15 Tips to Celebrate 15 Years of Clutter Cowgirl!

Happy Spring! I’m taking a quick break from organizing with clients to celebrate my 15 year anniversary of running Clutter Cowgirl Professional Organizing!

 

15 years ago, in 2003, I had already been helping friends and family here and there to clear out their closets, reorganize their refrigerators and bathrooms, pack up for moves and so many other tasks. I enjoyed helping people sort through their stuff so much that it dawned on me to make an actual business out of it! The professional organizing industry at the time was still quite small. I always had to explain to people exactly what a Professional Organizer does. But looking back, I enjoyed explaining the definition because it continued to help me hone in on what precisely I liked about the whole process. I loved helping people get out of their own way and I loved helping them give themselves permission to move forward and reimagine their space with fresh eyes. This is what I still love and about my job today. The work that I do is extremely personal and intimate and has been a wonderful opportunity to help people at all stages of their lives and over the years. I’m very grateful.

 

To celebrate my 15 years, I’ve put together a list of my Top 15 Organizing Tips. Enjoy!

 

  1. Work in small bursts. To get your project started, work on it for only one to two hours at a time. You will be productive and motivated by this short window and you won’t risk burning out. Then you can go back in refreshed and ready for another burst.
  2. Don’t buy organizing products. Until you figure out exactly what you’re keeping, do not buy too many bins, baskets or hangers. Get your inventory straight and take the correct measurements of your closets and drawers and cabinets and that way you can purchase exactly what you’ll need without overspending on unnecessary and wrong supplies.
  3. Keep nostalgia in its place. And that place is not front and center in your closet. You’re welcome to keep a few pieces of memorabilia like a college sweatshirt or a high school yearbook but don’t let those items claim prime real estate in your life. These select pieces can be tucked up on a high shelf or in the back of a closet so as not to interfere with your day to day living.
  4. Set goals for your home. What do you envision for your home? Would you like to have a dinner party but your clutter has held you back from having friends over? Would you like to invite a partner to live with you? Would you like to adopt a pet? These short and long term goals can act as excellent sources of motivation. When you’re not quite sure what’s the point of sorting through all your stuff, tap into one of your goals and forge ahead.
  5. Make your bed. By treating yourself to this one chore every morning, you’re warding off piles of magazines, books, clothes and anything else that isn’t your pillow and blanket. Making your bed sets the tone for your day and it also encourages you to create more harmony in other areas of your home.
  6. Stop accepting gifts you don’t like. This means when your mom hands you free Sephora samples that she doesn’t want you can politely say, “no thanks, I’ve got plenty.” I’m not telling you to turn down a free Rolex watch on your birthday. That’s just nuts.
  7. Treat your systems like habits. Systems are not some high tech solution that a robot creates. Systems are simply habits that are now part of your home. Get into the habit of putting your clothes away where you decided they should go. Get into the habit of hanging your keys up on the new hook you installed. Get into the habit of storing sheets on the shelf in the hall. Once you have a handle on these individual ingrained habits, they simply become part of your daily actions instead of this overwhelming idea of “getting organized.”
  8. Label items in your own language. If you’re the person in charge of your own files you should be using names for labels that make sense to you. If you want to call your medical file Sick 2018, that’s perfectly fine. If you want to label your shoe box Sexy Aruba Wedding because you’ll remember which shoes they are from that super fun wedding you went to a year ago, go for it. As long as the labels work for you, call them whatever you want, it’s your home.
  9. Be honest about the value of your stuff. Not all of your clothing, dishes, linens, jewelry, art and books are worthy of being in your home. Be truly honest about whether or not something still carries value for you. Does a dress still speak to your style? Does an old iPod still function? Basically, is your stuff still good? If it’s no longer carrying its weight, it’s time for it to hit the road.
  10. Try going digital. Most of the paperwork in your home is never going to be referenced again. Unless it’s a lease, a will, a deed, a 7 years or younger tax return or a signed copy of the Bible, it’s okay to throw it in the shredder. If you truly need to keep some paperwork and it doesn’t have to be the original copy, go ahead and scan it and hold onto it as an electronic file.
  11. Resist a sale. Sales are sneaky suckers. You think you’re walking into a great deal but you end up buying clothing that you normally wouldn’t pay for at full price. Be diligent about what you bring into your home. If you’re not going to wear it, it’s not such a bargain after all.
  12. Tidy up every day. Devoting a few minutes every day to keeping your home in check is a small and wise use of your time. For 10-15 minutes every evening you can put your things away, sort through mail and take out the garbage. Think of the hours and hours you’ll save on a precious weekend day off when you devote only a small pinch of time during weeknights to keeping your home neat and sweet.
  13. Pay attention to what you’re doing right. The systems that are truly working in your home can be expanded in other areas. Are you happy hanging your towels on a hook in the bathroom? Try doing that for coats and for clothing on the back of your bedroom door. Be mindful about how you behave in your home and set up solutions based on what will work for your personality.
  14. Get one type of hanger. It seems frivolous but hanging your clothing on consistent hangers creates a pleasing eye line when you open your closet and your pieces will all hang at the same length from the closet rod. This is a simple fix for a part of your home that you use every day. This also applies to having one type of storage box in the basement and one type of basket for your living room shelving unit. It’s instantly calming to see all of the same thing instead of many different types of bins and baskets. The eye doesn’t lie!
  15. Be kind to yourself. You are human and clutter happens. Focus on the fact that you’re tackling this issue right now and not on the fact that you’ve wasted money or time or energy on accumulating and growing piles of stuff. Laugh it off and get to work with love for yourself. You can do it!

