Our New YouTube Series: Organizing For Kids, By Kids

As the daughters of a professional organizer, it should come as no surprise that my identical twins have been exposed to creating a more organized, yet realistic lifestyle. Whether it’s explaining the reasons behind donating the things we no longer use or how to respect toys and clothing by putting them away, I know that my daughters have been exposed to a lot of “lessons” over the years. And when I say exposed, I don’t want anyone to think that things are perfect and neat in our household all the time. It’s actually quite the opposite, as “perfection” is not what we strive for or what works in our household.

Getting organized isn’t a one time event for us, but instead a way of life. In general, we are finding a place for everything and creating systems that make life easier, which does not mean adding more rigidity, color coding and time consuming activities to drain the joy out of everyday life!

When my girls were toddlers I showed them how and where to put their toys away, in preschool we created a drop zone for their coats, bags, and shoes, and over the years the systems have expanded to include school and artwork and--most recently--becoming more independent with tasks like packing their lunches.

Ever since my daughters were born, I’ve received countless questions about how we keep organized and any and all tips surrounding how to get and stay organized with children.

I’m excited to announce that we have launched a new series on our YouTube channel dedicated to organizing with kids with my daughters fielding the questions! Our first video discusses How To Pack Your School Lunch.

We hope that these quick, fun videos are helpful for you (and your children!) and we would love to know what other topics you would like to see covered.

PRODUCTS WE LOVE:

WE WOULD LOVE YOUR FEEDBACK!

PS-We want to hear from you! We are always trying to improve at Rachel and Company, and we’d like to know what content you want to see us cover. If you have a few minutes, we would love to hear your thoughts. Click here to take our quick, anonymous survey.

Rachel and Company is a professional organizing firm based in Bethesda, MD, serving clients in the Washington, DC area including: Potomac, Maryland Georgetown, the Palisades, McLean, Arlington, and Alexandria, Virginia.

GREAT DESIGN + ORGANIZATION. OUR WEST ELM DC EVENT RECAP.

As you know by now, we’re firm believers that organization can go hand-in-hand with great design, and over the years, I feel like the product options for organization have just gotten better and better. No longer are you bound to shiny plastic bins to corral your kid’s toys or a boring coat rack to hang your bags, but instead we have found that more and more stores offer thoughtfully designed, functional options (in all sizes, colors, and price points!).

One of our go-to shops when we are choosing products for our clients both online and locally here in Washington, DC, is West Elm because we love that their products are not only beautiful and well-made, but also extremely versatile. When possible, we prioritize investing in products (investing money in purchasing the right product for your need and investing your time in selecting the product rather than just buying the first thing that you find “will do”). As a professional organizer, I look for products that can transition alongside your needs rather than settling on simple fixes or specific single-function products, which is why I love how West Elm’s products work just as well in a studio apartment as they do in a five-bedroom single family home. Last month we partnered with West Elm’s Washington, DC location to host an interactive workshop based around decluttering and choosing products to help make a home beautifully organized.

Our organizing event with West Elm DC focused on how to select a desired look/budget/timeline when it comes to organizing and how to declutter and choose products for the most common areas of the home--including the entryway, common area, and closets. Our group of attendees came armed with questions about how to tackle their tricky organizing dilemmas and we loved being able to share advice tailored to each problem area.

ENTRYWAY
This might be a narrow hallway in an apartment or a bigger area in a home, a mudroom or even a few inches of floorspace but regardless, you can maximize it. This is where you walk in, where we might consider it a drop zone of sorts for things like shoes, purses, bags, backpacks, coats, mail and more. We recommend using a mirror/hook combo to free up floor space and a console table with storage on top and underneath.

COMMON AREA
This is a tricky place to start storing items because I find many people run up the issue of wanting to organize items but also make sure there is some style to their organization. This is because, being the main area of your house, this is what you see the most on a daily basis and where guest congregate the most. We recommend choosing pieces that serve double duties, like a bookcase that has both cabinets and shelves or a coffee table with storage underneath.

CLOSETS
When it comes to your clothing, the #1 thing to remember is that if you use it often it needs to be accessible. So, we love under-the-bed storage because it has a good amount of space to store items, but you should not be putting items that you grab for every day in this area because it’s going to be a pain to access. Instead, reserve the under-the-bed space for your off-season clothing or less frequently used items and store them in easy to access bins and baskets.

