Organizing & Staging


Check out this great article by Becky Dietrich!


Here, you will find copies of some of the articles we have published on living a more organized and simpler life.  We hope you enjoy.  You can also access a sampling of our helpful worksheets by clicking here.

Renovating Your Nest

Is your home bursting at the seams? Are you dreaming about your dream kitchen? Do you wish your house had a master suite? Renovating your home can be a satisfying way to improve your quality of life. As your renovation’s project manager (yes, that’s likely going to be you), the key to success is good planning. Here’s how to make sure you’re up to the challenge.

Know What You Want. Go ahead, create a wish list. Begin by writing down everything you want to achieve with your new space.

  • Make note of your physical wants: “I want more closet space” “I want more Natural light.” “I want a reading nook.” Add to this list as ideas develop.
  • List your emotional wants: “I want the space to feel cheerful.” “I want to inspire creativity.” “I want to encourage togetherness.” “I want a calming place.”
  • Collect ideas: Start a folder of magazine pictures, sketches, samples and brochures. Keep designs that you love or would like to copy. Keep a camera and tape measure with you at all times. Walk through show rooms and model homes and takes lots of pictures. Record anything that will help you communicate your ideas to a designer or contractor.

Determine A Realistic Budget. (aka: the Las Vegas Scenario)

Pretend you’re going to Las Vegas. You have a dollar amount you’re planning on spending, but then there’s the “I-can’t-bear-the-temptation” amount. There’s also the OMG (“Oh my God! What have I done!?”) amount.

Examine this scenario when planning your budget. The temptation to do more that you planned is immense. There are some beautiful and expensive things out there. Know yourself and what you can afford, and plan accordingly.

If your wants exceed your budget, talk to your contractor about other ways to reduce costs. You may be willing to give up recessed lighting in order to have hardwood floors, or there might be a great look-a-like that satisfies. Consider Do-It-Yourself options when planning both budget and contracting.

If You Pay Peanuts, You Get Monkeys. Shop diligently for contractors or designers. The cheapest price is tempting, but it’s not worth the savings if the project is done poorly or left unfinished.

Do your homework. Ask friends and family for referrals and be certain they were happy with their results. Internet searches can provide plenty of business names, if necessary, but be sure to interviews potential contractors and request a list of past customers.

Call those people and verify their satisfactions. And make sure that whatever company you hire is insured and properly licensed by the state of Maryland. To check on a contractor’s license, visit the website of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and go to the “License Search” page.

Understand The Process. Know what to expect before construction begins. Ask your contractor for a complete explanation of starting time, daily and weekly goals, and how set backs are handled.

Reduce surprises and disappointments by requesting a thorough timetable that includes subcontractor information. For instance, first to arrive is the tear out guy, then the framer, the electrician, then the plumber, etc.

Also, learn the best way to communicate with your contractor. Is he quick to answer calls or texts, or does he prefer email at the end of the day? Avoid frustration by knowing his typical time frame for replies.

Schedule The Project Accordingly.  Once you have an understanding of what to expect, it’s important to plan the construction work around your family’s calendar and life. When possible, select a time that will keep stress to a minimum.

  • Will it be easier to renovate during the school year or will the disruption affect the kids success in school and other activities?
  • Will the change  in routine interfere with your ability to get your children where they need to be?
  • The less demanding months of summer could be a good time for construction if your kids have a pool, camp or friends’ houses to go to. Or will the added noise be too much for everyone?
  • Do you want to avoid having the work coincide with holidays and vacations? Consider your own work and volunteer schedule.
  • What time of the year can you most easily handle interruptions and added responsibilities?

Get Ready, Get Set… Get Organized Before You Hit Go.  Prepare your home for the disruptions. Your household can still run smoothly, if you make it a priority.

  • Set up staging areas where needed. If they enter/exit zone of your home will be inaccessible, create a new one. Relocate needed backpacks, coats and shoes. Keep your purse and other necessities in this new launching area.
  • If your kitchen will be unusable, salvage what you can of the old one and create a small work station in the family room.
  • If leisure or work areas will be disturbed, create a portable station that can be set up on the kitchen table and then quickly removed when it’s time to dine.

Prepare Yourself. Acknowledge that, despite your great planning and hiring of the perfect contractor, the construction will be challenging.

  • Allow more time to do daily tasks and to get out the door in the morning.
  • Schedule a daily recovery time at the end of the day, making sure all temporary systems are in place for the next day.
  • Reduce your commitments, if possible, and eliminate all unnecessary appointments
  • Simplify meals and rely on carry-out a little more than usual.
  • Be ready for the phone to ring more and the unexpected to happen.
  • If possible, double your patience level with your spouse and children; remember that everything is harder for them  too.
  • Here’s a tip: Reduce some stress by including in your budget the cost of extra meals out and a little pampering. You’ll deserve both.

Published in the Summer 2011 issue of Nesting Magazine

Organizing Kids’ Art and School Papers

Paper is everywhere. Several years’ worth of children’s paintings clutter one bulletin board. Worksheets and tests consume the kitchen counter. The dining room is heaped with old projects. Tests and handouts disguise the desk. Uncertainty about what to do with all of the work and treasures kids bring home can create an uncomfortable and unproductive home in no time. When a change is needed, it’s time to gather the paper and make some decisions.

Get started-  Separate the papers into limited categories: art large and small, journals and writing samples, worksheets, special notes, awards and certificates, easy-to toss (don’t worry about thinning out right now, but if it’s a no-brainer- pitch.  Have separate piles for each child.

Be choosy- Too much left over to store? Now is the time to get selective. Ask yourself- does this represent my child’s thoughts, personality or ability? Do I need 10 of these where one sample will do? Do I love it? Does my child love it? Would this make a nice gift? Is it worth the space it will take up? Should it be displayed? Tip- keep wish lists, spontaneous letters, and “to mom” art and love notes in special folders, one for each child – trust me on this one.

Enough already! You’ve decided what you’re keeping from the past, but keep the future in mind, as well; more paper is coming. Based on what is in front of you, create a plan for incoming paper. Perhaps incoming art will replace the existing piece on a bulletin board. The rest will remain in a plastic storage container under the bed with a plan to go through it together at the end of the school year. A folder will be kept to store examples of excellence. A notebook will be kept handy to store journals and writing samples. Kids will often save what is important to them. So check- your child may not care if something is tossed.

Show your pride– The refrigerator or bulletin board is a great place to display special achievements, everything from Best Helper award to the college acceptance letter. Special pieces of art can be shown off in front- loading, cabinet style frames which store, as well as display, your treasures. These are also useful for collages or multi-media pieces with lots of feathers and glitter. Oversized pieces of art can be photographed and the printed versions given as gifts in a variety of ways.

The possibilities are endless– Consider space, budget and your time when selecting storage containers. Do the math- one album of school work per child, per year, will take up how much space? If you choose stacked pizza boxes to store the art in, how much vertical space will they require? Do you have it? Artist quality albums protect and display large art work beautifully, but they are expensive. They hold 48 large pieces and they are slim, so maybe they’re worth it? If space is at a minimum, consider scanning.  You want to be creative and scrapbook their memories? Will you? Do you have the time?  Be realistic in your choices and don’t forget to label- trust me on that one too.

Follow the rules- You’ve evaluated and set rules for categorizing, thinning, displaying and storing. Also plan when and how the saved papers will get to their assigned locations. Will they be dropped into one large box as they come into the house to be sorted the first week of summer- really? Can you address this task daily or weekly? Pick one that suits yours and your child’s schedule, and then muster the resolve to follow through. Make it a priority and make it fun. Note- you will soon find out if the system you chose was too complicated, as piles of paper begin to take over the countertops again. Reevaluate, then simplify.

Hint-If you don’t have time to attack all of this paper now, start on the incoming, then attack the big pile later. Get a bankers box and begin a simple file system breaking down the incoming paper into basic categories, tossing coldly when possible. In no time, you’ll recognize the pattern and volume of what is coming in. If it’s too much paper to make decisions as you go, then it’s too much paper too keep. Have rules in place for elimination: all worksheets- out, one test per course from first month and last -keep, dated announcements- toss, if it stirs your heart- keep, definitely keep.

Published in the Summer 2012 issue of Nesting Magazine


Gardening Camp– because you get to enjoy spring too

Get over the guilt-It’s ok to devote one entire week to something you love. Immerse. Justify the time and expense this way- the kids get to go to camp; why can’t I? Pull that off without whining, if possible.

Plan tactically- Gardening camp cannot be interrupted. Do not volunteer. Miss something. Call in the chits- have  all carpooling traded and preschoolers at friend’s houses. Consider scheduling after Mother’s Day; you’ll have all your new tools ready. (Under no circumstance do you use Mother’s Day to get over the guilt. You get both.)

Get ready to begin- Loosen your muscles. After the kids are out the door and the breakfast dishes are done, take a hot shower or bath before you start- this will maximize your output and enjoyment of Gardening Camp. Don’t forget to stretch.

There are no rules at Gardening Camp– It’s good to evaluate though. Begin a checklist. Decide what needs to get done and what you want to get done. Determine how you will use your time, energy, and money. Or skip this step and pick up a shovel or head to the nurseries.

At the nursery- Stay comfortable. Leave your purse in the car. Carry only keys and credit card in your pocket. Take a stroll around first. Linger. Then gather what you love after checking labels for appropriate conditions. Ask questions- employees like to share their knowledge. Make purchase then proceed to the next nursery.

Dig in- Option #1- Remove all weeds, debris and invasive plants from entire yard.  Draw up a plan. Set out new plants in predetermined locations. Gather tools, plant, fertilize, water, and watch grow.

Dig in! Option #2- Start mindlessly. Pick a bed or dig up a new one.  Remove the ugly things; plant the pretty ones. Cannibalize other garden beds to fill spaces resulting from lack of planning. Head back to the nurseries for more.

Realize your joy- Think about maintaining positively:  regular watering is an opportunity to visit your plants, weeding is exercise without going to the gym, and pruning and deadheading -a great excuse for ordering pizza for dinner.

Published in the Spring 2011 issue of Nesting Magazine 

10 Ways to Use a Chip Clip

  1. Hang photographs. Stringing clips together is a cute and inexpensive way to store and display photos. The vertical line takes up limited space
  2. Organize your hair ties. Clipping your hair ties together secures them easily. You’ll lose less. Personalize the clip to make a colorful, yet practical party favor.
  3. Keep recipe pages from flipping. Flatten the pages with a large clip. Or use a small clip to secure recipe cards to a stable object.
  4. Clip together gift cards as a gift. Clip a variety of gift cards together and drop them in a gift back. Thoughtful gift: done!
  5. Set up flash cards. Having visible flash cards on a magnetic refrigerator or backdoor can help your children learn on the go. The clip makes it easy to display and change the cards periodically.
  6. Clip seed packets together. String a ribbon and gift tag through the hole and you have an instant and unique hostess gift.
  7. Prevent napkins from blowing away. Using a chip clip is a convenient and easy way to stop napkins from blowing away when you eat outside. The napkins can easily be pulled out of the stack without removing the clip.
  8. Display children’s artwork creatively. Hot glue a long magnetic strip to the back of a large chip clip. Personalize with foam letters.
  9. Recycle paper. Clip recycled paper together, creating a makeshift message pad. Then, when you are on the go and need the information, just slip it out and go.
  10. Exhibit coupons openly. If you clip the together and attach them to the refrigerator or backdoor, they are visible and together. This makes them easy to remember to grab on the way out.

  Published in the July/August 2010 issue of Nesting Magazine

It’s Not Easy Being Green – Here’s how to simplify your Earth-friendliness

Green is the new annoying…. I just got recycling down!

Not only are we expected to care for our families, be loving spouses, work or volunteer, eat healthfully, exercise regularly, discover our spiritual path, attend girls night out and be knowledgeable in wine and food parings, we are to do all this while saving the planet. Something’s gotta give…we’re not superheroes.

As an organizer, I’ve witnessed the negative effects of we-expect- too- much- of -ourselves syndrome. Being unrealistic about what we can accomplish can leave us in a state of inertia where very little gets done or anything done well. The consequences of which can be very unfriendly to the earth. Heightened concern over hurting the earth can have the opposite of its intended effect.  Unsure of how to dispose of items, some do nothing.

Reality Green- The first step toward green living is to decide your role. Where does this fit in all of your other responsibilities and personal expectations? Do you have the time, space, resources to include every tip you’ve read into your schedule? Perhaps start simply.

Green equals efficiency. The greenest you can be is to be as organized as you can be. There is no way around that.  An efficient household creates less waste. No last minute purchases needed. No duplications to add to the landfill one day. Organization will also give you the time to incorporate best practices into your schedule.

Green Housing- Create homes for all things green. Think green systems. Donate, Deliver is a systems category. Just as you have a designated place for your trash and recycling, have an established home for the regular removal of giveaways. A tote bag in the hall closet works well.

Granny was green. –  Make do, when possible. A lot of time can be spent discovering green products. Let the first question be: Can I do without? Living simply is the greenest of all. Learn to use a good sharp knife and you’ll need few other gadgets in your kitchen.

Green Routine- Once a simplified, organized household is established, create a home maintenance routine which includes green education. While planning your week, add fifteen minutes of research time to discover best locations for deliverables and green stores or products. Green tip: save fuel by scheduling errands together and creating an efficient route.

Google Green – Remember the store of information at your fingertips. The internet can provide you with information from where to donate your old VHS tapes to green projects to get involved in. Or check out Green Drinks Annapolis,, and immerse yourself in a green lifestyle.

“It’s not easy being green.” Kermit the Frog. Though Kermit’s woes came from his frog-ness, not his role in saving the planet, it’s a line worth stealing. Be mindful that green is another to- do you’ve added to your plate. Incorporating new living practices at a measured pace will produce long term results of both healthy earth and healthy self and family.

  Published in the Spring 2013 issue of Nesting Magazine


Organize to Entertain

 The holidays are the time to gather with friends and family. We enjoy conversation, laughter and togetherness. We reminisce the past and reveal our plans for the future.  Being the one who brings this together offers great satisfaction and appreciation. Yet many of us hesitate to do so. Planning a party may seem too over whelming, with too many hurdles to overcome. But once the desire to entertain is moved up the priority list, a strategy can be devised to achieve this goal.

Set a realistic goal– Determine what you love about entertaining, what you enjoy and do well. Consider your time, budget and energy level. Design a party around all of these considerations. If you love a creative menu, but hate to cook, then get theme-y and get to a gourmet deli.  You’re a talented cook, but not into details? Then skip the flowers and feed your guests well- that is what they’ll enjoy and remember. If making your house look its best is important to you, then focus on decorations and lighting and keep the menu and bar simple.

Develop a plan- Pick a date, make guest list and send invitations, decide on the mood and menu. If cooking, be sure to plan plenty of make-ahead recipes and keep to your comfort and talent level. Make beverage plans and prep bar. Prepare shopping list and schedule time to clean and decorate. Tip: guests have a great time when they feel they are being treated. Plan for one or two gourmet touches. Over-sized bowls of candy, special candles, or a glass of champagne are just the signal that your mission was to please.

Do, Delegate or Drop- Manage your to-do list by first evaluating your plan.  Prioritize by importance-calligraphed place tags add an elegant touch, but the evening can go on without them. If the ice is never picked up, that could put a damper on the fun. Decide when, where, and how all of your to-do’s will be carried out. If this is your first party, allow twice as much time as you planned to complete your list. Most importantly, delegate what you can. Plan early and communicate the help you will need. Be specific when it matters.  Assume nothing. Don’t ask for red wine if you wanted a cabernet. If the list is still too long, consider hiring help or letting something go, keeping the focus on sharing your home.

