Archive for the ‘House’ Category

How organized are your closets? Most closets are overfilled with clutter. This post contains some do-it-yourself storage ideas for organizing closets, especially for people who live in older homes that have very few and smaller closets.

Geralin Thomas has eight years experience as an organizing consultant and has her own business, Metropolitan Organizing (www.metropolitanorganizing.com). She is one of the professional organizers who regularly appears on A&E TV’s show “Hoarders” and has been published in many national magazines. Her closet organizing tips were recently featured on the Nate Berkus Show (http://www.thenateshow.com/tipsandtools/detail/weekend-warrior-clutter-plan).

No matter who you are, closet clutter is often hard to manage. If you have an older home with only a few, tiny closets, it can make the situation even more challenging. When storage space is scarce, your closets often have to hold a lot more than just your clothes. Here are Geralin’s answers to a few of my questions on the subject:

Karla: Interior lighting can often be challenging in closets in older homes because of a lack of wiring. Do you have any creative solutions for how to add a bright light?
Geralin: While a lot of designers will disagree, I encourage clients to keep their closet walls and carpets very light and bright. Some of the hardware stores carry do-it-yourself gadgets that are perfect for dark closets. Experiment with the stick-on, battery-powered lights if you can not afford to hire an electrician and purchase lighting for closet interiors. Also use mirrors on closet walls and doors since they reflect light.

Karla: Are there any inexpensive products that you have worked with that work especially well in small spaces?
Geralin: I try to encourage people to NOT go buy more products and use what is already available in their homes. If you happen to have “orphaned” Rubbermaid containers without lids, use the bottom part of the containers to store socks, hair accessories, scarves, belts, etc. Foam or flocked pant hangers, with “arms” that swing open, are great for hanging swim goggles and drawstring bags in kids rooms. Magnetic strips (used for knives in kitchens) are a great place to hang keys, pet collars, etc. If your dentist gives little plastic zippered pouches (containing a new toothbrush, toothpaste, floss) recycle those. Stash headphones, cords and cables in them.

Karla: Any advice especially for closets in children’s rooms, where you often have to organize things like toys, games, art supplies, and clothes?
Geralin: Go vertical. Vertical is visible and horizontal is hidden. That means incorporating pocketed, hanging devices that kids can reach and see. Do not use deep, lidded toy boxes – shallow and open is better so they can easily toss their toys in. A horizontal, slat rail system is nice for hanging buckets of pens, pencils, markers, and other items that normally clutter your horizantal surfaces. Products like this have a cool, industrial feel and are usually indestructible. Look at garage organizing products for inspiration.

Karla: On Nate’s show you included some great tips such as using two rods instead of one, installing shelves above the top rod for sweaters, and getting in the habit of cleaning out your closets on a regular basis.  Do you have any additional tips especially for people who need to make a small closet mult-functional?
Geralin: Look in your hamper at your dirty clothes. Chances these are your very favorite clothes that get worn over and over again. Focus on keeping your favorites and letting go of extras that rarely get worn. If you have to store non-wardrobe items in your closet, try to use perfectly square, clear containers or color coded containers so that you can see what you have. Square containers fit better than odd-shaped containers and are a much more efficient use of space. Try to find containers with side openings (flap-style) so you do not have to LIFT other boxes and remove a lid to grab needed items.


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I am doing two posts on buying and selling items on consignment. The first was from the perspective of a consignment store owner with tips about selling your items. This is the second and it includes tips from someone who frequents consignment shops often and is on buying items.

Bonnie Flamm is a residential interior designer who frequents a consignment store in Newport Beach, California, on a weekly basis. She believes that by shopping at consignment stores you find the best deals and the most unusual items. She purchases items for her clients, but also the majority of her own home furniture comes from consignment stores.

Bonnie has been shopping in consignment stores for the past ten years and there are four consignment stores that she frequents regularly. She advises that value and uniqueness go hand-in-hand when it comes to consignment stores, but you must have vision as they are typically overcrowded.

Karla: What sorts of items do you normally find in consignment stores?
Bonnie: Consignment stores can feature a wide variety of items, ranging from books and clothing to designer furniture and genuine works of art. The consignment stores of yester-year were full of outdated, worn out stuff. But the beauty of some of today’s consignment stores is that they get a lot of brand new, designer quality furniture; furniture from houses that were “staged” by interior designers in order to sell; and unique, one-of-a-kind finds, including art work and sculptures. I myself bought a beautiful real bronze statue of a little girl reading a book who sits outside my front door on a bench. I paid $500 for her, which would have been an easy $1,500 if I had paid retail.