And for those of you who couldn’t make the event, we’d love to know: what area of your home is the toughest to organize? Do you have a tricky closet or category that has you stumped on how to handle? Have you used West Elm products in your home?

PRODUCTS WE LOVE:

WE WOULD LOVE YOUR FEEDBACK!

PS-We want to hear from you! We are always trying to improve at Rachel and Company, and we’d like to know what content you want to see us cover. If you have a few minutes, we would love to hear your thoughts. Click here to take our quick, anonymous survey.

Rachel and Company is a professional organizing firm based in Bethesda, MD, serving clients in the Washington, DC area including: Potomac, Maryland Georgetown, the Palisades, McLean, Arlington, and Alexandria, Virginia. We also do travel! We specialize in helping busy families who are overwhelmed by clutter who often simply don’t have the time to put systems in place to be more organized. Click here to learn more about how we can work together.

Client Before and After: Adding Structure to Multi-PURPOSE Cabinets

When we come into a client’s home we try to get the sense of how they are functioning in the space so that we can enhance their current living situation. In many cases, clients are so used to living with their current setup that they aren’t able to visualize any other solution. Having fresh eyes take a look at your space often allows new ideas to be suggested. Also, having someone else take a look at your problem area can help them get a sense of why the setup isn’t working for you, which can be difficult to explain unless the person seese/experiences it firsthand.

We worked on a multi-room organization project for a family, and one of their pain points was their laundry room. The room itself was nice in that there was storage, but the cabinets were located high on the wall which wasn’t doing the family many favors because they were difficult to reach and made it tough to pull down (and put away) the items that were stored inside. After checking out the space for ourselves, we understood the issues that the family was facing:

  • Visibility. Knowing that moving the cabinets lower on the wall was not an option, we needed to find a way that made the cabinet shelving function better. Our clients knew that certain items were in the cabinets, but didn’t know exactly where to find them because there was no way to see what was stored where.
  • Accessibility. Since the cabinets are high on the wall and the washer and dryer units are in front of them, if an item was tucked in the back of the cabinet (or if it fell and rolled out of place) there was no easy way to see where it went. Also, the existing organizing products did not fit the space very well so items were becoming stacked on one another which made it impossible to grab without creating a bigger mess.
Laundry Room

Laundry Room

Here is a “BEFORE” of Cabinet 1 and Cabinet 2:

Our Approach

1. Pull everything out and categorize. Knowing that this was the area in their home where they stored their utility, dog-related, and laundry items, it was important for us to see exactly what they had (and how much of each category).

2. Measure the space. We measured the available, usable space for each shelf (Length x Width x Height) so that when it came to choosing products we would know what could fit in the space. We also took note of the adjustable shelving which could play in our favor in case we needed to account for taller items on the shelves.

3. Place the categories back in the cabinet. Now that we knew what items and categories we were working with, we placed everything in the cabinet in an orderly way separated by category. This helped us visualize what type of products would be necessary to keep the categories corralled and accessible.

Here is an “PROGRESS” shot of Cabinet 1 and Cabinet 2 after all of the contents were categorized:

4. Choose products that are easy to use and would make the space more functional. We’ve mentioned it before: always measure before choosing products! Knowing the usable area of space that you have to work with (and taking into account any interruptions to your space, like the vertical wooden divider at the front of the cabinets)  will make your product selection easier and more accurate. For this client, we needed options that not only fit the dimensions of each cabinet shelf, but that were also easy to grab. We opted for bins with high edges (to avoid contents tipping over the side or back) and bins with a lip or handle that made it possible to pull the entire category down from the shelf.

5. Add labels to maintain categorization. We added simple labels to each of the products to identify each category. Labels take out the guesswork and frustration that often comes from searching for something that you know you have, but don’t know where it’s located.

And here’s the final BEFORE and AFTER of the cabinets:

We’d love to know: are there any tricky cabinets or hard-to-access areas of your home that have left you stumped on how to organize?

PS-We want to hear from you! We are always trying to improve at Rachel and Company, and we’d like to know what content you want to see us cover. If you have a few minutes, we would love to hear your thoughts. Click here to take our quick, anonymous survey.

PRODUCTS WE LOVE:

HOW TO FALL BACK IN LOVE WITH YOUR HOME...Yes, I am getting into the Valentine’s Day spirit with some REAL life tips!

