The Quick Clean Solution: Tidy Like a Pro

People often wonder how I have the time to clean, tidy, organize all the time. The secret is: I really don’t. My main solution has been living in a relatively small space, and minimizing my belongings, so that cleaning and organizing can be kept to a minimum. Below I will share my “secrets” for maintaining a home that looks fresh, clean, tidy, and organized with minimal effort.

Keep your home tidy and clean with this efficient and easy system -- and don't waste a lot of time doing it!

 

The Foundation: Minimal Living

Your home has to have a good foundation in order to make cleaning and upkeep quick and easy. Translation: you must put the initial work in to decide what you actually use, care about, and need in your home. Even when our house has crumbs and dust bunnies on the floor, it still has the illusion of being tidy and clean because our spaces are so streamlined. The decluttering process takes time, but the payoff of creating a streamlined home is well worth the initial effort. The less stuff you own, the less you need to keep clean. Studies show that people who have invested the time to de-clutter their homes spend 50% less time cleaning!

Order + Organization

Once you have put in the work to minimize, you will have much less to clean and organize. That being said, you still need to have a “home” for all of your things and put them away when you’re done using them. Create simple, intuitive systems that make sense to you and are easy for your family, or partner, to adhere to. Example: We own a nice camera and some equipment that used to get tossed all over the house. It drove me crazy, and we could never find it when we needed it. My solution was to buy an oversized basket to store the camera and accessories and place it in a convenient place in our living room.  Now all of us put the camera in the basket when we’re not using it and know where to find it whenever we need it. Simple, yet effective!

Upkeep

If you don’t have time to clean frequently, or the resources to hire a cleaning service, try my “quick fix” clean routine: Once every few weeks I’ll sweep the hardwood floors, vacuum the carpets and give the surfaces a wipe with an eco-friendly anti-bacterial wipe. If I have time, I’ll also wipe down the mirrors and throw some cleaning solution in the sink and toilet. The whole routine has never taken me more than thirty minutes and makes my house look and smell fresh and clean.

Additionally, we make the beds every morning and do the dishes right after we eat. I think of it like maintenance for a car. If you put in the minimal effort to routinely get your oil changed, tires checked etc. you can avoid the headache of major breakdowns and blowouts. If you pick up after yourself and put things away throughout the day, you never have to deal with a massive clean-up.

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What to Keep When Someone Dies

When my father died unexpectedly five years ago, I found myself faced with the daunting task of sorting through his entire home and deciding what to keep. As a professional home organizer, I coach my clients and friends on how to make these decisions all the time. I have the tools and the training to edit and organize any space, but tackling a project of this magnitude, compounded with the grief and shock over the sudden loss of my Dad, is not something I ever could have prepared for.

Here’s how I got through it:

Bring in Support

Deciding what to keep when a loved one dies can be incredibly overwhelming and emotional. Call on a little help from trusted friends or family members. Most people want to help but simply don’t know how. You can enlist your community to help with everything from dropping off snacks or supplies to  helping with childcare so you can dedicate your full attention to the task ahead. Even if they simply sit by your side and provide moral support, this is not a task anyone should have to tackle solo. I had a good friend offer to help me navigate through my father’s belongings just a few weeks after he died. She was able to be both completely supportive and totally neutral when it came to decision making, and I will never forget how much her presence meant to me.

Prepare + Plan

Before trying to make any specific decisions, plan to take a walkthrough of the space so you can get a sense of the size and scale of your project. How many rooms will you need to sort through? Will you need to plan an estate sale or coordinate donations? Are other family members going to help? What supplies will you need (storage or donation boxes, durable garbage bags, sticker labels, sharpies and post-its will help you stay organized throughout the project)? Make sure to create a timeframe so you can make a plan and map out enough time in your calendar. Working in 3-4 hour blocks of time followed by some well-deserved self-care is optimal.

 

Go with Your Gut

If you have to sort through an entire home like I did, it may be helpful to do an initial sweep, intuitively picking the items that feel the most meaningful and sentimental to you. My friend, Amber, walked me through each room and suggested that I simply pick my favorites instead of overthinking. I found that I was able to pretty effortlessly identify the items that stuck out and resonated – my Dad’s trail maps, his photographs from the Peace Corps, his handwritten letters, and his treasured recipe book. The whole process only took about an hour and helped me feel much less overwhelmed.

Pace Yourself + Prioritize

Make sure to pace yourself and work in small increments so you can keep your energy up and stay focused. You may find it easier to sort by category – i.e books, music, clothing or appliances so you can assess each category all together and select the most meaningful and precious from each group.

Remember Stuff is Just Stuff

When my father died he had a spacious three-bedroom home with plenty of storage. At the time I was living in a small two bedroom apartment with limited storage space. I was forced to be practical and remind myself that just because something belonged to my Dad, I didn’t have to assign it special meaning or keep it. I focused on only keeping the items that felt personal, meaningful, and irreplaceable, like photos, journals, and letters. Remember, you can always take a photo of something if you don’t have the room or the inclination to keep it.

