. I actually took a lot OUT of the shelves, but then put things back in from other places. In the interest of full disclosure, that blue cart is still there you just can’t see it in the 2nd shot.

The “before” photo is a little misleading, I took it right after I cleaned my office. Which I do maybe twice a year. Here’s a more honest photo of what my office usually looked like:


I’ve managed to create a little island of clean. The rest of the room is still in progress. I can’t stress how exhausting it is to go through all this stuff, the full KonMari treatment is definitely not a weekend project. I reached a point where I need to focus on some other areas/categories, because I’ve got piles of stuff that don’t belong in this room but there isn’t room for them in the places they do belong. We have two big closets downstairs which hold stuff my husband and I will need to tackle together.

Here’s what the rest of the room is looking like these days. Piles of to-be-sorted stuff in an otherwise bare room. That’s because once Baby #2 is born the plan for this room is to move the guest bed in here. Evacuating that half of the room is a long term project of mine.

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New Construction Townhome, Organization

You Have to Clean Before You Can Tidy

My closet is now officially tidied (or KonMari’d, if you want to turn the method into a verb)! It doesn’t look drastically different, especially because the most dramatic change is in the drawers, but it  feels so much better in there. No more piles of t-shirts on the top shelf, no more collections of crap on the floor under the hanging clothes. No more pile of clothing I haven’t put away! Everything is where it belongs! Of course I’ll have to go through it again in 6 months once I’m back to my pre-pregnancy self and can wear normal clothes again, but even what I’ve done so far is a huge improvement.

Next up is the hobby category. I talked about strategies for tidying hobby supplies in my last post, and sat down to tackle a new one today. Except my office is a mess (which is what inspired this whole thing in the first place). I realized that there’s a certain catch-22: you need to have a clear space to work in order to tidy effectively, but the reason I have no clear space is that I need to tidy! I spent about 20 minutes putting things away, throwing out trash, and doing the sort of clean-up I might do before company comes over. I didn’t worry too much about exactly where stuff went, I just tried to lump like items together and get the floor to a place where I could vacuum.

This brought me to tidying step 0: a vaguely clean office.

Clean enough to vacuum but still pretty cluttered
Clean enough to vacuum but still pretty cluttered

Then I tackled my electronics, which didn’t have a ton of stuff in it but was still challenging. I relocated a lot of random cables to the basement (where we have storage bins with various computer parts) and got rid of some very old mostly broken hardware.

Next on the agenda was the linen closet. I hadn’t intended to tidy it, but when I went to put fresh sheets on the guest bed and realized I had no idea where the queen sheets were. There are queens, doubles, twins, and Twin XL in there and I can’t remember which is which.

Sooo anyone know where the queen sheets are?
Sooo anyone know where the queen sheets are?

We store linens in 3 different closets, plus the “in use” linens which occupy the beds/bathrooms. I amassed all the sheets and blankets on the guest bed. Keep in mind this is just the “spares.” The guest bed sheets/comforter were in the wash, and the other 3 beds in the house (ours, our daughter’s, and the crib) all have sheets on them.

No joke, there is an ALF sleeping bag in there.
No joke, there is an ALF sleeping bag in there.

I pulled out anything that I felt was too gross for a guest to sleep on. I pulled out the Snuggie and some polar fleece throws (I hate polar fleece). Since some of these came with my husband when we moved in together I gave him right of first refusal for anything on the chopping block. He agreed with my assessments though.

Next I went through the towels. Not including the full sets hanging in the bathrooms we had 15 bath towels, 16 washcloths, 3 beach towels, 10 hand towels, and 5 bath mats. Once again I culled anything that wasn’t in good enough shape to offer a guest. I set aside a couple towel/washcloth sets to take down the shore along with a surplus duvet.

I didn’t quite hit my goal of fitting all the linens in one closet. We have a bunch of extra waterproof covers for furniture which are bulky but we’ll definitely need them when the baby shows up. I put the crib sheets back in my daughter’s closet, but everything else fit! I rolled the towels for easy grabbing, then folded the washcloths and stuck them on end in a shoe box to keep them from getting mixed up with the hand towels and beach towels.

I put labels in front of each stack of sheets indicating what size they are
I put labels in front of each stack of sheets indicating what size they are

This whole process is so much work but I really think it’s worth it. Just being able to easily grab a set of clean sheets is a huge improvement in my domestic life.


