Monday, March 30, 2009

Expired Medicine Be Gone!

My sister, Amy, did her every year or two bathroom closet declutter/clean up this weekend.

(Oh, how I would love to have a closet in my bathroom to declutter and keep clean. But that's another posting.)

She took out three kitchen-size garbage bags full of old make-up, toiletries and medicines. When you have lean, mean bathroom storage areas such as myself, you are forced to do this task much more frequently lest you be unable to actually get into the bathroom! Our house was built in 1964 and has the "master" bathroom to prove it.

My friend Emily, children's photographer extraordinaire, ( suggested a post on what to do with expired medications. She has one husband, two adorable girls and the same 1964 house we do, so she's interested in keeping that master bathroom as uncluttered as possible.

The Washington Times had a good article last year (excerpted here) about the whys and hows to properly dispose of expired medications, over-the-counter and prescription alike.

Expired medicine around the house can lead to multiple problems including the potential for drug abuse (experimenting teens in the house anyone?), health issues (old meds don't work as well, if at all, as fresh meds) and environmental concerns (water supply and landfill contamination issues).

The FDA recommends cleaning out medicine cabinets at least once a year, checking for expiration dates and throwing away all expired medications. They recommend first taking the medicine out of its original container which can then be thrown away with regular household trash or recycled.

Recently established government guidelines for getting rid of the medicines themselves include mixing the medicine with undesirable substances like coffee grinds or clean cat box litter. Liquid medications can also be mixed with these items, rendering them unusable.

After concocting this lovely mixture, simply seal it in an impermeable, non-descript container like a Ziploc bag or empty can before throwing it away with the household trash. This will keep the medicine from seeping into the environment.

Whatever you do, don't flush medications down the toilet, as I once did! Some medications can actually release chemicals into the sewage system, which then could eventually get back to humans via our drinking water. It's not known how these minute traces of pharmaceuticals might affect us, however, rest assured the EPA is "aggressively pursing research on occurrence and fate and transport of pharmaceuticals in various water sources, possible health effects in humans and aquatic life, and the effectiveness of water treatment technologies."

So, there now. Go clean out your medicine cabinet. While you're at it, toss that hip-in-2002 green eye-shadow and three-year old mascara! Not to mention rusty bobby pins (you just never get around to doing that chic chignon you always imagine will complete your LBD ensemble), that stinky body cleanser you got in the dollar bin at Target and any other items you haven't touched or used in a year.

Ahhh, doesn't that feel better?

Friday, March 27, 2009

So much kid's artwork, so little space...

We love our kid's artwork. We get some crazy, visceral attachment from the moment we see her first scribbles. We ooh and aah over the construction paper farmer with the button eyes. We coo at the color wheels. The golf-ball-rolled-in-white-paint-and-rolled-on-black-construction-paper creation. The pre-school version of Rorschach tests that almost invariably look like butterflies. The too-adorable-for-words feather and glitter and cotton ball thingy.

You know what I'm talking about.

Now. What to do with all of it. Before it consumes your kitchen table, the walls. The very essence of your home.

Here are a few ideas.

My friend Emily has a friend who ingeniously put corkboard into large, inexpensive frames and rotates her childrens' special pieces through. Adds instant pizazz and importance and makes the kids feel great!

Tack one of those metal-trimmed strips of corkboard (they are about an inch tall) across a free expanse of wall in your kitchen, the child's room or playroom. Buy some fun thumbtacks and create your own gallery. I found some really cute flower and dot thumbtacks at -- a package of 30 is only $2.99. They also have ladybugs.

Take photos of your child holding their artwork and place the pics into a photo album. Don't forget to include the date in the caption. Make it fun for the kids by having them decorate the album. If you are a scrapbooker, or just more ambitious than me, check out my friend Lisa Emerson's Creative Memory website to see many digital scrapbooking options. (

Create virtual albums using one of the many photo websites available. I really like Picasa. I've also used Snapfish. And Shutterfly is popular. I'm not a Mac user but Apple iPhoto is supposed to be a great tool. You can upload photos of each piece of art into an album and send to all the equally adoring grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

There are portfolios made expressly to store art projects by grade. These are usually oversized to accommodate even the largest poster-sized versions of the ubiquitous "My Family" projects! I've tried without success to find one of these online. Post a comment with a link if you find one!

For a simple, retro solution, create a "clothes line" out of string or ribbon strung across a window or empty wall space. Use fun clothes pins to showcase prized art. I got some really cute miniature clothes pins embellished with little painted ladybugs at Michael's.