I’m grateful to all of my wonderful clients for trusting me to help them. Here’s to 15 more years!

xoxo

With love, light and less clutter…

Jeni

Making room for bigger things

Hi Everyone!

I had the pleasure of appearing on my funny, wise and hilarious friend Kendra Cunningham’s podcast, “Tell Your Mother” where we discussed our opinions about stand-up comedy (I used to do stand-up, Kendra is still very much shining on stage in NYC). We also chatted about my path from having a corporate gig (plus the stand-up, plus Clutter Cowgirl) to being a full-time entrepreneur in the organizing world. I specifically spoke about being someone who used to juggle multiple jobs and hobbies/passions and knew that at some point, if I wanted to excel in one pursuit, other things needed to fall away to make room for success.

I’m realizing, a day after the podcast went live, that this idea of creating room for true focus applies to every aspect of a person’s life. It’s almost like a mathematical equation. There isn’t enough actual space in a schedule, in your mind, in a home, in your social life, to cram everything in and have a harmonious, peaceful, gratifying life. Something has to give so that the one job or the one piece of furniture or one extra coat can fit comfortably where it needs to go. This also applies to relationships, to daily to-do lists and to career goals.

We also discuss mindfulness and the idea of pressing pause on frivolous shopping. I was inspired by Ann Patchett’s recent New York Time’s article in which she discusses her year of no shopping. I’m not sure a whole year is necessary for me but I’m enjoying the practice and I’m halfway through my second month of not shopping. The piece is a great read (as all of Patchett’s writing tends to be – on a side note, if you’re looking for a beautiful, epic read, her latest novel Commonwealth is very engrossing). Kendra and I both agreed that becoming more aware of what and how we consume affects our mindfulness in general.

 

 

I hope you enjoy the listen!

With love, light and less clutter,

Jeni

Links:

Tell Your Mother podcast:

NY Times Ann Patchett article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/15/opinion/sunday/shopping-consumerism.html

 

 

Materials for the Arts

Last week I volunteered my time through New York Cares to help sort and organize art supplies at Materials for the Arts. I had no idea what this place was when I signed up to help, I was merely excited to help anything related to the arts. Materials for the Arts distributes free donations to thousands of participating nonprofit arts organizations and public schools. Kids can physically come to the warehouse with their school and “shop” for whatever supplies they need. The only payment required is a thank you note to the donating company or organization.

 

When I was given a tour of the 25,000 square foot warehouse in Long Island City, I was blown away. There were rows and rows of donated goods ranging from mannequins from Macy’s to bolts of fabric from the Garment District. 