How I Tidy Craft Supplies and Hobby Stuff

One of the most daunting tasks in my quest to KonMari my house is dealing with my incredible collection of hobby stuff / supplies. I have a lot of hobbies, and many of them have a lot of stuff that goes with them. Some of this stuff has taken a lot of time/money to acquire, so I have to be smart with how I purge and sort it if I don’t want to be filled with regret down the line.

This is what my office looks like clean. No one has ever actually seen this.
This is what my office looks like clean, or at least it did as of a couple years ago. No one has ever actually seen this since then.

The first step in the process was evaluating how likely I was to ever take up a given hobby again. Then I had to compare that to how much stuff it required, and how hard that stuff was to obtain in the first place. Here are some examples:

  • Hand knitting. I do this regularly. My yarn stash takes up a ton of space and needs pruning, but otherwise I am perfectly OK with it taking up ~15 cubic feet of shelf space.
  • Machine knitting. I haven’t done this in a while but would love to get back into it when I have more time. It takes up a bunch of space, but the machines are rare. I also have multiple, and I think it’s time to prune the collection down to my one favorite machine (my Superba).
  • Reclaiming yarn from thrift store sweaters. Nice in theory, not really worth the time. Probably not gonna do it again. Should just pitch the half-unraveled sweaters. Easy to get more if I change my mind.
  • Photography. I go through phases of this every few years. Equipment is expensive, takes up little space. Definitely going to hold onto most if not all of it.
  • Embroidery. I do this occasionally, but I have a disproportionate large stash of threads and tools, none of which are rare or expensive. Need to cull it back to something reasonable.
  • Exercise. I do this regularly, but I’ve had my dad’s rowing machine for more than a year and have used it maybe twice. Time to return it and focus on weight training.
  • Jewelrymaking. It was really hard to admit this to myself, but I’m probably never going to seriously go back to jewelrymaking / metalsmithing. It requires space, time, and equipment that I’m not likely to dedicate myself to. I have a decent collection of tools, but they’re not really doing me any good locked away in the back of the closet waiting for “someday.”
  • Camping. I do this once or twice a year and plan to continue doing so in the future. The camping equipment definitely needs pruning though, some of it I’ve had since Girl Scouts and haven’t used since then.
  • Hydroponic gardening. I haven’t done this since my daughter was born but would like to in the future. The equipment is not cheap and took a while to accumulate as it’s mostly only available through mail order. So that stuff is largely staying.
  • Painting. Nope. Not gonna do it again. Goodbye, paints.

So that’s 3 hobbies totally out the door, and two or three more that are getting some serious downsizing. For each hobby category I’ll need to go through everything and determine what to do with it. Although Kondo suggests starting with easier categories and working up to hard ones I started with the hardest just to get it over with. I hauled out all of my metalsmithing tools and laid them out on the floor. Some of them are all around handy tools to keep around. Some of them are just too specialized to be good for much else. When I got to my favorite tools I stopped for a bit. I reconsidered. Surely I might need these again? Weren’t they very expensive? Maybe I should keep them…

I know I’m never going to need them again. I went online to see what they cost new. $50 each. Not inexpensive, but not out of the realm of replacing if somewhere down the line I do suddenly really need to form silver or copper into hemispherical shapes. But when I’m totally honest with myself I know that’s not going to happen. I took a deep breath and put them on the “go” pile.

Figuring out what to do with the stuff I’m unloading is also hard. A lot of it does still have use/value, but it’s not the sort of stuff that does well at a thrift store. It needs context. For the things that are more valuable I’m trying Craigslist. Some of the jewelry equipment I plan to donate to my university’s program. I ended up throwing out a lot of odds and ends that really aren’t likely to be useful to anyone, like Plexiglas forming dies I made in college.

Here's a panorama of my office in a more natural state.
Here’s a panorama of my office in a more natural state. Except I finally threw out the dead cactus in the window.

Having cleared the hurdle of my most loved tools, I’m looking forward to a few easy categories as a pallet cleanse. In general I prefer that to Kondo’s suggested order of increasing emotional difficulty. I like to do something hard and then go do one that’s brain dead and satisfying. Leona’s closet is great for this, she’s constantly wearing out and outgrowing clothing. I can feel quite accomplished just by throwing out all her pants with holes in the knees. Or I’ll go back through one of the giant boxes of baby clothes (many of which were hand-me-downs Leona never even wore) and cull it down to a reasonable size.