There was an article in the Washington Post yesterday about Ali Wentworth's home. She is an actor who lives in Georgetown with her husband, George Stephanopolous, and their two young daughters. She has a bulletin board that runs the length of their kitchen wall that displays the girls' artwork. She bought it online from a school supply company. The largest I found was a 4' x 8' bulletin board at You could hang two or more of these side-by-side to create the same effect. I also stumbled upon the world o' borders at There are literally hundreds of different border designs -- one is sure to please your Picasso.

I'd especially suggest the digitizing of artwork if you have a hard time actually getting rid of items after they've been properly showcased for a period of time. I'm pretty sentimental but I have an easy enough time disposing of (most of) Mimi's voluminous amounts of art. I just make sure I do it while she's at school. And I've learned the hard way to stuff things under the piles of newspaper in the recycling bins so she can't see them.

I'd love to hear some of your ideas for showing off children's artwork -- and how you get rid of it!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Aquarium Industrial Complex

John and Mimi have been busily creating a fishy wonderland in Mimi's room with the addition of a 10-gallon aquarium. Yes, this after the tragic demise of the hermies (at my hands) a few weeks ago. Mimi tells me every time they get back from PetSmart, "Mommy, I just can't even go look at the hermit crabs. It just makes me too sad."

We lost one fish within 24 hours (I swear it wasn't me!) but since then, we've been pet-death-free. Lots of partial water changes, adjustments to the water temperature, equipment changes (our first heater had a meltdown, literally), fretting over ammonia levels, researching tropical fish websites, debating live plants v. plastic plants, etc. This aquarium business is highly complex stuff!

The one time I went with Mimi and John to PetSmart I casually mentioned that I might like one of the cool "Mystery Snails". That's what they call them. Really. So the next time they went (I'm telling you there are a lot of trips to PetSmart to get a tank going) they brought me back a beautiful black Mystery Snail which I named "Madame X". Yes, all of our aquarium buddies have names. The better to mourn them upon their inevitable expiration. Well, to the grown ups in the house anyway. To Mimi, it's just common sense to name your pets.

The last time father and daughter ventured to PetSmart, they bought a little frog (Felix) and another beautiful Mystery Snail with a golden shell. With five-year old logic, Mimi promptly named her "Madame Y".

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Organized enough?

I was thinking this morning about how you know when you are organized enough. My house definitely wouldn't fall into the minimalist, pristine category that I think a lot of people envision when they think of being organized. John is fond of saying "physician, heal thyself" when I start talking my organizing talk. That's my cue to remind him that I can pretty much put my hands on whatever it is that he's searching for that day! Yes, he is one of those husbands. And, yes, I am one of those wives.

That's one of the reasons I love Kathy Waddill's book "The Organizing Sourcebook". Her approach calls for organizing with nine strategies of "reasonably organized people". I like that! You don't have to be an organizing machine to make your life a little less stressful and a lot more enjoyable.

It also occurred to me that if you are not losing

-- things

-- your temper

-- money

-- sleep

-- your mind

due to disorganization, you are probably organized enough.

Pat yourself on the back. This is Real Life -- it's not like the reality TV organizing shows (although they are a lot of fun to watch!).

If you are losing something due to disorganization, just make up your mind to take a baby step today. Go clean out a kitchen drawer. Put all those read or unread magazines and newspapers into the recycling bin. Go to your closet, pick out 10 pieces of clothing to donate to Goodwill, put them in a bag, put them in your car and drive over there. Create just one file folder labeled "Bills to Pay" and keep it on your desk.

Repeat daily.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Put a lid on it...

I'm not sure where she got it from but Mimi is always scolding John about leaving the toilet seat up in her bathroom. John always mildly replies, "Well, I think y'all should always leave the seat up for me!"

Her friend Helen was over the other day and one of the last things they did was a very special art project.

In case you can't read the sign it says "No leaving the toilet seat up." It's signed by Helen and Mimi. They've been drawing stick men forever but I thought the drawing of the toilet was pretty good!

John's response was, "Hmm, I think I'm going to work on a sign that says 'Please leave the toilet seat up.'"

Monday, March 16, 2009

Whine-O: The Reveal

OK, thanks to the nudge from my friend Emily commenting on my Whine-O post, I am now getting around to revealing my friend Darla's simple yet brilliant wine "labeling" system. I've been a little off schedule the last couple of days. My parents and my 13-year old nephew, Max, drove up from Texas and arrived on Saturday -- we've had a busy 48 hours!

So, Darla has a great wine collection that she keeps in a closet space under her stairwell. Nice size area, cool and dark. As I was whining to her the other day about John unwittingly drinking the "good stuff" (see, now I've passed the bitter stage and am simply resigned), she shared with me her wine labeling system.

It does serve a couple of other purposes in addition to keeping her husband on the straight and narrow, wine selection-wise.

Any bottle of wine given to them as a gift gets a brown rubber band around the neck. A nice reminder of the gift, it also helps to prevent any potential re-gifting embarassments! She was once on the receiving end of such a faux pas during a gathering at her house. Although she can't say that she was unhappy to see the nice bottle of champagne, ribbon and all, that she had given to her unwitting guest some time ago.

Bottles that need to sit for awhile, or are just generally really good, get a purple rubber band. You can usually find these on your bunches of broccoli. These help define "the good stuff" in the collection.

Bottles that are wine-a-licious and deserve to be shared or at least properly appreciated while drinking get a green rubber band. These could be for a romantic dinner for two, dinner gathering or to placate a whiney friend.

All other bottles are devoid of rubber bands. Michael knows that any bottle in the wine closet with no rubber band on the neck is fair game.

Brilliant, heh?

Friday, March 13, 2009


A few months ago I went to Total Wine in Fairfax and did a little wine shopping. I got several every day sipping bottles and one bottle recommended by one of the employees. It cost about $50. A pretty nice, pricey bottle at retail. When I got home, I put one of those little collars on it and wrote "John, do not drink!" We had a little laugh over that as I told him of my plan to open up this bottle when we had a special dinner during one of our too infrequent "in-house" date nights.

Sometime in the past couple of months the tag was removed (probably by Mimi - she LOVES to play with a little basket of wine charms that we keep in the wine cabinet, we find them everywhere).

Last week I noticed we only had a bottle or two of wine in the cabinet. I quickly took a look and, sure enough, the "special" bottle of wine was gone! OK, maybe livid is a little too strong a word to describe my reaction but let's just say that John was lucky he was out of town. By the time he got back, I was simply bitter. When I asked him about it he just said, "Don't worry, I'll buy you another bottle."

It wasn't the fact that he drank the wine that got to me. My little tag had disappeared and I couldn't really expect him to remember exactly which bottle I had stashed away for our little future romantic evening.

No, it was the thought of him obliviously drinking that really nice bottle of wine downstairs in our basement one night, in his pajamas, watching Battlestar Galactica and eating popcorn that sent me over the edge!

Come back tomorrow and read about a husband-proof wine labeling system designed by my friend Darla. A little tease: it involves rubber bands. I'm going to implement it immediately.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

We don't want to label our children. But let's label everything else.

Ah, the wisdom in the words of fellow DC-area professional organizer C. Lee Cawley. One of her playroom organizing projects was featured in today's Washington Post. You can read about it here:

I worked with a mom recently on just such a project. As a member of the interestingly-named "Sandwich Generation", she not only runs a busy household and the schedule of her active kindergartener, she also manages much of her father's day-to-day paperwork, bill-paying and other needs while he lives in a nearby assisted living facility.

Below you'll see a few before and after pictures of her basement project. It's a lovely space with a large open area divided into three distinct-use areas: "grown up" den, playroom and TV area for games. However, as the parents of many little boys and girls will tell you, the Legos, Bionicles, Power Rangers, Transformers, et. al. can easily consume a play space rendering it just not that much fun! We spent time in the room using my favorite organizing method, S.P.A.C.E., from the Julie Morgenstern book "Organizing from the Inside Out". BTW, you can use this method to organize ANYTHING, from your wallet to your entire house.

Sort: Sorted through all of the toys and set them in piles by category. This is the most time-consuming, onerous, but necessary, part of any organizing project. I think I've used the quote before "The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time!" Take a deep breath, pick something up and start a pile! Post-it note pads are your best friend in this endeavor. As you create a sorting category (dolls, Spider Man, blocks, puzzles, books, dress-up, games, etc.) make a "sign" for it on a Post-it note so you can keep track of what categories you've got going on.

Purge: Purged. This mom did a great job setting aside toys for an upcoming rummage sale at her son's school. She also created a box for giving away items to younger cousins. Finally, some things really did need to go into the trash. And that's where they went!

Assign a Home: OK, now where's all this stuff going to go?! She had some good storage pieces already i.e. a large shelf unit with several nooks for baskets, a bookshelf and a nice chest with some drawers and shelves. Once we saw what we had, and figured out what she needed, she went to Target and bought one of my favorite pieces, the Whitmor Kids' 12-Bin Organizer. It comes in the primary colors you see below and also in a palette of pastels that any little girl with a pink and purple passion would love! Handy woman that she is, she put it together in about 20 minutes. Her son also had a train table with two oversized drawers underneath that could be pulled out. He was kind of over trains right now so she brilliantly repurposed those drawers for Legos. Which leads us to:

Containerize: Once we had all our "containers" we set to work putting the categorized toys into their proper place. A container can be anything from a clear basket to an old peanut butter jar used for storing marbles. We labeled baskets and other containers with their contents. For younger children you can "label" with photographs or let them draw pictures of what's contained in each area. She also set up a bin labeled "Toys for Later" that was placed in her storage area. These were toys that were received as gifts and just not quite age-appropriate yet.

Equalize: This really just means keeping things in order on a day-to-day basis. Her son was thrilled with his "new" playroom and is very motivated to keeping it organized. Even at five, he can see the advantage of being able to find exactly the Bionicle or Leggo he's looking for very easily!

Best of all, my client says that she gets a real sense of peace when she walks down into the basement now.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Never read a book through merely because you have begun it…

I love books. John loves books. Mimi loves books. We love to read. However, we don’t like to get rid of books. I have actually turned the corner on my need to keep every book that I’ve ever read – a bit of an exaggeration, but not much!

In the past year I’ve discovered numerous ways to free up bookshelf space in our house.

But first I had to decide to let go of books.

Books that were particularly meaningful to me or that I could honestly say I might read again, or at least reference, I kept. What went out the door was mostly fiction and some once-is-definitely-enough tomes like Jerry Seinfeld’s “Letters From a Nut”, “Bridges of Madison County, “The Celestine Prophecy”. Books I bought but never read because they just didn’t sound that interesting after all. You get the picture.

Here are some ways I thinned my shelves:

1. Donated books to my local library’s annual book sale. I took several grocery bags over to the Patrick Henry branch of the Fairfax County Library system. That felt really good.

2. Donated books to my favorite, fabulous local thrift store, Unique. Yep, that’s the name of it, just “Unique”. This is the biggest, best thrift store ever! It’s the size of a grocery store and so well organized. Anyhoo, your local Goodwill will be happy to have your books.

3. Posted books on If you don’t know about Freecycle, you are missing out! It’s a nation-wide community of people who are trying to do their part to keep the flotsam and jetsam of our households from filling up landfills. It operates on the “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” principle. If you have something around your house that you don’t need or want anymore, I can assure you that there is someone in your Freecycle area (it’s organized geographically to facilitate the exchange of goods) who would LOVE to have it. You just post an “Offer”, briefly describing the item and wait to hear from other local Freecycle cohorts who would like your item. There are over 2,000 people in my Freecycle group which means a big audience for any posts. Of course, you might also find things that you want in your Freecycle postings. Go to for more information.

4. Another fantastic online service I’ve recently discovered is Paperback Swap ( It’s not just for paperback books! You simply set up a free account, post the books you want to “recycle” and wait for other “swappers” to request one of your books. Once you have sent out a requested book, you get a “credit” which can then be used to request books from among the literally millions of books posted. It has a great search function. It even creates a mailing label for you to print out to wrap the book you are sending. I’ve also taken advantage of the option to pre-purchase postage that is then printed right on the mailing label, saving me a trip to the post office (you can put the book directly into your mailbox for your mail carrier pickup). In essence, you are getting rid of books and, in exchange, getting books for the cost of postage. Check it out! BTW, my friend Darla has figured out the key to getting your books picked up quickly is to offer non-fiction. Her cookbooks have gone like wildfire!

5. Of course, one way to personalize the book thinning process is the think of a friend or family member who might enjoy one of your books and pass it along.

Now if I could just get John to lighten his book load we might be able to make some headway in organizing our bookshelves!

A few months ago I printed out the Library of Congress Classification system from Wikipedia. Yes, geeky, I know but wouldn’t it be great to be able to put your hands on a book pretty much instantly!? And it really appeals to my sense of order which is certainly NOT represented by this current photo of one of our bookshelves! Yes, I resisted the strong urge to tidy up before taking this pic.

Are you a book "keeper" or do you let them go? Why?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Captain and Lucky, we hardly knew ye...

Get out your hankies. I'm about to tell a sad tale. It looks like I'll be telling the story of how we acquired two hermit crabs, and their untimely deaths at my hands, within the very same blog posting.

About a week ago a friend kindly gave us her six year old son's two hermit crabs, with his permission. Amazingly (if you know anything about the typical life span of a pet hermit crab) they had had these two hermies since last June, so, really, going on a year. While her son really enjoyed the two crabs and learned a lot about exoskeletons, molting and other various crab habits and behaviors, the time had come where he had lost interest in them. I must say, they are a tad bit boring as pets go.

Anyhoo, Mimi was absolutely thrilled! She has always been fascinated by the hermit crab tanks at any PetSmart we've entered. One of the things I did not know about hermit crab accoutrements is that you can buy various "themed" shells for them to hang out in and move into after molting. For example, these two crabs were named Nemo and Pirate. Yes, the former was snugly ensconced in an orange and white striped, Nemo-like shell and the latter in a little black shell with a pirate painted on it.

Mimi promptly renamed them Lucky and Captain. Captain was the new Pirate and Lucky was the new Nemo. Captain is self-explanatory, Lucky requires a bit more explanation. Nemo/Lucky was probably in some stage of molting and had pretty much constantly buried himself deep into the sand of the hermit crab hotel. We got the tank home and wanted to introduce ourselves to our new pets, so we carefully dug Nemo out of the sand and I held him in my hand. He moved around a bit and so Mimi said that he was lucky to still be alive after being buried in the sand for so long! So, Lucky he became.

The next few days were crab bliss. Mimi had all her friends over to look at Lucky and Captain. We gave them a hermit crab "bath". We fed them a variety of food i.e. hermit crab flakes, pellets and powders. We changed their water and put drops of a special water conditioner to rid the tap water of apparently death-inducing (to crabs) chlorine. And I desperately tried to keep their tank at the appropriate temperature and humidity levels as prescribed by the hermit crab guru lady at

We put the tank in Mimi's bathroom so she could keep an eye on it, and we could make sure the cats couldn't get to it. I would occasionally run a hot shower for a few minutes with the door closed to boost the humidity. I also put a small space heater in there and would run it for a few minutes with the door closed to warm things up, especially after we got up in the mornings and the house was a little chilly.

And therein lies the rub. This morning, after Mimi got on the bus and as I was getting ready to go out for a client appointment, I turned on the heater for a few minutes just to knock the chill off the bathroom. I clearly recall thinking to myself "don't forget to turn the heater off before you leave." Well, I got home seven hours later. I realized as soon as I opened the bathroom door and the wall of heat hit me that those poor little crabbies were probably dead as doornails. Sure enough, there was Captain laying there, out of his shell. I dug up Lucky who, after all, wasn't so lucky. I spritzed them both with some of the special "Little Mister" spray that you use to "wake" crabs up to play. No hermie resurrection despite my frantic "come on, come on little buddies!"

The hardest part, of course, was telling Mimi. I picked her up from her science club and didn't tell her until we got home.

"Honey, Mommy has some really sad news. Captain and Lucky died. Mommy accidentally left the heater on in the bathroom all day and they got too hot."

She immediately started crying.

"I'm never going to see Captain and Lucky again? Mommy this is the saddest thing ever! What am I going to do without them!?"

She called her friend Aubrey and tearfully told her that Mommy had burned up the hermit crabs.

It really broke my heart. We snuggled up and cried a little more together.

Then she asked for some fish.

Oh, to have the grief cycle of a five year old.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Trash Bag Tango

I can always count on organizing guru Peter Walsh for great blog posting inspiration! One of his "Clutter Crew" video clips on focuses on doing a little bit every day around your house to declutter, almost painlessly!

He quotes his grandmother using the old expression "The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time!" Often we are overwhelmed with the clutter around us. We don't know where to begin. Give Peter's "Trash Bag Tango" a try and see where you are in a week or two. It's a pretty simple method to tackle the superficial clutter that can really get you down.

Take two large, lawn-size garbage bags. Mark one for trash, the other for charity/give away. Take 10 minutes and go through your house or even one room. Quickly pick up items that need to go into the garbage and put them into your trash bag. Also pick up any items that can be donated to charity or otherwise given away -- whatever you need to do to get it out of your house! -- and put those items into your donation bag.

You may or may not fill both bags in your first 10 minute session. If you don't, no problem, just put them in your garage, laundry room or some other out of the way place until the next day. When you do fill up the trash bag, put it into your garbage can. When you do fill up the donation bag, put it into your car and take it to your favorite donation location the next day.

As Peter says:

Do this every day for one week and you'll notice a difference.

Do it every day for two weeks and others will notice a difference.

Do it every day for a month and you will be on your way to getting a handle on the clutter that's been surrounding you.

Just do it!