As a professional organizer it warmed my room temp heart to see cast-off items getting repurposed for such an excellent cause. It takes hundreds of employees and volunteers to sift through the boxes of donations dropped off each week. Our job was to open up boxes and organize the contents. 

My team worked specifically with donations from M&J Trimming in Manhattan’s Garment District and other fabric stores. Most of these pieces were absolutely beautiful. 

There were six of us on the team and we worked quickly to establish what each crate should hold. We decided on color as one category and then went from there. The massive amount of shelving and crates made our work easy and deliberate.

Organizing is a deeply personal task when it’s your own stuff. When it’s stuff that holds no emotional meaning, it can be methodical and focused. We all had the primary goal of emptying as many boxes in our 2 hour shift as we could. Having a small window of time to work with no outside distractions further proves my point that operating in small chunks of time is best when tackling a project.

And micro-organizing doesn’t serve anyone. The object for us was to make the items easy to see and grab so that when “shoppers” are coming through with their carts they can pick out something quickly and then move on.

 

Donating is something I strongly encourage when working with clients and this is the mothership of all possible donating opportunities. The arts need to be supported now more than ever and this feels like the perfect marriage of recycling and creativity. What a great experience!

These are the “leftovers” they want from you:

  • Fabric and trim
  • Paper
  • Arts & crafts supplies
  • Theatrical props
  • Household items
  • Paint
  • Beads & jewelry
  • Electronics
  • Furniture
  • Office supplies
  • Framing
  • Art books

Materials for the Arts takes donations Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays 9am-2:30pm. They can arrange for potential pick-up: donations@mfta.nyc.gov. Visit their site for more info: nyc.gov/mfta

And if you’re looking to volunteer your time, you can work with them directly or sign up through New York Cares: https://www.newyorkcares.org

 

Happy organizing! Happy creating!

With love, light and less clutter…

Jeni

 

 

Lovers and Clutter

Lovers and Clutter

 

I’ve always enjoyed working with couples and mediating their home organizing needs and goals. Psychologically, the issues they face with their stuff is linked to other parts of their relationship but I’m not a therapist, I only offer therapeutic solutions. I’m also very good at holding my chin with my hand while nodding and agreeing like a therapist as I figure out a suitable game plan.

 

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In advance of Valentine’s Day, SpareFoot conducted a survey and found some very interesting data regarding love and clutter. They used heterosexual couples as their base but all couples can benefit from the findings. Here’s what they learned: 

  • In relationships, men’s items are often the first to go – The study found that 56% of men in a relationship frequently stop their significant other from throwing out an item they want to keep.

  • In addition, 90% of Americans in a relationship admit if they knew there wouldn’t be consequences, they’d get rid of some of their significant other’s possessions.

  • A quarter of Americans and 44% of Millennials in a relationship currently have an item from an ex that they don’t want their significant other to know about.

    WOW! That’s a lot of secrets and clutter. Could make for a good dramatic movie. I think Cate Blanchett should play the woman in this survey and Ralph Fiennes can play the man. Gripping and dark (but Cate can also do comedy). OK, back to you, now what to do about the issues?

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SpareFoot suggests the following to relieve the stress of cohabitation:

  • Eliminate Clutter Before You Move: The most important thing prior to the move is to really do a thorough purge so you’re not bringing anything into the household that you don’t really want or love.
  • Take photos and measurements of the new place to help when choosing which furniture will fit. Go room by room and discuss what items you each own and what will work best in the new space.
  • Try out the piece of furniture, for example, in the new home before making a hasty decision. Keep an open mind and compromise. Sometimes the item looks better accompanied by different items.
  • You’ve purged and compromised, but you still have stuff that you want to hold on to — consider renting a storage unit or using full-service storage, but agree on a deadline to find a home for your stuff so that you’re not paying for off-site storage long term.

Please be careful about that last tip. Storage units are expensive and very easy to forget about once they’re locked and out of sight. If you’ve seen the Showtime hit Dexter, you know some creepy stuff goes on in storage units. Tread lightly with the use of them.