The good new is that despite being emotionally exhausting it really doesn’t take that long. I went through my tools in maybe half an hour, while I was taking a break from a frustrating problem at work. So far I’ve taken 5 bags full of stuff to the local thrift store, and I’ll probably have more to go by next week. Over time I get better at being honest with myself about whether or not I’ll actually use something again. Sometimes when I revisit categories I’ve already done I find a few more items to yank. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be surrounded by only stuff I need or enjoy, not clutter I resent.

New Construction Townhome, Organization

The Life-Changing Cult of Tidying Up

Are you interested in my quest for a less disastrous house? Check out my whole tidying archive of posts!

If you are a person who reads the internet, you have probably heard of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Perhaps you have even tried to read it. Most people who succeed in reading it join her KonMari tidying cult, but in all honesty it can be a challenge to get past the first few pages if you are turned off by the huge number of self-help cliches found in the beginning. I’m told that part of this is due to the book’s translation, and perhaps also some bad advice from an editor. Or very good advice, given the book’s position on the bestseller list. Suffice to say I found the beginning of the book a little grating but I’m glad I stuck with it.

The book contents can be divided into 3 categories: super useful advice about decluttering and organizing, somewhat repetitive stories about her childhood / clients, and advice that might be useful to some people but doesn’t seem to apply to any of the American yuppies I know. One example of the third is her assertion that you should carry all your coins as “no one actually cashes in their change jar.” Do they not have Coinstar in Japan? Because cashing out a change jar is an amazing treat whereas digging through my purse for a dime sucks.

Anyway, I’m reading the book and feeling inspired to clean (ok, I read the book because I was inspired to clean and felt overwhelmed by how much stuff I have). The book suggests starting with clothing because it’s the easiest, and I agree. I did my sock drawer first:


As you can see, I got rid of about half my socks. They were not in great shape. Many were threadbare at the heel or stretched out. Others were in OK shape but I had to ask myself “how many pairs of black athletic socks does one person need?” I decided the answer was not “10” and culled all but the heartiest. A couple pairs of socks were like-new but didn’t really go with my wardrobe, or were nearly identical to other socks I never wear. I’m still trying to figure out if I should donate them somewhere or just pitch them. I mean, does anyone actually want used socks? Probably not.

At first I struggled a lot with wastefulness, a feeling that nagged me while reading the book as well. Kondo talks a lot about discarding things, and as someone who is opposed to waste this was hard to accept. I rolled it around in my head for a few days and realized first: ‘discard’ does not mean I have to throw it in the trash, there are still plenty of responsible ways to pass something on for reuse. Second: I was already being wasteful the second I purchased that 6 pack of athletic socks, knowing full well I still had some at home (they were on sale!). Holding onto something indefinitely when you’ve already replaced it isn’t being responsible, it’s hoarding. Then I had a moment of “well I wear these socks when I run out of ones I like, what will I do now when I run out?” Um, wash them? Stop playing King of the Mountain with the hamper?

One of the most often cited ideas from the book is to only keep items which “spark joy.” I can immediately tell which critics haven’t actually read the book, because they make snide remarks about how something mundane-but-necessary fails to spark joy. Except even items we don’t actively like can spark joy. Maternity underwear does not spark joy directly, it’s pretty dowdy, but not having a wedgie 100% of the time is its own indirect joy.

Organized tank tops
Organized tank tops
Undies, sports bras, and pajamas
Sports bras, pajamas, and undies

After socks I moved on to underwear and tank tops. Next is T-shirts. Nice tops, jeans, and dresses will have to wait until I’m done being pregnant and my body returns to normal. It’s hard to consider purging items when you know your body is about to do some major shape shifting. Lucky for me there is really no shortage of other things I can tidy.

A lot of people who haven’t read the book decry the idea of having to get rid of all the “nonessential” stuff in their lives. That’s not what Kondo is suggesting at all. I have a huge yarn collection, and I assure you it brings me joy (though I still plan to go through each skein and get rid of any I know I’ll never use). Ditto for my fabric collection. There’s nothing wrong with having collections of things. The problem is having collections of things that aren’t actually making you happy.

