Tips & Tricks

How to Live Big in a Small Family Home

Living Large in a Small Space

Fitting a whole family into a small home can be a tough challenge, but not as much if you think ahead. Careful planning is the key to organizing and using free space efficiently. But where should you start? First, think about the needs and necessities of each family member. You (and maybe your partner) need a working area. Your kids need a space to study and play (think of pets here, too). Once you’ve made a list of all the space everyone needs to live comfortably, it’s time to think of some maneuvers to make this plan a reality. Here is a list of useful tips and tricks for your family to live bigger in a smaller home.

Go for the stars

One of the most important rules of efficient space usage is to think vertically. Use the space you have from the floor all the way up to the ceiling. If you look up in a room and see open space, keep that idea in mind and go for it. This is especially useful for rooms that are overcrowded with furniture. Organizing a home office or a living room in such a manner is easy—use plenty of shelves and hanging elements for all the books, souvenirs, and other décor accents you have. As for the kids’ rooms, you need to consider that they can’t reach very high shelves on their own. For their safety, you don’t want them climbing high shelves either. Provide them with a stool or a ladder. You could also use the higher shelves to store items they rarely use (or something that you can’t store anywhere else in the house).

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Tips and Tricks for Organizing Your Garden Shed

Many of us like gardening, but don’t enjoy opening up the long-unused garden shed after a wet Pacific Northwest winter. Looking at the cobwebs and damp leaves that have settled in, there is always that goal: “This year, I’m going to organize this place!” And then you dive in to the gardening tasks, you enjoy the blooms and the growth from spring through fall, and by the time you realize it’s almost winter again, the shed is still in disarray. Not this year! We’ve got a great list of tips and tricks to help you whip your garden shed into shape. Come this time next year, you’ll open up your post-winter shed, see and find everything you need, and love gardening even more. Green thumbs at the ready…set…go!

Small Tools

Your hand tools deserve better than being tossed into a sack and set in a corner. Storing them dirty and thrown about will cause them to rust and lose their edges quicker. If you invest in high-quality hand tools, you’ll want them to last many years. A trough or big clay pot filled with sand will keep your tools clean and sharp; wipe them with a rag before sticking them in the sand. If you are going to store them in a toolbox, wipe them down and line them up so the edges aren’t banging into one another. Add charcoal briquettes in a cloth bag—these will absorb any moisture. Of course we can’t forget the classic pegboard storage solution—so many ways to do it!

Serious DYI-ers will not recoil from this weekend project: build a potting bench! It includes a pegboard for your hand tools, as well as places for pots, soil, etc. Not a handy sort? Just order one online.

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Your Graduation Party Planning Guide

Do you have a kiddo graduating from high school or college soon? Congratulations! This is definitely something to celebrate—it’s a major milestone for you and your soon-to-be-grad. If you are considering throwing a graduation party but feel bogged down by the details, use our planning timeline and checklist. It will help you organize a fun event while keeping your frazzle-rating at a minimum.

Four Weeks Before the Party

  • First, set a date and time.
    • Make sure it works for your grad and your immediate family, as well as a few extra-special people that you or your grad would really like to attend.
    • If you can, find out from your grad’s circle of friends if anyone else may be having a graduation party. You may try to minimize conflicting party dates/times if there are other parties.
    • Keep in mind that it doesn’t need to be the weekend of the graduation ceremony. In fact, it may be easier to do it a week or two after.
  • Next, decide on the location. Whether you do it at home or at a venue, both choices have their own sets of pros/cons.
    • Home considerations include space limitations, doing the shopping and cooking, set-up and clean-up, party rentals such as tents and tables/chairs, and possibly catering services.
    • Venue considerations include a higher budget, reservations and a deposit, minimal set-up/clean-up, limited menu options, and more rigid party hours.
  • Create Your Guest List.
    • Be sure to include your grad’s invitees: friends and their parents, teachers, coaches, tutors, bosses, the family they babysit for, etc.
    • Go ahead and invite friends and family who don’t live nearby. Even if they can’t make it, they can still send a card or present.
  • Send out the invitations. Evite or Paperless Post are both free and easy for sending electronic invitations.
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50 of Marie Kondo’s Most Inspiring Quotes for Decluttering

Clutter comes in many different shapes and forms and is a very personal assessment. One person’s cluttered bedroom might mean someone else’s dream situation. It really doesn’t matter what clutter you have and the scale of that clutter—as long as you understand what clutter means to you and how you want to go about getting it sorted once and for all.

The first and most important step is actually just realizing that you have a clutter issue and are willing to change it. As you are reading this we’re assuming you are ready to take on the challenge. Bravo for taking the first step! Whether you’ve realized that you have an issue with clutter in your garage, your kitchen drawer, your entire house—or you’re looking for a digital declutter—look no further than Marie Kondo and her iconic organizing and tidying techniques.

