Six different cartoon profiles of people looking around quizzically. All of them are various ages, wearing different colored clothing, with question marks floating around their heads.

You asked, and we answered! In honor of World Organizing Day (May 20), we are answering your burning questions about organizing. Thank you for your thoughtful questions; we hope our responses help. (Questions may be edited for brevity.) Read on to see your Q’s and our A’s!

World Organizing Day Q&A

Q: I live in a rented space and want to make it feel like a real home. I have put up valances over every window and door. I’ve installed laundry room shelving, and crown mouldings in the great room. Will I be reimbursed for my investments? Should I keep track of costs?

A: The short answer is no, you probably won’t be reimbursed. But you can still make your home feel homier when you rent rather than own. Concentrate on decorating with items you can take with you when you leave: bring in homey, comforting things like family photos, travel mementos, and a warm throw blanket for your favorite chair.

Q. I have so much fabric but I no longer sew. Where can I donate it?

A: It’s amazing how fast fabric piles up when you don’t have time to use it. (I have a big stack of fabric for the baby quilt I’ve been planning to make. The baby is now 26.)

Several organizations in the Portland area take fabric donations. Check their websites first, because rules and donation hours can change.

  • You can donate fabric to Reclaimit PDX. Donations must be pre-approved, and they request that fabric pieces be one yard or more.
  • Scrap Creative Reuse takes fabric in limited quantities (again, one yard or more, no scraps…despite their name). See their website for drop-in donation times or to make an appointment.
  • A little farther afield in Eugene, Mecca is a thrift store for art supplies.
  • If you have quilting fabric, contact quilting guilds and groups. We found two that accept fabric:
  • Try contacting local schools, after-school arts programs, and community arts centers to see if they need fabric. Senior living communities may also welcome your fabric for their crafting groups. Contact the communities’ activities coordinators to see if they’re interested.

Q: Can I donate candles? If so, where? Some of them are used.

A: It’s funny how we never really “finish” our candles, isn’t it?

  • Scrap Creative Reuse has candles on its list of acceptable donations. Check the website for donation times or to make an appointment.

Q: What do I do with gifts that I no longer want? I feel guilty when someone gives me something that doesn’t work with my décor.

First, can we talk about the weird brass circus elephant that my kids’ nanny gave us one Christmas? We kept it on display for years until our kids no longer needed a nanny. We know guilt well, and we cave into it frequently. But you don’t have to.

You can simply thank the person, and then tuck the gift away. If they visit frequently, you can bring it out when they come over. (Yes, this is dishonest, but it can prevent hurt feelings.) If the gift is from a close friend, you can gently say that it doesn’t quite fit your home, and ask if you could exchange it.

If it’s a gift you’ve had for a while, it has served its purpose. You can donate it, or even regift it, and let go of the guilt along with the item. Just don’t accidentally regift it to the person who gave it to you!

Q: Where can I get tax documents shredded?

A: Whoa there, pardner! Have you made a copy of all those tax documents? Oh, of course, you have. Okay then, shred away.

  • Office Depot offers in-store shredding services for small loads; the current rate is $.99 per pound
  • If you have a lot to shred or you own a business, DataSafe offers reasonably priced one-time and recurring shredding services, as well as on-site mobile shredding
  • The UPS Store has shredding services, but they don’t post prices on their website. Recently, it cost us $1.29/lb.
  • Many local communities offer free shredding events periodically. Check your town’s government website for more info, or Google “shredding events near me.”

Q: What’s the most efficient way to pack for a move?

A: Oooh, great question!

  • Start months (yes, months) before your actual move. Get rid of everything you don’t want to take with you. Be brutal! Donate it, sell it, give it to a friend, recycle it, or toss it. Just don’t pay to move it!
  • When it’s time to pack, gather all your supplies:
    • Boxes
    • Packing paper
    • Packing tape
    • Markers
    • Sticky notes
  • Buy more boxes than you think you’ll need because you always need more than you think (and you can usually return unused boxes).
  • We recommend packing paper instead of bubble wrap for all but the very delicate items (for which you can use tissue paper); it’s more environmentally friendly.
  • Start your packing in the least-used rooms, and work your way to the most-used as you get closer to your move date. Save the kitchen for last, but leave ample time for it.
  • Pack items together that will stay together after the move. For instance, pack all the contents of your silverware drawer together, all your bath towels together, shoes, etc. It makes unpacking much easier.
  • Label every box! List the contents of each box on a label, and be fairly detailed. (“Misc. crap” was my daughter’s go-to label when she moved from Brooklyn to Seattle. I’m glad I wasn’t there to help unpack.)
  • Color-code every box! At Big Rocks, we use sticky notes to list each box’s contents, then we tape the notes on the boxes. We use a different color sticky note for each room. For instance, all kitchen boxes get blue sticky notes, all living room boxes get yellow, and so on. On move day, it’s easy to direct the movers to the right rooms. We also hang up a color key of sticky notes with their room names written on them, so nobody has to memorize which color goes where. (We love a good cheat sheet.)
  • Create an “Open First” box with everything you’ll need right away, like coffee and coffee maker/mugs, toilet paper, hand soap, essential pet supplies, paper plates/plastic cutlery, and anything else you can’t live without on move day. I would have ripped open boxes with my teeth to get to my coffee maker when we moved. This box should go on the truck last, so it’s unloaded first.
  • Pack a box (or carry-on bag if you’re flying) with essentials that you should carry yourself, such as medications, jewelry, cash/credit cards, and important documents.
  • Check with your mover about transporting items like cleaning supplies, liquor, and hazardous or flammable items like batteries and matches. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) restricts them from moving certain hazardous or potentially dangerous items.
  • For a more detailed list of things to do before you move, check out our blog post.