Kondo talks a lot about the emotional reasons we hold onto things. To some people it seems really cold hearted, getting rid of items that may have been a gift. But I think it’s important to acknowledge the emotional toll of stuff we hang onto just because it was a gift. If anything, keeping something we don’t really want just because we feel obligated to strains our relationship with that person. You shouldn’t be an asshole about it, but ultimately there’s a limit to how much stuff we can hang onto. Some of it has to go sometimes. It doesn’t mean we love our friends less, or don’t appreciate their gifts.

For the record, if I have given you a hand knit item, and it it no longer suits you, please do not feel obligated to hang onto it if it no longer brings you joy. The joy for me was in the knitting and the giving, and hopefully for you in knowing I liked you enough to make you something. Whether you choose to use it going forward is really up to you.

Slowly, painfully, I’m learning to let go of stuff I’m keeping because I “might” use it. I have never, ever remembered to take a travel pillow with me to the airport; I definitely don’t need three. I am never actually going to read that book on Renaissance artwork, I don’t actually like Renaissance artwork. I don’t need to own any clothing that is too gross and old to wear outside the house. I need exactly one pair of painting pants and two painting shirts (I know from experience that after two days I will be sick of painting and go do something else). I will never actually turn those old T-shirts into a cool hipster crochet rug.

I am letting go of the ghosts of people I thought I wanted to be (but don’t) in order to make room for the person I actually want to be (someone who can see the top of her desk on more than a semi-annual basis). I’ve joined the cult, and even if this experiment is a total bust and my sock drawer is back to being a warzone in a week at least I managed to get rid of some baggage in the process.

DIY and Decor, New Construction Townhome, Organization

Oh, The Container Store

The other day we stopped by The Container Store to shop for trash cans.

Yes, I have reached the point of my life where I think a trash can is something you shop for.

While there I saw they are having a 25% off Elfa sale. We’re having another baby and I totally want to Elfa up another closet. It was a little tough to acknowledge that I’m already well over my home furnishings budget for the year. This is in fact A Year No Closets Will Be Organized. In previous years I did my office closet and the toddler’s closet.

If I’m being honest with myself, it’s not the closet that’s the problem. My office closet is in desperate need of purging crap. The toddler’s closet is in better shape but it still needs some attention. No amount of objects from The Container Store will save me from the fact that I am indeed a slob.

This Liz Lemon quote from 30 Rock spoke to me:

“I went to the new flagship Compartment Store on 5th Avenue and I’m going to get my life in order. There’s a stacking thing to separate your junk mail from your humidifier catalogs, a thing you stick on your laptop that  hold your keys, a round plastic deal that holds your shoes with a pocket for a photograph of what shoes are in there. I’m going to become wonderful. It’s a new beginning, like a phoenix rising…”

While shopping for a trash can I saw a variety of Other Objects that promised to make me less of a miserable disorganized slob. I am so disorganized I lost my to-do lists. That’s right. The first item on my new to-do list is to find my old ones. It was tempting to buy into the world of color coordinated stacking boxes. But I resisted. I looked at trash cans, didn’t see any I liked, and limited my purchases to a dish rack, laundry basket, and a festive collapsible ottoman. Ok so I went in for a trash can and came out with $150 worth of totally unrelated other things, which is definitely not winning. BUT AT LEAST I DIDN’T BUY A CLOSET, RIGHT? Also did you know that SimpleHuman makes an $80 dish rack? We went with the cheap bamboo one, but the SimpleHuman dish rack has 337 reviews and 4.5 stars. I’m curious what dish rack bliss feels like, but not $80 curious.

Oh like you could resist this.
Oh like you could resist this.

Anyway, I didn’t find a trash can I liked. I wanted one that had recycling and trash together, but all the ones that looked nice took special liners I’m not willing to pay for. So we got a normal step trashcan and I’m just gonna stick a blue bin in the laundry room.

And while we’re on the topic of mundane stuff, these are hands down the best dish mats:


You can find them on Amazon in a variety of patterns, and they’re super great.

Business, New Construction Townhome, Organization

Time Management as an Art Project

For the past few months I’ve been waking up in a cold sweat freaking out about things I forgot to take care of. A lot of it is little, like forgetting to schedule a hair appointment until after they’ve closed for the day. Some of it is bigger, like the Kickstarter I did a few years ago that fizzled out (more on that in another post) and a few things are huge, like the fact that I completely bungled my corporate tax filings for the last 3 years.

With some nudging from my therapist and support from my husband I finally managed to get on top of things. My to-do list has gone from “deal with 3 years of back taxes” to more mundane stuff like “clean up the dried paint in the bathroom.” I used a handful of different strategies to gain control, which I’ll detail in a sec, but the biggest key to staying motivated has been to turn it into something like an art project.

Step 1: I wrote down everything I was putting off

AKA I made a to-do list, but with some very specific guidelines.

First, everything on the list had to be something I’d been putting off for a while. None of my normal daily/weekly chores got put on there. Although I hate going to the grocery store, hunger will eventually lead me there so I don’t need to put it on my list of terrible to-dos.

Second, if it was a big task (like “unfuck my accounting”) I wrote down only the first step in the process. Whatever was on the list had to be eminently doable (if sucky). So instead of unfuck my accounting I wrote call accountant. Luckily I had the name of a good accountant already. If I hadn’t, I would have written find an accountant.

And most importantly, I limited the list to what would fit on a post-it note. I’m not rattling off every task I could possibly hope to accomplish in the next month, just the stuff I really need to get around to.

Step 2: I dedicated an hour a day to working on my list

timerThis was my therapist’s idea and at first I balked. An hour? Where am I going to find an extra hour? And then I thought what do I even do in a day? Because I work from home, freelance, my work and my meta-work and my home life and my hobbies sometimes start to blend together. In order to find that extra hour I had to tease them apart and work more efficiently.

Once I committed myself to the hour I could no longer engage in productive procrastination to avoid my terrible tasks. I set a timer and sat down with my list. During the hour I only worked on things that appeared on that list. After a week the list was dwindling. Two weeks in I’ve cleared out everything on the original list – some of which had been there for years.

Step 3: I started logging what I was doing with Chronodex

This is where the wacky circle thing comes in.


Chronodex was designed as a paper planner. The circle represents a clock, and each wedge is an hour. The different sizes of the wedges just make it easier to differentiate them. It’s meant for folks who primarily care about 9am to 9pm, as midnight to 9am are on the interior of the circle and 9pm to midnight are sort of ghosted around the exterior. If you shade in your various appointments and responsibilities you have a nice visualization of your day.

I have google calendar for appointments, but I use Chronodex to record what I’ve done in a day. Rather than print out an entire 6 months of dated pages I printed a bunch of blank Chronodex cores on sticker paper and slap one in my Moleskine notebook each day. This allows me the flexibility to take up more/less space as needed on any given day. I use different colored pens to shade in what I did: billable work, meta-work, family time, exercise, sleep, terrible to-do time.

My first day’s Chronodex. I have since given up on logging the weather despite loving to draw clouds.

If you look through the gallery of how people use Chronodex, everyone uses it a little differently. There’s no right or wrong way to shade in the wedges, that’s where the art project comes in.

Once I started accounting for my time, some really important things happened. I started to feel better about myself because I was acknowledging the things I accomplished in a day. I started thinking about my time in 15 minute blocks which has helped me focus a lot on the task at hand. I am better at stopping myself from jumping between work, home, and play because I’ve internalized that I’m “in a work block” or “in a family block.” When I take a break I take a full 15 or 30 minute break instead of just shoving food in my face while sitting at my keyboard. My reward for being productive is that I get to shade in that time on my Chronodex afterwards.

Step 4: I started having time for chores

Now that I’ve been dedicating all this time to my terrible to-dos, I don’t actually need the full daily hour to do them anymore. It’s tempting to us that time for goofing off, but instead I’ve started adding some routine chores into my schedule. This is the stuff I should be doing but often don’t and then either a) it gets gross or b) my husband takes care of it and pretends not to secretly resent what a slob I am.

This is not the first time I have tackled chores with an overly complicated art project. Behold:

Oh yeah, I remember you now
Oh yeah, I remember you now

That project served me very well. It fell by the wayside when we moved and I had a bigger house with WAY MORE THINGS that needed doing. Also I reinstalled windows and no longer have a python environment handy to generate the pages.