It’s safe to assume that we all have at least one area in our home that we are less than proud of (and yes, I can admit to more than one). It might be an overcrowded junk drawer that is so full and impossible to close on the first try that it leaves you aggravated each time you open it, or your bedroom closet that you know has some scary fashion statements hidden in the back but the thought of getting to them is too overwhelming. I totally get it. These little problem areas start to add up and then one day you get the “what happened to the house that I love?!” feeling.

When you moved into your home you were probably so excited about the space. Leading up to the move-in you had envisioned what life would be like when you finally lived there and how much easier your days would be because of the new beginning. It’s a chance to start fresh and things would be different in this home because you will make them different starting from the day you move in.

And then 6 months in you find yourself back to your old routine. Your kids’ shoes are piled up near the door, you can’t find the sugar in your pantry that you swore you bought last week, and you aren’t willing to address the mountain of papers that are accumulating in your kitchen, but by the size of the stack you know that you need to take time to get through the pile or else you might miss something important.

You have invested time and money into your home and it ideally should be the place where you love to spend time and not a home where you find yourself avoiding areas just to stay sane.

I see it happen on a weekly basis.

I can’t think of a situation where a client has come to me and said that they are perfectly happy with the current state of their home. Instead, they have the room that always remains shut so that when guests come over they don’t peek in the room and see the mess. Or the annoyance that comes with not being able to find a top sheet in the linen closet even though there are dozens of sheets spilling off of the shelves. Or the embarrassment of not knowing where to begin to declutter, but they have finally “given in” and know they need some help from an outsider.

So, what can be done? Is it actually possible to fall back in love with your home?

GIVE YOUR HOME SOME TLC
A problem is not going to fix itself without some sort of action, so give yourself time (seriously, even just 5 minutes will help) to think through a solution.

What issues do you have with your home and what can you do to fix it? If your answer is “everything” then take a step back and try to get more specific. Think about a time this week where you were frustrated by your home for some reason. Maybe you are sick of looking at your old mismatched living room furniture or you are frustrated that your kids aren’t putting their toys away (I promise these totally unrelated examples are related in some way).

Now, think about what’s not working in each situation.

  • Are your kids not putting their toys away because it’s too difficult to put back where it belongs? Are there too many toys that the mess becomes too much for them to handle? Are they trying to find a specific item but don’t know where to find it so they are going through everything to look for it?

Identify the problem, the solution, and work out the path to get there. Here are the same questions from above but with workable solutions:

  • Are your kids not putting their toys away because it’s too difficult to put back where it belongs? What’s your current storage situation? Are the toys supposed to go back on shelves and can your kids reach the shelves? I love using open-top bins with toys so that it makes pulling out toys and putting them away easy for kids. Are there too many toys that the mess becomes too much for them to handle? Think about when you go to a restaurant with three pages of entrees. How are you supposed to decide? Options can be too overwhelming! Your kids might be playing with a toy to see if it sparks their interest, but quickly move on to something else if that isn’t fun for them (and then move on to another toy...and then another toy...). Sure, in a dream world they would put something away before taking something new out, but that’s not always the case. Give them fewer entrees! Keep fewer toys at their disposal that you know they use and love. Consider rotating toys on a weekly basis, or put them in a bag for donation in your garage. If they haven’t asked about the toys in a month consider donating or giving to a friend. Are they trying to find a specific item but don’t know where to find it so they are going through everything to look for it? Label, label, label. If your kids can’t read use a photo label. Have a dedicated area for each type of toy (i.e. a shelf, a bin, an area of the closet, etc.). Show them how to put cars back in the bin that has a picture of a car on it (better yet, have them color that picture!) and over time the habit will be built and they will understand where things go.

USE WHAT YOU LOVE
Products range in every shape, color, and price point. If you’re in the market to add products to aide your organization, make a point to choose something that excites you and will make the process more enjoyable (even if it’s just fluorescent post-it notes) . It may sound silly, but having products that bring joy to even the most menial tasks are worth it. It’s common for clients to come to us with inspiration photos--either products that they have seen and love or rooms that they want to replicate. We always ask what makes our client like the photo/product, and we usually hear things like “I love how calm it makes me feel” or “I love how pretty everything is displayed” and we get it: when you invest in products you love you are more likely to get excited about using them. We recently had a client who wanted everything in their office to be acrylic because she liked the look of it. DONE. If using an acrylic desktop file will make the experience of handling your to-dos more enjoyable, by all means do it!