Short cuts are the new perfection- gone are the days when perfection is expected. Knowing how to entertain simply is in. Having a friend that makes favors and place settings can set you free from doing it. It can be just as impressive to know where to buy something new and delicious as to prepare it yourself. Take advantage of that to enjoy the evening as much as your guests. Overlook what you missed, spilled, forgot or burned and everyone else will.

Do it again- Plan for the next party while executing this one. Keep a list on party day and while you are cleaning up of all the ideas that come to you. Jot down the problems you encountered and how you could simplify further.  What could make clean-up easier? How could I get the costs down?  Take note as to whether you would consider hiring serving or clean-up help, if you still felt stress during the party. Include notes on serve-ware to purchase or fussy recipes to drop.  Be sure to keep a copy of the menu and shopping list in a party notebook and re- use all of your successful plans for a different group.

Hosting a successful party is enormously gratifying. It requires obtainable organizing skills to prepare for and carry out. Moderate goals and expectations and liberal use of list making are instrumental in creating an atmosphere for all to enjoy.

  Published in the November/December 2010 issue of Nesting Magazine


Confessions of a Christmas Cranky-pants

I love Christmas! I love Christmas Eve too. Watching my family give and receive gifts, over -eating delicious food and enjoying all this warmth and festivity in my beautifully decorated home is the best! But the doing it part… not so much, actually… not at all. I don’t like shopping or wrapping, I don’t like the decorating, and I’m not too crazy about the cooking and baking anymore either. I especially don’t like the pressure of having it all done on time.

Forgive my crankiness… I wasn’t always like this, quite the opposite really. Stories of my Black Friday maneuvers are legendary. I moved with battle- planned precision from the “5 a.m. Opening” to the

“6 a.m. Opening” and continued on until every early-bird special on my carefully detailed list was purchased. Food preparation and decorating garnered the same focused intensity.

The To Do lists were lengthy. I baked and froze everyone’s favorites, I wrapped and kept all gift piles “even” in volume and cost, and I decorated the house with greens and lights and bows until it sparkled and shined. I was a lean, mean, Christmas- making machine and everyone enjoyed and appreciated the result of my efforts.

The more efficient I became at preparing for Christmas, the more I added to do. I didn’t gain anything by starting early. I just did more, spent more and complained more. I locked myself in the routine in the name of tradition. How could Christmas go on without bacon and brown sugar wrapped breadsticks?

See where this is going? At some point the solution became the problem…oops. Getting Christmas Done became a project that required physical, emotional and financial stress.  Focusing on the process rather than the goal eventually led to exhaustion and resentment (particularly unfair since it’s what I chose.)

Cranky became part of the process. It was woven into holiday preparations with the tinsel and greeting cards… until I noticed. Instead of intensifying my efforts to do “a better job of Christmas”, I finally realized it was time for a goal change (just dodging that definition of insanity.)

Terry’s Christmas Makeover:

  • Stay in bed after Thanksgiving. Save money by purchasing less stuff. After sleeping in, find some deals online.
  • Buy poinsettias early and often…I love poinsettias!
  • Delegate my least favorites- Christmas cards, some baking and shopping, and hanging outdoor Christmas lights (must give up quality control.)
  • Multitask- combine tasking with fun by shopping with a friend
  • Don’t do what I don’t want to do: putting out all of the decorations, almond crescents, tinsel.
  • Recite-“If it’s delicious, what’s the difference who makes it?
  • Incorporate liberal use of reusable gift bags.

I will always love Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. By examining mistakes made over the years I’m recovering my enjoyment of the preparations, as well.  I’ve tweaked my goals and am de-cluttering what doesn’t belong, keeping what supports them and eliminating what does not.  They best way to enjoy the season is to know when to stop. Let done be done, unless you’re having fun.

  Published in the Winter 2012-2013 issue of Nesting Magazine