The biggest problem I have with a pre-printed list of chores though is that it becomes your tyrant instead of a tool. If you fall behind you have this paper trail of failure plus the question of “do I just skip those chores or is my entire day now going to be nothing but cleaning?”

For this iteration I printed out a bunch of common chores onto some return address labels. Apparently you all have a boner for labels, because this was one of my most liked items on Facebook this week.

If there is one thing you all love it is colorful labels.

I cut them into sets of 8 or so and keep a sheet of them alongside my to-do list in my notebook (which I use as a bookmark). When I do a chore, I put that sticker on the page. The colors mean nothing; I just like colorful things. This is basically a more boring version of what you might use for a 7 year old. The stickers behave sort of like a repeating to-do list. I limit these chores to things I can do in 15 minutes or less.

Step 5: Profit

Actually I think the only people profiting here are the label companies. But I sleep better at night now that I no longer have a list of years-old to-do items hanging over my head.

My biggest takeaway from this is that I do better with accountability than expectation. Which is to say, when I plan my chores or tasks for the week out in advance I never seem to live up to the standard I’m setting. But if I hold myself accountable to what I’ve accomplished each day – regardless of what it is – I can get a lot done.

I love the flexibility stickers offer me. I can skip a day or do something different tomorrow and it’s not this weird scar in my notebook. On weekends I don’t usually need to be such a taskmaster, so unless I’ve got a lot going on I don’t bother.

And most importantly, this works because I am highly motivated by charts and graphs. Seriously. I cleaned my office bathroom yesterday expressly so I could get a sticker. I focus on work instead of checking Facebook just so I can shade that 15 minute wedge in blue. If the idea of sitting down with a pack of multicolored pens doesn’t fill you with excited anticipation, this won’t help you at all.

Speaking of pens, these are my very favorite. They don’t bleed through the pages and make a nice smooth line.

Frequently Asked Questions

Doesn’t this take kind of a while?

Yes. I spend about 15 minutes a day updating my stupid Chronodex. But I consider it time well spent because I’m actually getting things done the rest of the day instead of checking Facebook 500 times.

What about free/leisure time?

I experimented with shading in those things too after the fact and it was just too much for my taste. I like the visual effect the space has when I don’t have a scheduled task.

Where can I learn more about Chronodex?

This lady wrote up a good blog post on it.

Can I have the files you used to make the stickers?

Chronodex core sheet – full sheet sticker: PSD  PDF
Chore stickers – Avery 8167: PSD PDF

New Construction Townhome, Organization

Toddler Closet Organization

It’s my favorite time of year… time for the Container Store elfa sale. This year the closet in my daughter’s room got a makeover. Her closet consisted of hanging organizers from Ikea which were the source of much cursing due  to their poor design and awkward center of balance. I have been planning this closet for months waiting for a sale. The day before the sale started I sprung into action, preparing the closet for Operation Shelving 2.0

The closet suffered many of the maladies that my office closet did, namely shelving that was glued to the walls. Thankfully this time there was a little less glue so I was able to get away with just one day of sanding/spackling. I also was a little less picky about them this time around.

2014-08-26 11.12.55
Walls patched and awaiting paint

It was at this point that my daughter looked into her empty closet and said “you broke my room. Fix it.” This time I opted to just paint over the patches rather than redo the whole room. Unfortunately I managed to pick the wrong shade of white from our pile of leftover paint. I decided I didn’t care and just left it. If you notice it, you can kindly keep your mouth shut.

Walls painted. You almost can’t tell I used the wrong white!

I love the way the elfa system is organized. The whole thing comes in these nice organized bags. The little one has all the mounting hardware, the big one has various smaller elements for the closet and a separate side pocket containing customized instructions for installing the whole thing.

It's like Christmas for closets
It’s like Christmas for closets

Feeling like an elfa pro after doing my office closet, I happily set to work on the toddler closet. Unfortunately I got a little too confident, and did not measure the height for the top tracks correctly. As a result the hanging standards (vertical bits) overlapped my baseboard molding by about half an inch. Tragedy. I spent a couple hours cursing myself, wringing my hands, and contemplating my two options: rip out the top track (drywall studs and all) and reinstall it higher up, or cut an inch off the bottom of the vertical standards. Since I lack the tools to cut them myself option 2 required a trip out to the suburbs to have them cut. Both options sort of sucked.