SPREAD THE LOVE
As you go through your home and identify problem areas and work through solutions, you may find that you have a bunch of stuff that you no longer like, need, or want. You may feel wasteful just giving it all away, but remember that there are so many ways for others to use items that are in decent condition. Plus, the positive feeling from giving back may make the whole process even better for you.

Items in good, clean, working condition can be donated (tip: towels can be donated to animal shelters!). Many donation centers offer pickups, but it could be just as easy to get it out of your house and drop off a load during your weekly errand run.

So, I’d love to know: what do you LOVE about your home? Are there any areas that need some extra TLC? Comment below and I’ll try to offer tips to help!

PRODUCTS WE LOVE:

WE WOULD LOVE YOUR FEEDBACK!

We are always trying to improve at Rachel and Company. If you have a few minutes, we would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you in advance for your time. Click here to take our quick, anonymous survey

Organizing with Kids: Top 4 Problem Areas

Organizing can be seem overwhelming for a host of reasons like lack of time, not knowing where to start and when you throw children into the equation, I know that it might sound and seem impossible. You’ve probably heard me say it before, but I stand by the belief that homes do not (and very likely will not) always be neat, but they can always be organized. And, organization with kids is possible.

Have you felt motivated to get your home more organized but in the back of your mind think “what’s the point?”. Maybe you worry that your children will mess up the time that you put into creating (what you thought was) the perfect system, or worse...you actually spend the time to get organized and the aforementioned scene actually plays out? This is a very common situation that I am faced with often.

My daughters and I were on Good Morning Washington earlier this week to discuss the top problem areas that I hear about from my clients when it comes to organizing with kids (toys, paper, homework/art, and food) and we shared what works in our home. Even as a professional organizer I’ve had to figure out what systems work best for my family (through trial and error in some cases) and these systems have worked for us over the years because they are flexible and adaptable, which is perfect for kids because their skills, interests, and independence are constantly expanding.

TOYS
Creating an assigned space for toys makes it easier for kids to know where to find what they're looking for and also where to put it back when they’re done. I recommend using open-top bins so that it’s easy to reach inside and also makes cleanup a breeze. To help get the kids involved with the process, have them create labels for their bins (either by writing out the words or drawing pictures of the category) to add to the outside of the bin, and if you are going to purchase a new bin consider having them get involved in the decision-making process to make it a bit more personal and interesting to them.

PAPER
I treat my kids paperwork like the daily mail: I go through the papers with my daughters to identify what is (1) TO DO (permission slips or forms) (2) TO READ (a note from the school or an assignment that they were graded on), and (3) TO FILE (items to be added to their “save” box). Now that my daughters are 9 years old and we’ve been practicing this routine for years, they have actually taken over this task which not only makes it easy on me, but also gives them some added responsibility. Once the “To File” folder gets full we do a once-over to make sure that they still want to keep what they’ve included inside the folder, and then I transfer the contents over to each of the girls’ “Save” boxes.

HOMEWORK/ART
The kitchen is the heart of the home for our family, and where my daughters do their homework each evening. When they were younger, this is the spot that they would spent their afternoons coloring and creating their latest masterpiece, and it’s always been helpful to corral supplies for easy accessibility. It’s important to us to have their frequently used supplies like pencils, scissors, and scrap paper in a central location that is easy to transport so that when they’re done--or it’s time to clear the table for a meal--cleaning up takes only a minute or two.

FOOD
When it comes to food, it’s all about keeping it accessible for the child. Use storage bins in the pantry and fridge to keep like items together and make it easy to see what's inside (and when it’s time to restock a certain item). In order for kids to make lunches on their own or grab their own after school snack, all foods need to be easily accessible. Move snacks in the pantry to a lower shelf that the kids can reach without asking for help. Likewise, in the fridge keep the options at eye-level or lower to make it easy for the kids to identify what should go in their bag.

All in all, organization for us as a family means that our routines and the products that aid our routines are easy to use and grow with our needs over time. For us, I have seen firsthand how being in control of my family’s routine has made the unexpected and out-of-control situations easier to manage.

I’d love to know: what other problem areas do you have in your home that you want to get organized?

PRODUCTS WE LOVE: