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Sort—but not too much!

A while ago, I heard a woman on a podcast describe her plan for organizing her five-year-old’s Lego blocks: sorting them into bins by color. She was going to buy a bunch of new bins to make her system work.dreamstime_xs_23858960 She found the process of sorting meditative, she said, and thought it would be easier for her son to find what he needed if the blocks were organized by color.

I don’t know how it worked for her, but I wouldn’t recommend this kind of plan to my clients or friends.

Why not? For one thing, that mother’s system emphasized making it easy to retrieve items. In general, I think it’s more important to make putting stuff away easier. I wonder what happened after multiple sessions of dividing all those little pieces by color. Did the process start to feel less meditative, and more tiresome? How long did her child continue that detailed sorting? For most people—and especially for most kids—sorting to that degree is just too much trouble.

The solution? Don’t oversort. Make it easy for kids to develop the wonderful habit of picking up after themselves. Instead of using multiple small bins, try a few bigger ones, so children can quickly toss in their toys. Adopt a looser kind of sorting, perhaps by general shape or type, or even groups of colors (red/blue/purple). But don’t overdo it.

Even young kids are resourceful enough to find the pieces they need. Or they may decide to make do with what’s on top, or find a new way to play. Either way, isn’t that part of the process of play, and its purpose? To explore, solve problems, create, have fun?

My kids were never Lego fans. But for years, my son was passionate about trains, and that meant a lot of pieces to clean up every night. So we made it easy. We designated a couple of big bins for wood pieces, some others for one brand of plastic pieces, and a few for a different brand of plastic (because the three systems didn’t work together). Beyond that, we didn’t care. It was quick and easy work to toss the pieces where they belonged. For that reason, my son got into the habit of putting his trains away every night.


Over the years, I heard constant crashes as he upended the bins to lay out all the pieces or find the particular engine he was looking for. But I didn’t mind. I knew how simple it would be to toss everything back into the bins, since we weren’t bothering with detailed sorting.

A different system might have worked better for another train lover. And that’s fine. The point is not to be too fussy. If you use too many categories, it takes too much time to put things away, and it’s likely that over time, you’ll stop making the effort. (And yes, there are some people, including kids, who enjoy and maintain more detailed systems. But for most of us, simpler is better.)

Make it easy for your kids to pick up after themselves. Then trust their resourcefulness in finding what they need. The storage systems may change as the years go by, but always try to keep them simple. Your kids will be happier because it will take so much less work to put things away. You’ll be happier too, because they’ll be much more likely to pick up after themselves.

And if they don’t? It will be a lot easier for you to pick up after them. 🙂





Six things you can do now to make holiday gift giving easier

There are people who love the holidays, and people who don’t. I’m in the second group. I find the holiday season overwhelming, and I dislike the pressure of finding gifts for so many people. If it were up to me, we’d have a very simple Christmas with minimal gift giving. But others in my extended family don’t share my views. So I must accept that our Christmas celebrations are more elaborate, expensive, and time consuming than I’d choose.

Fortunately, I’ve found ways to approach the season that make it less stressful.


Here are a few strategies that have helped me. I hope they help you too, whatever holiday you celebrate.

1. Be grateful. This is the most important one! When I feel grumpy about the season’s demands, I try to remember how lucky I am to have so many loving and generous relatives.

2. Start early. Even if you don’t make decisions or shop till later, those processes will be much easier and smoother if you do some prep work now. See items 3 and 4 below!

3. Set up a system. Mine has three parts:

  • Folder: I assign a folder for stashing receipts, catalogs, ads I’ve clipped, and coupons—basically, anything gift related that is paper and not on my computer. I use only one folder, and I don’t bother sorting. I just want a single location for this stuff. (I love to use slash folders for temporary projects like this.)
  • Pinterest board: I use Pinterest to keep track of gift ideas I’ve found online. I have a board for gifts that I add to year round, but it gets the most action during the holiday season. I keep this board secret, so only I can see it.
  • Spreadsheet: I set up a simple spreadsheet for everyone I give gifts to. For each person, I track the gift I’ve decided on, whether I’ve bought it yet, if anyone owes me money for it, or if I own another person money for it. The spreadsheet helps me keep track within the holiday season. But it’s also really helpful to have old versions, which I scan to remind myself of what I’ve given in the past—that way, I don’t repeat myself. Pro tip: I put kids’ ages next to their names. Each season I use the previous year’s spreadsheet as a template, and just increase each child’s age by a year, so I always have that information at hand as I’m thinking about gifts.

4. Do some research first—and here are a few links. I am not very good at coming up with gift ideas, so I either just ask for suggestions (not directly—I’ll ask people for suggestions for their spouses or kids) or, increasingly, use gift guides or other Web resources. I often start with Amazon; its 2016 toy list is here. In the past I’ve bought a lot from Hearthsong  and Learning Express. They all let you apply filters like age or interest.

I’ve even had great luck from reading blogs. For instance, Mel’s Kitchen Café is a cooking site but I have gotten great game ideas there. Here is her 2016 roundup. (Mel has the best cookie recipes, by the way). Years ago I bought several wonderful books on the recommendation of décor blogger Centsational Girl. (That post is here—in particular we loved Emergency and Mirror Mirror.)

Or sometimes I’ve just done a Google search of “gift ideas for 10-year-olds.”

The point is, a little research time up front can really help, even if you’re planning to shop in stores.

And of course I must mention this: consider reducing gift clutter by giving experiences (vouchers for a restaurant, movie tickets, an offer of babysitting) or making donations whenever possible!

5. Donate or discard your old toys now. This is a great time to sit down with your kids to go through their toys to see what they’re no longer using. You’ll gain some space for any new stuff that comes in, and make the old things available for families who will use and love them in time for the holidays

6. Make wrapping easier. I hate wrapping gifts. Like, really hate it. I don’t like the process, and I’m not crazy about the waste involved. So I make it as simple as possible. Gift bags are my favorite, for ease and for reusability. But sometimes I do dreamstime_xs_44518223have to wrap packages. I buy nonmetallic paper (so it can be recycled) and keep one of these cutters with my wrapping supplies—I find it makes the cutting process quicker and easier. This year I’m going to try this hand-mounted tape dispenser, which I hope will further simplify the process.

I wish you and your family a joyful holiday season!

Less is liberating

The idea of paring down makes many people very, very nervous. I’m not talking only about the process of culling your things. I’m talking about what happens next: actually living in your streamlined home, with fewer possessions than you’re used to. Even people who are feeling overwhelmed by their things, who yearn for simpler spaces, worry about this, imagining cold, stark environments. They worry that they’ll miss their stuff.

But paring down doesn’t have to mean privation. It makes your life easier!

laundry in basket

This is true for a lot of reasons. But here is one example that I often use: If you limit the amount of clothing you own, laundry becomes much easier.

When you have fewer clothes, your laundry, clean or dirty, will stop piling up. That’s because it can’t pile up—if you don’t deal with it, you’ll have nothing to wear! Fortunately, dealing with it won’t be too daunting, since you’ll have manageable loads that don’t take a lot of time or effort to handle. Wouldn’t it be a relief to “limit” yourself this way and save countless hours on a task you don’t enjoy?

I talk about laundry a lot because so many people tell me how much they hate it. But there are many other benefits to reducing the size of your wardrobe. You’ll save money. You’ll have an easier time deciding what to wear. It’s much easier to retrieve your clothes when you need them, and to put them away.

What’s the right amount of clothes? There’s no set number, and for every person the answer is different. The point is that by carefully considering how much you really need—and perhaps pushing yourself to cut down a bit beyond your first impulse—you can reap a lot of benefits.

That’s because clothing, like all your stuff, costs you. People often focus on clutter, but the price of stuff also includes time, energy, and stress. Your stuff requires shopping and unloading; cleaning and maintenance; time spent moving it around when you want something else—just thinking about and dealing with it in general.

When you minimize your things, you minimize all of those activities too. You have fewer petty annoyances (for instance, the need to unstack a tower of pots to get to the one you really want) and fewer tasks you don’t enjoy (tackling mountains of laundry, or dusting a whole bunch of decorative objects).

Paring down helps you to be more organized, and it gives you more time and energy for the things you choose to keep, and the activities you want to pursue. Less is liberating!