After a quick phone call to The Container Store I went with option 2. Thank you to the staff at the Container Store in King of Prussia, who cut the standards for free (despite it being my mistake) and had me in and out of the store in about 10 minutes. I managed to get the standards installed just in time for toddler bedtime.


Day 3 of Operation Closet was spent putting up the shelving and deciding on the spacing I wanted. For this closet I splurged on some of the “nice to have” finishing touches like bracket covers and shelf fascia. Stuff that’s not functional but makes the closet look nice. I didn’t bother with those for my own closet, but they do make things look cleaner and nicer.

As I put everything back in the closet I started culling stuff that was too small. I am a bit ashamed to admit that some of the stuff hanging up had been in the 9-12 month sizes (she’s two and a half now). When all was said and done she had about half as many hanging clothes and an entire additional storage bin full of too small stuff.

So now the toddler’s room is “fixed” and I can now easily find socks that fit her. So ends another fruitful elfa sale. Look out, master bedroom closet. You’re next.

New Construction Townhome, Organization

It turns out you can wash pillows

I was browsing Pinterest for work (yes that is an actual thing) and saw a pin on how to whiten your pillows. It links to a “magic whitening formula,” most of which is probably just OH MY GOD DID EVERYONE ELSE KNOW PILLOWS WERE WASHABLE?

Somewhat skeptical, I went to the Closet of Old Gross Pillows (aka the guest closet) and read the tags. Lo and behold, they all say they’re machine washable. By George, I’ll try it!

Since I have a high efficiency front loader, the recipe in the article won’t work for me. But with a little improvising I came up with something that worked really well.

  • 1 tbsp powdered laundry detergent
  • 1 tbsp borax
  • 1 tbsp dish detergent
  • bleach to the “max” line in my machine’s bleach dispenser

For the love of god, defer to the instructions on your machine if you decide to try this. I use a very low-suds detergent, and did not have any issues in my machine, but please use common sense and err on the side of caution.

My machine has a pretty good soak setting, but for the grosser pillows I stopped it during the rinse cycle and ran them through again. Then I chucked them in the dryer. Martha says to make some felted dryer balls to fluff them up, but aint nobody got time for that. They dried just fine on their own.

So how’d they come out?

When I pulled them out of the dryer I thought “meh, they still look kinda dingy.” And then I set them down next to the ones that hadn’t been washed yet.

Whiten old pillows

Prior to washing, the left and right pillows were the same color. Gross!

I think most of the credit goes to simply washing the pillows, rather than the “magic” whitening solution, but I’m happy either way.

New Construction Townhome, Organization

Putting it all back

The shelving is up (pictures forthcoming), and I’m now replacing the contents of the closet. For the most part it was easy; the huge pile of stuff has dwindled to just a few errant boxes of flotsam and jetsam. But this last little bit is taking forever. Almost like zeno’s paradox, each box I sort through seems to take twice as long as the last.

Behold: boxes of junk. Junk I suddenly desperately need.
Behold: boxes of junk. Junk I suddenly desperately need.

Some of these boxes haven’t been touched since I moved in. After the exhaustion of moving, I punted on the boxes labeled “random crap” and shoved them in the closet “for later.” More than a year after moving, it is taking all of my willpower not to do the same now. In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s one box that hasn’t been touched since I moved out of my apartment in Brooklyn, long before RD and I got married.

Going through each box is exhausting. Each one contains various relics I’ve completely forgotten about until the moment I open it; at which point I can’t imagine parting with. Some things are easy: old bank statements can safely be shredded and discarded now that the information is available online. Others are tougher: college artwork  (some good, some not so good), trinkets given to me by good friends, and various objects that might be useful someday.

Triage on this stuff takes a lot out of me. I part with a lot of small items, rationalizing with myself that although this pin / pencil / whatever meant a lot to me at age 15, it’s just a piece of plastic crap now. The friendship it symbolizes is the enduring thing I should keep. As a result, I’m unable to part with the items from friends I’ve lost touch with. It goes in a bankers box marked “memorabilia,” full of old papers and photos that I plan to scan into the computer “someday.”