Create Concrete Limits

Be realistic about your own storage constraints, and decide ahead of time what volume of stuff is realistic for you to take possession of, care for, and store. Try purchasing a set quantity of storage bins that feels reasonable and will fit comfortably in your own space. This constraint will help limit your choices and eliminate decision fatigue. In my case, I bought six weatherproof bins and focused on choosing thoughtfully since my space was limited.

Less is Always More

With few exceptions, basements, attics, and garages tend to feel like “stuff graveyards” to me. I believe in keeping things you can actively use, appreciate, and integrate into your home, not just stow away to collect cobwebs in a dusty storage space. I also believe that the less you keep the more meaningful it becomes. I had a client once who had ten different sets of her families china all boxed up in the basement. I helped her to create a curated collection that she treasures, consisting of one piece from each set that she now displays in her dining room. The rest was donated to charity to people who will actually need and use it.

Check In With Friends + Family

If you are charged with sorting through a loved one’s possessions, make sure to check in with any friends or family before you sell or donate anything. Since all of my father’s family was in NYC and we live in CA, I made sure to call them to see what might be meaningful for them to keep. I was so glad I did because items that did not mean much to me are now treasured by his East coast friends and family.

Have a Plan for Donations

Most likely, you will end up with furniture and other belongings that need a new home. Once you’ve taken what you (and other friends and family) want to claim, you should set up a plan for the rest. Options include coordinating a charitable donation drop with a local charity, paying for a donation pick-up with a third party, or holding an estate sale. In my case, since I was doing everything solo, the easiest solution for me was to hire a third party to hold an estate sale. Estate companies typically do all of the work and will even donate unclaimed items. This service was such a gift during a time when I was still grieving and overwhelmed with other important to-dos.

Banish Guilt

This is a complicated process and there is no right or perfect way to do it. Be kind to yourself, and do your best to banish unproductive feelings of guilt or obligation. Do your best to keep items that have positive associations and make you feel good. Guilt never got anyone anywhere. In the end, it’s up to you to decide what feels important and meaningful.

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A Speedy Dining Room Makeover

We live in a 100-year old traditional craftsman, and, while I appreciate the wood details and charm, I’m still partial to light and bright spaces. If it were up to me I would probably paint the whole house white and grey, but my husband is very attached to the wood, so we had to find a compromise.

We started out with a dining room with lots of wood moldings and panels, and also a wooden table, bench, and chairs. I brightened it up a bit with lighting and white curtains.  But, I still felt that the room lacked balance, and I wanted to find an easy and affordable way to transform the space.

Here is the dining room BEFORE.

A before photo of professional organizer, Shira Gill's dining room.

I started by selling our table and chairs and ordering a large, white, tulip table and a pair of stools from Houzz. With the money we made selling our furniture, I was also able to splurge on two Eames chairs from DWR. (Eventually I would like a complete set.) My friend, Hedy, let me try out her pale cow hyde and I couldn’t resist completing the transformation with some fresh blooms from Lidia, floral genius and founder of La Fleuriste. (I cannot emphasize enough how much greenery and florals can transform a space.)

Here is the dining room AFTER.

The After photo of Shira Gill's quick dining room makeover, easily done with switching out some pieces of furniture.

I love that just by switching out the furniture we could create a whole different look, and I’m especially loving having a round table since I am prone to crashing into sharp corners! What do you think? Is there a room in your home that you could update just by swapping out some furniture?

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How To Declutter Any Closet in 5 Simple Steps

I’m collaborating with my friends at Apartment Therapy again. This time I’m sharing how to declutter any closet in 5 simple steps!

Want to clean out your closet and keep it clean? Here are five simple steps from Shira Gill, professional organizer, on just how to do that!

If your small or cluttered closet is causing you stress, follow these simple steps to whip your closet into a stylish, functional, and organized space.

Prep

Start by removing everything from your closet. You can use a large table, a bed, or the floor as a staging area.

Next, set up a bag for donations and have trash and recycling bins easily accessible. You will also want to relocate any stray items that accidentally ended up in your closet. Finally, make sure to wipe down shelving and give your closet a good vacuum, so you can start fresh with a clean slate. This pre-work will help ensure that your editing and organizing steps are easy and efficient.

Sort + Organize

Once you’ve removed the contents of your closet, make sure to group similar items together in clear piles (i.e cleaning supplies, outerwear, bike stuff, etc.). This will make it easy to see if you have doubles or excess of some items in the next stage of this process. Being organized is as simple as consistently grouping and storing similar things together. You’ve got this.

Edit

Review the entire contents of your closet and do your best to keep only what you actually use, need, and love. This is the most important step in this process. If you get stuck, try asking yourself the following clarifying questions:

  • Does this item reflect my authentic personal style?
  • Would I buy this item for full price today?
  • Would it impact my daily life not to have this item?
  • Is this item really worth the space it’s taking up in my closet?