You haven’t heard of Marie Kondo and her KonMari method before? Well, she’s pretty much the queen of organizing and she’s changing people’s lives through the magic of tidying up. Sounds too good to be true, right? If her bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or her popular series on Netflix is anything to go by, she certainly practices what she preaches and has shown that her methods really do work.

To help get you started on your decluttering journey, check out this infographic by JD Williams. Designed to help motivate you and your tidying, the infographic shares Marie Kondo’s most iconic quotes from her Magic of Tidying Up book. You can use the infographic as a starting point to help get you inspired for a big clear-out. Or use it to  Marie’s top tips as a bit of a checklist. Good luck!

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How to Optimize Your Workspace for Productivity and Ergonomics

There is such a strong emphasis nowadays on health and well-being. It’s the beginning of the year, and everyone is scrambling to keep their New Year’s resolutions. Aside from exercising and eating clean, it’s also important to ensure you’re working in a comfortable, functional environment. If you want to get the best work out of yourself, treating yourself as a top priority is an excellent incentive. Since so many of us now work from home full-time or at least a couple days a week, having a home office that is is comfortable and ergonomic is essential to your productivity and creativity. These tips on optimizing your workspace will be a boost to your productivity.

Choosing the Right Furniture

Setting up an efficient, clutter-free, ergonomic home office is an excellent way to start. A great office can have a far-reaching impact on your productivity at home. Many successful companies—such as Google and Seattle City Light—have mastered the creation of ergonomic, enriched workspaces that free their employees to think creatively.

Your home office belongs to you alone, so make it a personal, unique fit! Choosing the right furniture is important and makes a big difference. Make sure your furniture is comfortable and functional. Don’t hesitate to customize the style and color to your taste as well.

Finding Your Favorite Chair

If your job is desk-based or sedentary, you likely spend a lot of time on your chair. For example, sitting for 5 hours a day every working week means that you’re on your chair for almost 50 days a year. Being seated for extended periods can have negative effects on your body, so it’s important to take breaks and keep moving regularly.

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Don’t Delay Any Longer: Get Started on Your Taxes Today

Hear that tap-tap-tapping noise? It’s the sound of calculators and keyboards, as Americans are working on filing their taxes this spring! The deadline to file your 2018 taxes is midnight on April 15, 2019. That’s just around the corner. Don’t hold off any longer—the time to file is now. According to the IRS, 20-25% of Americans wait until the final two weeks before the deadline to prepare their documents and file. The sooner you file, the less likely you will need to file an extension or pay a fine.

Here are seven reasons to get started on your taxes today:

  1. By the end of February most financial institutions have mailed out their respective tax documents. You should have all your documents gathered and organized. If you think you are still missing something (e.g., a document, form, or receipt), call the appropriate person to get that item sent to you right away. Tip: an email with the attached file is much quicker than the U.S. Mail.
  2. This is the first tax cut year under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which overhauled the code that doubled the standard deduction. Give yourself some time to make sure you file accordingly, because this new code may affect your exemptions and deductions, and thus, your refund. CNBC outlines these changes.
  3. Tax preparation professionals are now smack in the middle of the tax-filing season. As soon as you have all your documents, submit them to your tax professional. Don’t procrastinate on this; even CPAs have to get extensions if they can’t file your taxes in time.
  4. There is a penalty for not filing your taxes by the deadline. This penalty is harsher and different from the penalty for failure to pay what you owe by the deadline. You should file taxes on time even if you are unable to pay all the taxes you owe by the due date.
  5. Get ahead of the fraudsters! The IRS advises filing as early as possible, to keep identity thieves from using your information to file a return in your name, and then claim your refund.
  6. Don’t forget that tax refunds are your money! Why wait any longer than necessary to claim it? You’ll feel much better knowing it’s in your bank account, and not the government’s coffers.
  7. Filing your tax return now and checking that off your to-do list is one more way to lighten your load. No more thinking about taxes for at least another 9 months!
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What to Save and What to Shred: Paper Retention Guidelines

Even with many day-to-day tasks moving online, there will still–and always be–paper. The average American receives almost 50,000 pieces of mail in their lifetime, and 30% of it is junk. No wonder so many of us have piles of paper items that can quickly accumulate if not taken care of. You want to tackle the stacks of paper on your desk, but you’re not quite sure how to start? Our guidelines will help you know what to save, what to recycle, and what to shred.

The Simplify Experts Paper Retention Schedule:

  1. All tax returns are to be kept; receipts need to be kept for the last 7 years of returns only.
  2. Bank statements only have to be kept for 3 years unless a key component in your 7 years of tax receipts.
  3. Financial Brokerage accounts – keep the current year statements. At the end of year, save only year-end and tax related forms. Trade confirmations need to be kept to prove the original price of the stock when purchased until sold. Keep trade confirmations in a labeled manila folder with your tax receipts.
  4. Keep all medical billing statements and prescription receipts for the year should you incur large medical expenses for that year and have enough to claim a tax deduction. If you did not meet the medical claim amount for your income, than shred all medical billing at year-end.
  5. You only need a couple months worth of utilities unless you run a business out of your home and are writing off a portion of those expenses to your business.
  6. If you believe you will be doing a wealth of improvements to your home for the life of your home, keep all home improvement receipts for capital gains tax when you sell the home.
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Lighten Your Load by Cleaning Out Your Purse

Me, handing my purse to my husband: “Honey, could you hold my purse for a sec?”

Husband, taking it: “Whoa! What’s in here, bricks?!”

Sound familiar?

Whether your purse of choice is a cool designer number or a small canvas tote, we all tend to use it as a place to stash everything we “need” on the go. The problem is it’s too easy to forget all the items we’ve been putting in there. Then when it comes time to find your keys, a pen, or “that coupon I’m going to use one of these days,” it’s like digging elbow-deep into a mystery grab bag.

Here is our guide to cleaning out your purse—and then keeping it organized.

First, Clean It Out

  1. Take out everything and lay the items out on a table. Make sure to check every single compartment and pocket, inside and outside—even ones you rarely use.
  2. Get rid of all garbage—wrappers, lists, receipts you don’t need, pens that don’t work, dried-up lip balm, a broken and non-repairable bracelet, old kids’ items, etc.
  3. Group together multiples. Do you really need more than one pen, or more than one pair of sunglasses? Likely not. Keep one of each essential item, then put the rest away (but don’t throw it in your junk drawer, natch).
  4. Do you have containers in your purse, such as a cosmetic bag or first-aid kit? Clean those out as well. Throw out that old cracked compact, or the Disney Princess band-aids your now-teenager does not need.
  5. Get rid of seasonal items. Do you really need an umbrella or a wool hat in there when it’s July? Or your seasonal allergy medications when it’s the off-season? How about the heavy set of keys to your in-laws’ cabin that you only visit in November?
  6. Now start returning items to your purse, while evaluating how often you truly use each item. Things like your wallet, keys, phone—of course. But items like a flashlight, hand cream, a granola bar—maybe not? In other words, get rid of the “just in case” items.

 

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Stress-Free Guide: Planning and Surviving Your Major House Renovation

If you’re planning to give your home a major facelift, you’re in for a very interesting time in your life. Renovations can be super fun, but also more than stressful, especially when they involve a big part of your home and last for a long time. However, renovations do not have to end in tears and nervous breakdowns! Here’s how to pull off a smooth and breezy reno.

Collect as many tips as you can

Make sure to do your homework before doing any renovation work. Talk to your homeowner friends and family, consult with neighbors and surf the internet for tips. You’re guaranteed to collect a good number of tips that will come in handy during your reno. These tips and information can greatly affect your renovation and even your end product. It’s always good to know what works and what doesn’t pay off.

Plan your budget

One of the first things to do before you grab a sledgehammer and start tearing down walls is coming up with a good budgeting plan. Check the internet for material prices, ask quotes from your contractors and see whether you need to pay for permits. Also, don’t forget the price of hotels in case you need to get away from the noise of renovation. Once you come up with a good budget, add 10% for emergency situations and you’re good to go. No matter how hard you try to make everything perfect, there are situations that you simply can’t predict. When you’re set on a budget, stick to it like crazy. It’s easy to get carried away with renovations and end up blowing your entire life savings.

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Cleaning the Cleaning Appliances

What’s not to love about your cleaning appliances? They don’t need payment, they don’t need to be fed, they don’t complain, and they do their job when it’s convenient for you. The least we can do is give them a bit of love. Besides, keeping these guys clean helps them run better and last longer, and even save energy.

Dishwasher

For a quick degreasing and odor removal, place a cup of white vinegar in a dishwasher-safe container on the upper rack of your empty dishwasher. Run the machine using the hottest water cycle available. If it still smells musty after this, sprinkle a cup of baking soda over the bottom of the dishwasher, then run for a second cycle. If you’d prefer to use a dishwasher cleaner, Good Housekeeping has a list of recommended ones that handle food and grease, as well as hard water minerals.

Washing Machine

Using a similar method as above, set your empty washing machine at its hottest temperature cycle, and run it with 1-2 cups of white vinegar. This helps to descale and remove mineral deposits, especially if you do this once a month as part of a maintenance schedule. For a store-bought solution, many brands such as Affresh and OxiClean offer washing machine cleaners in tablet or liquid form.

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