Some of it is neat, and doesn’t take up much room, but I’ve got no idea where to put it. Included in this are MRI photos of my brain and neck; the former from a medical study I participated when I was unemployed, the latter from a neck injury sustained while washing my hair. During the brain scan, the MRI tech complimented me on how still I held my head, and asked if I would be willing to participate in other studies. I got my head scanned a bunch that year.

I’ve whittled it down to two bags full of papers “to be filed,” a stack of papers I’ve already sorted but have no idea where to file, and one 8 x 10 box of “random crap” still to contend with. With each trash bag I fear I’m throwing out something I desperately need. Something I’ll curse myself looking for down the line. But given how long I’ve managed to live without while it languished in a box, I suppose that’s pretty unlikely.


New Construction Townhome, Organization

Closet Saga, now with primer!

I’ve got the first coat of primer on the closet wall. It’s tinted to match the paint. I’ll let it dry for the rest of the afternoon, and possibly overnight since I have plans this evening.

Primed Closet

So, before I ripped out huge chunks of drywall from my closet, I did a lot of planning. Ultimately I would like all the things to fit inside my closet, so I can get rid of the huge Ikea bookcase in here. And for that to happen I needed serious shelving. Floor to ceiling, fit-to-my-belongings shelving.

Dear god why do I own all this?
Dear god why do I own all this?

The Container Store’s Elfa is the gold standard in modular shelving, and it’s gotten a lot better looking over the years. Elfa is a standards and brackets system with a mind boggling array of shelves accessories. It’s well made and has stayed fairly consistent over the years – the cart I got freshman year of college is still compatible with what they’re selling now.

The downside of Elfa is the price. Most of the kits on the Container Store website are north of $1000. Ikea, Rubbermaid, and ClosetMaid all offer similar systems. So I sat down and priced them all out (except ClosetMaid which had mostly negative reviews).

Top view of my closet, sort of to scale
Top view of my closet, sort of to scale

I knew I wanted shelves along the back and side wall. Because the door swings in, I decided to leave that wall empty save for maybe a few coat hooks. I tried to price out designs that were as close to identical as possible, so I went for 5 rows of shelving all the way around in an L shape.

Elfa was by far the easiest, because they offer free design planning. I called them up and spent about 20 minutes going over my options with their rep. You can see the designs online as you’re working on them, and when you’re done you get a full parts list and instructions. You can also buy the whole kit with one click. Total quoted price: $950. Ouch.

The option I liked most from The Container store, with white melamine shelves.
The option I liked most from The Container store, with white melamine shelves.

With Elfa as the high water mark I moved on to Rubbermaid HomeFree. Rubbermaid provides an online design planner, but I found it irritating to use and ended up just doing it by hand. The HomeFree system features parts that overlap to fit your space, rather than having to get them cut to size. Unfortunately the shelves are only available in 12″ deep, which is shallower than what I need for my stuff. It came in the cheapest at $475, but ultimately wasn’t the solution I needed.

Next I priced out Rubbermaid FastTrack. FastTrack is a much more industrial looking solution, with all wire shelves. You can cut the shelving yourself with a bolt cutter, or have it cut for you in the store. A layout very similar to the Elfa layout (but with wire shelves) came out to $650.

From there I went back to look at the Elfa configuration. I really like how extensible it is. I’m not entirely sure what my storage needs are, so the rep helped me design my system so that it would be easy to add drawers later if I decided I needed them. Most of the individual components seemed about the same price as Rubbermaid’s, why was it so much more expensive? I pulled up the parts list and compared.

It turns out, the Elfa shelves include a lot of “vanity” parts to help things look nicer. Bracket covers, rail covers, etc. Things that help class up the setup but aren’t needed for structural integrity. By dumping all those parts I got the price down to about $800. With a 25% coupon I found online, it came down to $600.

It’s still a lot of money to spend on a closet. I’d love to get the drawers now, but at $65 each for the drawer, gliders, and brackets it’ll have to wait. In the mean time, some extra shelves will go into the ‘someday’ spot for the drawers.


In all honesty, even if I’d paid full price for the Elfa, the design service makes it worth the extra $150. I’ve spent the better part of a week planning, pricing, and trying to negotiate the various shelving systems. The phone call with the Elfa designer was so painless I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Of course, we’ll see if I’m still singing their praises after I install the damned stuff.