Karla: What was your best find ever?
Bonnie: In 2002 I was in a consignment store doing my usual browsing when I happened upon a very unusual and stunning dining room table that just happened to be the perfect size for my own dining room. When I inquired about it, I was told by the store owner that it was actually a stained hide and, just as interestingly, it had just come from country singer LeAnn Rimes’ home. She had just gotten married and had moved east (something I fact-checked later.) For some reason she decided not to take her furniture with her even though it was all brand new, so she put it on consignment. I bought it for $1,000 – which was $200 less than it was priced.

Several months later, I was in a design showroom and saw a side table made out of that exact same, distinctive hide. The showroom manager said that it did have a companion dining room table and she showed me the catalogue it came from. Sure enough, there was my new dining room table and it turns out that it was quite a steal as it retailed for $6,000!

Karla: How do you find a really great consignment store? What is it about the one in Newport Beach that makes it your favorite?
Bonnie: A quick internet search should provide your readers with some Consignment stores in their area. Once you find them, several weekly visits are needed to see if they offer quality and uniqueness. The quantity of the items for sale is also relevant because while the stores are full and you need to look, sometimes even hunt, you should not feel overwhelmed with “stuff”.

The one I go to in Newport Beach is my favorite for two reasons. First, because they consistently get unusual items and second because they get a lot of brand new furniture items from a wide variety of design sources and manufacturers.

Karla: Are there things you should not buy from a consignment store?
Bonnie: I would be wary of buying lighting from a consignment store unless they have the same kind of “test drive” policy that the one I go to has. At the Home Consignment Center in Newport Beach, you can take an item home for two days. If you find that it doesn’t work out, you can return it without any kind of re-stocking fee.

Karla: Are there certain brand names you look for with your clients in mind?
Bonnie: I do not look for brand name items per se, but you can find some very famous brand named furniture from Consignment stores, and the picture I sent you is an example of the kind of quality you can expect to find at a really good Consignment Center.

Karla: Any other juicy tips you would like to share with Simple Living Family readers?
Bonnie: Yes, do not be afraid to ask for a price reduction. It is expected, since the name of the game at a Consignment center is to move as much inventory as possible in as short of a time as possible. That typically means that after a two-week stay, most items can be bought at a discount of 10% or even 20%. But do not ever wait on an item just to get a further price reduction because the chances are that it will have been sold.

For more information about Bonnie or her business, please see her website at www.bonniejoydesigns.com.

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Finding Fine Art (www.findingfineart.tumblr.com) was created by visual artists for visual artists and art lovers alike.

The blog is co-managed by Jessica Torrant (who I went to junior high and high school with) and Sarah John Afana from the west coast.

They have started a movement called “Fine Art Friday”, which is a weekly promotion of Fine Art on Twitter, Tumblr, Etsy and Flickr. The idea is that one day a week people should show their love of art by sharing their favorite work through social media websites. Today, November 5, 2010 is the first official Fine Art Friday.

In honor of that, I would like to feature a local artist named Catherine Breer. She is a mother of two who lives in Freeport, Maine.

From Catherine’s website, www.catherinebreer.com, she paints “landscapes of Maine and New England, abstracts of intricate floral patterns, and 3-dimensional works in whimsical shapes and designs with a bold and vivid palette which is the hallmark of her style.” Catherine’s work has been exhibited in galleries and homes around the world.

The image I am featuring is called “Peaks Castle” and it is available for purchase through her website.

Gouache on Paper
22″ X 30″ image, 30″ X 40″ framed

I know Catherine from when I used to work at a non-profit. She and her business partner, Annie Darling, do a lot to give back to the community. If you would like to purchase prints, cards or calendars please visit the Annie Catherine website at www.anniecatherine.com.

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Are demands at home affecting your ability to do your job well? Demands such as a new baby, sick child, caring for an older parent, or money difficulties. Are you not paying your bills on time at home and missing deadlines at work?

We often make too many demands of ourselves and our time. If you are feeling overwhelmed, cut back. If you take on a new activity, take a break from an old one. Reduce the demands you are making on yourself and you will feel better.

Last week I had a medical emergency, Jay’s car broke down, and our older son got sick.

Weeks like that can be very overwhelming to me. This week I am buckling down and taking care of only what needs to be done (the essentials) and I am not letting myself feel bad about it. Sometimes we really need to make taking caring of ourselves our top priority. I have not been great about that in the past, but I am working on it.

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I am going to be doing two posts on buying and selling items on consignment. The first is from the perspective of a consignment store owner with tips about selling your items. The second will be from someone who frequents consignment shops often with tips on buying items.

Claudine Thiem is a mother of two who owns a children’s consignment store in Erie, Pennsylvania. She will also be opening a furniture and home decor consignment store soon.

The name of Claudine’s store is Milestones Quality Children’s Consignment (www.milestonesconsignment.com). She started her store from scratch five years ago in a 500 square foot space. Two moves later, it is now housed in a 5,200 square foot building with over 1,400 consignors.

Claudine is a member of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Stores (NARTS) and she attends their conference every year. She says that their website, www.narts.org, is a great nationwide resource on consignment.

Karla: When I make an appointment with you to consign some items at your store, what should I expect?
Claudine: You should expect to be greeted with a smile and to be taken care of immediately. I want my consignors to feel like I appreciate that they have taken the time to prepare their items for the store. I try to foster a relationship with my consignors, so I believe appointments allow me to provide better service.

Every consignor is different, but I am always glad to explain my selections if desired. I would say that on average, I select only about 30-40% of what a first time consignor brings in. We then work together to get that percent up for future appointments.

Karla: Why do you often have to wait four to six weeks for an appointment?
Claudine: I currently have over 1,400 consignors and I do anywhere from 30 to 40 appointments per week. The wait time is created because everyone calls for an appointment at the same times – the week after checks are mailed out or at the beginning of a season. I would love consignors to plan ahead, but I understand that they are all busy moms! A lot of times it is an accomplishment just to make an appointment in the first place. We constantly try to find ways to keep the wait to about two weeks if possible.

Another thing to note is that I am the only one who does intake in my store right now. This provides for consistency, but does limit the number of items consigned to about 1,200 per week. This supports my sales right now, but hopefully I will have the need to do more appointments as by business grows.

Karla: I see from your website that you can bring in up to 50 items. Do you count an outfit of a shirt and pants for example as one or two items?
Claudine: An outfit is one item. We encourage consignors to make outfits as much as possible, and we allow outfits to be made from two or three different brands as long as the pieces are the same size.

Karla: What types of items are the best sellers in your store – clothing, shoes, accessories, baby equipment, toys, children’s furniture, children’s videos or books? Are there certain brands that are the most in demand?
Claudine: The best (and fastest) sellers are the baby equipment and furniture. Toys do extremely well also, especially between Halloween and the end of the year. The vast majority of our sales, however, is clothing. We sell double the girls clothing than we do boys clothing, and some of the high-demand brands are Gap, Gymboree, Janie & Jack, Hanna Andersson, Nike, Adidas, Carter’s, and Justice. Winter outerwear is always a winner in our neck of the woods, no matter what the brand.

Karla: How much do you normally pay for items? For example, what is the dollar range you would pay for a baby snowsuit? What factors do you use when making that decision?
Claudine: We consign the majority of our items, so most consignors make 40-50% of the selling price after the item sells. A baby snowsuit that might be priced at $20 would earn $8 for the consignor. We do buy accessories, books, videos, and lower-brand clothing (from discount stores) outright for typical garage sale prices of $0.25 to $1.00.

Karla: Are there any other selling tips you would like to offer Simple Living Family readers?
Claudine: Many parents feel overwhelmed at the prospect of preparing their items for consignment. They think it is going to take a lot of time to get things ready because we ask that items be brought in “ready to display.” Clothing should be on hangers and wrinkle-free, while toys should be clean and complete. The three biggest tips I would give your readers are:

1)   Before consigning with a particular store, take the time to read through the store’s consignment guidelines. If possible, walk around the store before your appointment to see the kinds of items the store accepts.

2)   Be selective. Take the time to prepare only your BEST items (new with tags, higher-end brands, full outfits, outerwear, bigger ticket equipment and toys, etc.). These will bring you the most return for your efforts.

3)    Keep a bin or a section of a closet just for consignment items. As your children outgrow an article of clothing, wash it, iron it if necessary, and hang it. Collecting items a little at a time is so much easier than trying to find that big block of time to do everything the night before your appointment.

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We prefer to not have too many store bought decorations because we do not like to store them until the next year.  Partly because it is clutter and partly because once anything goes down the stairs to the basement I will never be able to find it again, but that is something to tackle for another post.

Decoration Ideas

  • Put pumpkins out that were grown at a local farm or grow your own
  • Use different sizes (tall and skinny, round, mini) and colors (white pumpkins, not just orange)
  • Carve jack-o-lanterns or paint them
  • Fresh apples from a local orchard in a bowl on the table
  • Use different colored leaves, pine needles, pine cones, acorns, branches, rocks, or seeds from your yard in a basket as a centerpiece
  • Branches of bittersweet in a vase
  • Use lots of candles – put tea lights in hollowed out gourds
  • Put different Halloween candies like sugar pumpkins, candy corn, or orange and black jelly beans in different size glass jars
  • Blow up orange balloons and use a black permanent marker to draw jack-o-lantern faces on them

No Sew Costumes

Just because you do not sew does not mean you cannot make your child’s costume. Find a picture of the character you want to create online and use it as inspiration. Be creative.

Last year my son and I put together his Handy Manny costume. It consisted of his work boots, jeans, a green t-shirt, a brown belt, yellow rubber dishwashing gloves (size XS), a red baseball hat, and he carried a toy tool box with tools in it.

This year he is going to be Bob the Builder. His costume consists of overalls, a red checkered flannel shirt, a tool belt, a toy construction hat we found at a consignment store and his work boots again.

Thirteen Ideas for a Green Halloween that is EEK-cologically Friendly

Laura M. Brown is the owner of P’lovers of Texas (www.plovers.us). P’lovers, originally established in Canada, stands for both ‘Planet Lovers’ and ‘Piping Plovers’, which are small Nova Scotia shore birds which were declared an endangered species in 1985. P’lovers eco-friendly items are available in store and online and can be shipped anywhere.

Laura provided the following green tips for Halloween for parents and families that are fun, hip and sensitive to Mother Earth:

1.       Decorate your pumpkin with vegetables. Use a carrot for the nose, green peppers or small cauliflower halves for ears…corn silk or other vegetables for hair. Afterwards, compost the vegetables along with your unused pumpkin parts.

2.       Serving cold beverages? Tickle your guests by using On the Rocks – Granite Ice Cube Drink Chillers (available at Uncommongoods.com) instead of ice cubes. They won’t dilute your drinks, make for great conversation and come in sets of six.

3.       Treat bags can be anything.  P’lover’s bamboo shopping bags are great…and so are pillowcases (great for big trick or treaters!)

4.       Use white pillow cases for making small ghost decorations.  Place a balloon or ball on lamp base, (unplugged please.) Then drape a white pillow case over it. You might use twine or rope to give your ghost a belt. Make a scary face if you wish with fabric scraps.

5.       Serve those Halloween and harvest treats in recycled glass or bamboo servers. You can create a wonderful “eye ball salad” using one of P’lovers olive servers. Just alternate large pitted black or green olives with small mozzarella balls that you have given eyeballs using slices of pimento stuffed olives.  Spooktacular!

6.       Give fun, useful and hip treats instead of candy. Stickers, recycled erasers, bamboo pencils and our chubby “tree” crayons make great surprises. Beautiful shells, polished rocks and other natural surprises are loved by children!

7.       Decorate oranges with food coloring markers to make tiny jack o ‘lanterns.

8.       Stay in the neighborhood. Rather than driving the kids, walk to your destination and celebrate with your neighbors.

9.       Light your barbeque, fireplace or outdoor fire pit with Holy Smokes™ fire starters made from recycled church candles.

10.   Give golfers on your trick or treat list golf tees made from corn. It’s a hole in one for Mother Earth!

11.   If you are hosting a party, avoid disposable items such as napkins, drink stirrers, plates, etc. Better yet-have guests bring a glass or goblet from home and supply items to decorate the glass with for a personalized holiday party favor. Check out our eco-friendly line of hemp napkins, plates and serve ware.

12.   Planning ahead can cut down on the number of trips you make to the store.  Make a list before you go and shopping on-line saves time and gas!

13.   Buy local. Purchase locally produced pumpkins, gourds, cornstalks and other natural decorations from local farmers markets. Host a neighborhood contest for the most “naturally” decorated home!

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What would you give up to follow your passion?

Leigh Slingluff and her husband, Jonathan, live in a 250 square foot apartment in Philadelphia, Pennslyvania. They live there because they have a gallery (Slingluff Gallery, www.slingluffgallery.com) and they are living behind the gallery to make it affordable.

They started their gallery with no start up money and are doing what they need to do to make their dreams come true. Before now they had always lived in large homes big enough for four people. This is their first experience with living smaller. 

Leigh let me ask her a few questions. Here are her answers:

Karla: What features does your home have – a closet, windows, kitchen, bathroom?  
Leigh: We basically have two rooms. One is our living room, pretty “spacious” with two windows and a door to the shared backyard. The other room houses our kitchen, bathroom, and loft. We have a small table in the kitchen for eating. We are still redesigning for storage. Our loft will eventually have a short closet, maybe three feet tall, so that we can hang up clothes.

Karla: What are some tips about designing a small space? Did you keep it simple with clean lines? Use one color palatte?
Leigh: Jonathan, my husband, had a lot to do with the layout, but so did the existing water pipes. Trying to make the layout efficient is the most important part of a small living space, if you have that option like we did. As far as a color palette, use the colors you love and do not be afraid of going for something bold. We play up the small of our space by giving it a cabin feel. Behind our sink, fridge, and stove we have wallpaper that looks like a fall scene in the woods. Jonathan also painted his signature diamond pattern on two walls in our small bathroom, I think the ceiling is only slightly over six feet. Most would not go for that in a large space let alone a tiny bathroom, but it works great.

Karla: As gallery owners, you must really appreciate great artwork. Are you able to fit artwork in your small space and if so, how?
Leigh: We both collected artwork before we were married and have our own paintings too. After we opened the gallery, we have even more. Luckily we have tall ceilings in the kitchen and cluster our collected artwork all the way up. It does make it feel a bit closed in, but the ceilings seem taller and we can actually enjoy the artwork too. 

Karla: What items do you love that are not necessarily practical, but you made room for them in your new space anyway?
Leigh: We have a basement so all of the non-practical items are down there. We are still sorting through and getting rid of duplicate pots and pans. Our main guilty pleasure is artwork and art books. Wall space is king in our house. We also have an old cigarette machine. We initially wanted to use it in the gallery for the pottery we sell, but now it is in our living room. Somehow it fits.
Karla: What is the hardest stuff to keep control of? Is there some clutter you have to work harder to contain on an on-going basis?
Leigh: Everything is clutter. Even food we can not fit in the one cabinet seems like clutter. Making sure everything has its place is the most challenging part.  

Karla: What pieces of furniture are you able to fit in your space? A bed, a couch, a small tv, a small fridge?
Leigh: We actually have a pretty big couch, ottoman, and love seat in our living room. One of our friends could not fit it into their spot, so we tried it and it fit. Philadelphia has a lot of old houses, with tiny doors and hallways. We are lucky we are on the first floor. We have a dorm sized fridge, but also have another one in the basement for our openings since we supply beer. We do not have a TV, but we could definitely fit one somewhere on the walls. We have a mattress that is in the loft. I do not know if it qualifies as a bed for most people, but it works for us.

Karla: With owning less, do you find yourself focusing more on good-quality things?
Leigh: Yes, definitely. I think everyone should live smaller…we do not need as much space as we think we do and we do not need as many material things either (other than art of course.) 

Karla: How have others like your friends and family reacted to your new living space?
Leigh: We have had a few of our featured artists say “Wow, you two must really love each other to live in this small space.” We also get a lot of “Where do you keep your clothes?” From others, I have definitely picked up on shock of the size but everyone agrees that it is a cool space. I am kind of shocked too.

Karla: How were you and your husband able to compromise on what was important to move into your small space?
Leigh: We did some purging before the move. We did not really talk about what we were moving to our living space, I think we both just knew to bring only what was necessary. The basement helps a lot with the gallery’s storage.

Karla: Do you have any tips to offer on space saving storage?
Leigh: Storage can be found in the most amazing places. Keep an open mind, and look around for ideas for that corner that is being wasted. We found a boxed out window when we exposed a brick wall in the gallery. So, Jonathan made a “floating” wall with enough room to fit behind it. We keep our bags for purchases, and other small items like tape and register paper in the discovered nook. Also, we love the website www.apartmenttherapy.com, they always have ideas on storage. Our favorite is making a drawer in the stairs, and storage in the hardwood floor. We will be trying one of those ideas soon. 

Karla: What is your best tip for moving into and living in a small space comfortably?
Leigh: Be prepared that most of your things will not fit. Cutting down and simplifying life before moving helps a lot. Realizing that you can survive with four mugs and four plates is a must. Do not buy in bulk, we can not even do that with food. Learn to can soups and pickles. It cuts down on cost, leaves fridge space for the necessities and it is fun too.

Are you ready to move into 250 square feet like Leigh and Jonathan? If not, I do not blame you. While inspirational, our family will not be moving into a home that small any time soon either. So if the size of the home you are living in starts feeling small, before you buy that larger house, what can you do to make your home feel larger? Try some do-it-yourself storage projects, finish the basement, or buy smaller furniture from stores like Habitat or Ikea.

Was Jonathan and Leigh’s sacrifice worth it? Most definitely. Their place, Slingluff Gallery, was just voted “Best Art Gallery in Philadelphia”. If you are ever in the area, you should check it out at 11 West Girard Avenue.


Any other tips on how to make a small home more comfortable? If so, please post in the comments.

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