Q: How do you recommend organizing a closet? I’ve just got a shelf up top and a long bar to hang things on. There’s also a two-door cabinet between the closet and the ceiling.

A: We love a good closet challenge! Here’s how to make organizing yours easier:

  • First, empty out the closet, and decide what stays and what goes. Once you’ve rightsized, you’ve fought half the battle.
  • Next, hang your shorter clothing items like blouses, skirts, and jackets on one side of the closet. Hang longer items like dresses and coats on the other side.
  • Well, look at that! You’ve just made space under those shorter clothes for a storage piece!
  • Depending on your needs, you could put in a shoe rack, a small set of shelves for folded clothing, or a hamper for dirty clothes.
  • The shelf above the clothes rod can be organized with baskets or clear bins, which will keep things neat and organized. Just remember to measure before you buy any storage items. And wait until after you’ve organized to go shopping!
  • The cabinet between the closet and the ceiling (Why do builders do this?) is best used for out-of-season items or things you don’t need often.
  • If you feel like spending money, a closet company can design a storage system that will make use of every inch of your closet.

Q: I always end up with the wrong size or shape organizing bins. What should I do?

A: Three tips for getting it right the first time: First, wait until after you’ve rightsized a space before buying storage bins, so you know how much stuff you have to store in the bins. Second, measure your space before you buy. For instance, if you’re organizing a closet or pantry, measure the width, depth, and height of your shelves, and make a note of how many shelves you have. You can also measure your stuff itself—it helps to know you have a 3-foot-high stack of jeans! Third, take photos of your space to refer to when you shop.

Q: As organizers, do you collect anything? How do you maintain your collections?

A: Interesting question! Here’s a little peek at what we collect—or don’t collect—at Big Rocks Organizing.

“I used to collect vintage baby-shaped tin baking molds until my family decided that baked babies are creepy.”

“I used to collect cookie jars until I moved to a smaller space and gave them away. Now I intentionally collect nothing.”

“I collect Mr. Potato Head and Forest Service memorabilia.”

“I don’t personally collect anything.”

“I collect vintage photos from antique stores and family members. I limit myself to only what I can fit into one photo box.”

“Is this where I own up to having Christmas coffee mugs by the boxful?”

Q: How and where should I store my collections?

A: To store your collections when you’re not displaying them, use bins with lids (rather than cardboard boxes, which are susceptible to mold) to protect them from dirt and damage. Whenever possible, store your collection in your home itself, not in a garage or attic, where fluctuations in temperature and humidity, as well as possible flooding, can destroy your collection. Some additional pointers on popular collectibles:

  • Use archive-quality photo boxes for photos. You may want to insert acid-free paper between each photo.
  • Fragile figurines and china should be wrapped in acid-free or packing paper rather than bubble wrap or plastic, which can adhere to objects over time and ruin their finishes.
  • Vinyl records should be wiped free of dust with a microfiber cloth, and then stored upright in light-proof boxes designed for album storage.
  • Antique or valuable books should be wrapped in archival paper and kept in acid-free boxes.
  • Sports trading cards should be stored in paper sleeves and kept in a watertight container.

Read more on storing specific collections:

Q: What is a typical organizing rule that you don’t believe in?

A: We don’t believe in the rule that says you have to follow all the rules! Organizing is very personal and individual; if an organizing method doesn’t make sense for the way your brain works or the way you live, ignore it.

Q: What do you think is the best result of having an organized space?

A: Disorganized spaces can cause enormous amounts of stress and anxiety. Your mind is cluttered with thoughts of “Ugh, it’s such a mess, how did it get this way, where do I even begin, and why do I have so much stuff?” Once that space is organized, you can breathe again. You can see and appreciate your stuff. And most importantly, you have room (in your home and your heart) for what truly matters.

Q: How has being an organizer changed the way you shop for yourself?

A: We’re all more conscious shoppers; we don’t just buy for the sake of buying. We also believe in the “one in, one out” rule. When we buy something, we donate or sell something we already own. That said, we’re all known to make “what was I thinking?” purchases from time to time.

Q: Any other questions?

If any other organizing questions come to mind, just contact us and we’ll post an answer (we won’t use your name). Thank you for all of your great questions.

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