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The survey shows that almost half (48 percent) of couples who live together say they argue over clutter. If you’re struggling because of clutter in your home and you’re not seeing eye to eye, it’s time for a conversation. Talking points:
  • Discuss how you want to use each space and what items will “live” there.
  • Decide what space will be shared, and what space will be “owned” by one partner or the other — so that everyone gets their own space.
  • Agree on reasonable time limits for clutter and keep it contained.

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Finally…Remember what’s important:

  • Stuff is just stuff. You’re building a life with the person you love — not with your keepsakes from the past.

Exactly! Once you’ve got this figured out, you’ll have more time to dance and play in your home. Get going!

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And if all of the above advice fails to get you and your boo in a good place, feel free to call in the professionals. You know where to find me! jeni@cluttercowgirl.com

 

With love, light and less clutter…Happy Valentine’s Day!

Jeni

Taking Care of Business

Taking Care of Business

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of working with a friend who took her nutrition business from pretty good to completely awesome this past year. She and her husband are a team, work long hours, live in a small apartment with their adorable son and needed an organizing boost to keep trucking with their fantastic business trajectory.

My client decided that she could no longer make deals worth thousands of dollars when her desk was in total disarray. When I walked in, I observed that her actual life was not disorganized. There were places for things and she knew where to find certain paperwork but there was too much of it, no clear order and zero visually calming place to rest her eyes while she was focusing on making big bucks.

 

Here’s what the desk looked like before we started working:

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The top of the desk housed papers, business cards, little inspirational trinkets, two pairs of gloves, four cups of pens and other office supplies, greeting cards and a box of electronics. It’s a small desk, as you can see. That’s way too much stuff to be at your fingertips for a daily jump at productivity.

 

The drawers looked like this:

IMG_1626IMG_1625The top drawer held cords and disorganized supplies.

The bottom drawer held manuals, guides, important tax papers, insurance info and kid paperwork. It was piled on top of itself with no order. It was contained, sure, but had no discipline.

**In about 90 minutes we discarded a lot of trinkets, pens, old paperwork, supplies that were not needed and inspirational items that were not exactly inspiring.**

My client does 90% of her billing online.

The only papers we kept filed were:

  • tax archives
  • life insurance
  • certificates of accomplishment with her business
  • family documents (passports, vaccinations and birth records)
  • current taxes/receipts
  • presentation materials
  • her son’s medical and school info

That’s it! It all fits into one drawer in neatly labeled hanging files. There is nothing too complex about this system and it allows her to keep the desk surface free for her laptop and notebook. There is still room to grow in the drawer should she need to expand but since almost all of her files are kept on her laptop, expansion will be limited. Here’s what it looks like now:

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The top drawer has less stuff and she can easily grab what she needs because we used two small boxes to separate and contain her supplies. We literally cut up a couple of empty granola bar boxes and stuck them in the drawer. There are thousands of products available out there but sometimes you can find exactly what you need in your own home for free!

Here’s the after shot of her desk now that we’ve said good-bye to all the unnecessary stuff that was dragging her down:

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Ah, so refreshing! She can see her beautiful view from the window. She can appreciate her adorable son’s photo. She can neatly tuck her laptop into the cubby at the end of the day. She now has exactly one cup for pens and one cup for other little knickknacks. Clarity and order prevail and more business success awaits her.

 

Is clutter getting in the way of your business? Is there always something clogging up the works preventing you from accomplishing your goals? There is a clearer way!

With love, light and less clutter…

Jeni

7 Health Benefits to Getting Organized!

I had the privilege of participating in a corporate health fair yesterday in downtown Manhattan where various NYC vendors ranging from dentists to physical therapists offered their advice and info to attending employees. People were curious when they saw my table with the words “Professional Organizer” typed out on my sign.

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I explained that my service isn’t just about putting shoes in clear boxes and labeling them, my service is about health.

Here are 7 health benefits to getting organized:

  1. Less Stress About Money! When you open your mail right away, you’re more apt to send bill payments on time and avoid late charges. You’ll spend less money when you’re not double buying things that you think you lost and then find weeks later buried in a pile. Keeping track of your finances with a handy site like Mint.com can offer you structure and less stress.
  2. Relationship Harmony! I can’t tell you how many fights I’ve mediated over the years in regards to clutter. Really, I can’t tell you, it’s confidential. When you and your special person are on the same page with keeping your home and life organized, you’ll spend less time arguing and more time cuddling! Oh yeah
  3. Mental Wellness! When you create order at home and at the office, you can stop running yourself ragged and crazy because you forgot something at work, double booked your messy schedule, zipped to the store for an item you already had shoved in the back of your kitchen drawer. Getting organized is about physical rewards that you see in your home but also, and sometimes more importantly, about the mental rewards of a clear mind. And if you want to take it one step further, an organized home frees up time for mindful meditation, another key to good health. Ohm….meditation
  4. Medical Awareness! Staying on top of your prescriptions and daily doses can be helped along with something as simple as a pill sorter. You can also be more in tune with your doctor visits, yearly exams and scans when you have an organized calendar and records of your medical history. Feel good in body and mind!
  5. Exercise Ease! Getting to the gym will certainly have fewer obstacles when your sneakers, headband, swimming goggles and gym bag are all in one easy-to-find spot. Less excuses, more sit ups and a firmer tush! ryan-gym
  6. Healthier Eating! When you’re organized your diet improves. Something as easy as a clean and tidy fridge will encourage you to buy fresh foods (and use them before they rot), plan meals and cook as a family more often. If you’re on an eating plan you will automatically be required to stay organized with tracking your food, going to meetings, checking in with your nutritionist, etc. Keeping your eye on your goal, whatever it may be, goes hand in hand with organizing. Your wallet and your waistline will thank you. Professional Organizer Peter Walsh wrote a book called “Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?” linking clutter and weight gain.
  7. Better Sleep! So many of my clients list a better night’s sleep immediately after we’ve worked together. We’ve cleared old energy, gotten rid of dusty clutter (easier breathing means better sleeping). You will feel a literal weight lifted when you have fewer things around your home. With this burden gone, sleep becomes your friend and we know that catching dream time is the number one key to our best health

.Mid-adult couple sleeping --- Image by © Tim Pannell/Corbis

 

What are other health benefits of getting organized?

With light, love and less clutter…

Jeni

 

Honoring your loved ones

This past weekend I attended my beautiful nephew’s baby naming ceremony with my family. In the Jewish tradition, it is common to gather friends and family to welcome a new member of the tribe, say a blessing over him and explain the meaning behind his English and Hebrew name. My sister and brother-in-law carefully chose a name to represent various people they love who have passed on. These people embodied love, acceptance, humor, good values and unique personalities. By bestowing a name that evokes these dear souls, my nephew is, in essence, carrying on their beloved qualities. It’s a very beautiful tradition and I was so happy to witness the ceremony.

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Names can honor your past and so can things. When I work with organizing clients I often ask them to really consider if their sentimental items are truly honoring their deceased loved ones. Is a torn up old briefcase shining the best light on a father’s memory? If your mother hated her job but you’re keeping her office accessories, does that contribute positive energy to your own home? Probably not. When decluttering and organizing on your own, you can ask yourself if your relative or significant other would want to be remembered by this inanimate object that you’re holding onto or if they would prefer to be remembered in another way.

Photo Album

This is a great article about saving memories without saving the actual item.

  • You can save one or two items from a specific time period without saving every single thing.
  • You can take photos of the items.
  • You can be creative and turn an item into something else. Like this t-shirt quilt idea.

Be kind and remember those whom you love but be kind to yourself and your home as well.

With love, light and less clutter…

Jeni

I grant you permission

Good Monday dear sirs and madams! I hope you all had a glorious weekend with family and friends frolicking in the sunshine making flower garlands for each other and delicately placing them on top of your beautiful heads. I spent a wonderful weekend in Upstate NY at a friend’s 90th birthday telling stories, eating amazing food, laughing and relaxing. The party was held in her home filled with her beautiful artwork, books, furniture, flowers from her garden and collectibles.

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Everything had a place and every item was shown the respect it deserved because nothing was crammed in sideways or covered in dust. She’s 90 and she knows what’s up. This environment made for the perfect peaceful setting for a party – pieces she had collected and created were fantastic conversation starters with other guests. I had a great time.  And the views from her home? To die for:

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A week ago I was invited to talk on my insanely talented friend Carolyn Castiglia‘s comedy/variety show Right Now! in Brooklyn. The theme of the show was Home and it was a lighthearted discussion about organizing, decorating and cleaning. My genius friend Danny Cohen, of Stencilicious, said during the show that he doesn’t sell his stenciling talent to clients, he sells his patience. I absolutely loved hearing that. When you try to do something yourself, it’s so easy to get distracted, frustrated, angry and annoyed. As a professional organizer who has been helping people make better use of their space in NYC since 2003, I’m not just selling my expertise in organizing but I’m selling my ability to listen carefully and then tell clients that it’s okay to let go. It’s OKAY to say good-bye to old habits that no longer serve you. It’s OKAY to create space for new experiences, feelings and comforts in your home. Even the most high powered executives, heads of departments and bad ass single mothers need someone to gently tell them that it’s within their rights to let go, think of themselves instead of others and say good-bye. I love that moment when their eyes widen just a bit, they relax their shoulders and they do, in fact, let go.

I was so thrilled to be listed as one of SpareFoot’s 11 Best Professional Organizer in New York City. It is an honor not only to give clients ideas and resources but to provide an emotional hand as they step forward and claim the peace and enjoyment that they deserve. Just as my friend Danny offers patience, I offer my ear and give people the literal and metaphorical space to talk things through so we can come up with the best solution for them, not for anyone else, just for them.

And with that, I’m off for a bike ride. I won’t be letting go…of the handlebars. See what I did there?

Enjoy this gorgeous day and enjoy your gorgeous home. You deserve it!

With light, love and less clutter…

Jeni

Father’s Day

Hello!

What a terrific weekend visiting my dad Upstate in New York and seeing friends and family for a variety of celebrations. My dad lives in the cutest two bedroom house in Andes, NY and he’s constantly paring down his stuff to live a more streamlined and organized life. After many years of collecting and storing his finds in his home, he is becoming more focused on the handful of things he truly enjoys doing when he’s not working. He has been upstate for about five years and his various interests (woodworking, reading, Netflixing, gardening, tinkering) are all contained in his one little cottage with care. I noticed a new labeling system he created for his records. IMG_8208

Sorting by genre works for him! It’s not micro organized where it becomes complicated and tedious, but it’s categorized enough where he can find what he needs. Nice work, dad! I guess that’s where I get it from.

You can ask yourself these questions to figure out how to pare down your own collections:

  1. Does this item still work? Is it functioning?
  2. Does this item still speak to me? Do I find meaning in this item right now, not because it’s a piece of nostalgia?
  3. Do I have something similar to this item and this is merely a duplicate?
  4. Do I truly need this item to make me happy in my home?

Happy Father’s Day to all the fun, silly, serious, organized, messy, loud, quiet, fat, skinny, sporty, nerdy and loving dads out there. We love you!

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With love, light and less clutter…

Jeni

Sneaky Storage

I work with clients every week who have massive apartments. Allow me to clarify, they have massive New York City apartments. That means, even with three bedrooms (a mansion in borrough terms), they’re still trying to find tricks to maximize their storage and have room for all their great stuff. That means that the rest of us with tiny apartments (one bedroom or less) are truly scrambling for fun ways to be creative with our space.

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Part of what I do when I first walk into a new client’s home is I survey the situation, I come in with fresh eyeballs and mentally circle free space that can benefit the project. It’s like the reverse of those nasty sorority girls who circle new recruits’ body fat with a Sharpie marker. Or not, I don’t know, I’m fresh out of metaphors today. The point is, I see storage opportunities when the client is too deep in their own perspective to see clearly. And here’s an article about 10 clever storage ideas I contributed to for 6sqft, a blog about NYC real estate and related topics:

http://www.6sqft.com/10-clever-creative-and-unexpected-storage-ideas-for-apartment-dwellers/

Even if you live in a large home where nobody lives above or below you (LUCKY!), you can hopefully find some value in these tips. No matter the size of our home, we can always benefit from some sneaky ways to tweak our storage and live a more harmonious life!

 

Love, light and less clutter…

Jeni