Maintain a clean and organized life by focusing on cleaning out your closest. It only takes one day and these five simple steps to get your closet in shape. Store

Now that you have thoroughly edited your belongings you can take an easy inventory of what products you’ll need to efficiently store everything back in your closet. Make sure to use what you already have, and buy only what you need (no more entering the Container Store without a list!).

Set Up + Style

You’ve made it to the fun part!

Before you put everything back in your closet, consider how frequently you use each item. Everyday essentials should be stored at arm’s reach for easy access. Set up seasonal and occasional-use items at the very bottom or very top of your closet to maximize vertical space.

You can also set up a basket or tote bag in your closet for storing donations as they arise so you can easily practice the one-in, one-out rule and stay clutter-free.

Make sure to check out the full story on Apartment Therapy + our really fun closet makeover video right here.

~

ps. Right now I’m giving away my new Closet Makeover planner which teaches you how to create your ideal wardrobe! Head over to sign up and get your FREE instant download.

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My Summer Travel Capsule: Ten Days, One Carry-On

So, I’m off with the family to London and Paris for 10-days and we’ve decided to do carry-ons only. I ordered this beauty which meets all international carry-on size requirements and even has a built in phone charger! Only issue is, when it arrived, I realized getting ten outfits in this one little bag would be quite the creative challenge. I decided to stick with very neutral basics which could be mixed, matched and layered to create multiple outfits…

These nine items are wonderful staple travel pieces for any vacation. 1.Madewell Blouse // 2. Lovely Bird Fedora // 3. Adidas Stan Smiths// 4. Everlane Tank// 5. Bryr High-Heel Clogs //6. J Crew Chambray Shirt// 7. Levis Jeans //8.  Clare V Cross-Body Bag  // 9. Elizabeth Suzann Reversible  Silk Top

Here is my full packing list which should cover me for our ten-day trip and fits perfectly in my carry-on!

In My Carry-On

x6 Light Tops/Tanks: Casual and light for walking around during the day

x2 Silk Blouses: For dinners out

x1 Chambray Shirt: For layering and wearing open as a light jacket

x1 Denim Kimono Jacket: This stylish, workhorse can elevate any outfit and is compact for easy packing.

x3 Jeans: White Skinny, Blue Skinny, Blue Boyfriend

x1 High Heel Clog: Stylish, yet practical.

x1 Toiletry Case: Stocked with my everyday essentials

Note: My good friend, Hedy, taught me the joy of packing cubes which keep your suitcase neat and organized and are a huge space maximizer. I ordered these and they worked brilliantly!

For the Plane

x1 Cross-Body Bag: Lightweight and can fit money, passports, gum, mobile, and a few cosmetics.

x1 Fedora: (Too hard to pack so decided to wear!)

x1 High Waisted Leggings – Obsessed with these!

x1 Cozy Sweater

x1 Sneakers: Comfort first!

x1 Tote: For books, journal, magazines, snacks and a few games for the kids.

Be sure to bring a cute and spacious duffel on vacation.

I love that we are traveling so light but also made sure to sneak in a lightweight duffle to take home gifts and maybe a splurge or two for me! Any packing tips or strategies that are working for you? Please share in the comments below!

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My No-Stress Travel Prep Checklist

I have loved traveling since I was a little girl. I love the anticipation of new sights and adventures, and I even love packing. But prepping a family of four for an international trip requires a whole new level of planning and organization. I believe that travel doesn’t have to be overwhelming or stressful. Follow my “no-stress travel checklist” below to ensure you can relax and enjoy your next adventure.

Get a Jump Start on Packing

I like to be completely packed up (including bags for both of my girls) at least one week before taking a big trip. Start by doing all of your laundry and pulling out all apparel and accessories you want to pack on your trip. You can maximize space by rolling your clothes and using packing cubes and I always use a few ziplock bags for storing lotion, perfume, and sunscreen. You can generally pack everything in advance with the exception of cosmetics, toiletries and electronics.  By tackling this major task ahead of time you will feel cool as a cucumber and ready to roll when it’s time to take off.

Make a List of Last-Minute Items

Once you’re done packing, jot down a list of last-minute items you don’t want to forget to pack when you take off. I write these down on a notecard and pin it on my fridge. Your list might include: Snacks and perishables, medications and vitamins, toothbrushes, toiletries and cosmetics, mobile phone, computer and charging cords and a favorite toy or stuffed animal for your little ones.Get rid of the stress associated with traveling by following Shira Gill's travel prep checklist.

 

Order Currency In Advance

While many people prefer the ease of using a credit card abroad, it is always helpful to have some foreign currency available for tipping and smaller purchases. You can order currency at your local bank and it generally arrives within a few business days.

Update Passports + ID

I’ll never forget when my good friend arrived at the airport only to learn that her passport had expired and she could not travel. Don’t let this happen to you! Make sure your passports and photo ID are up to date. You may also need to order or renew passports for your kids. Note: This took a long time and a lot of paperwork so best to map out a day to tackle this one.

Line up Pet + Plant Care

A few weeks before you depart, make sure you have lined up food and care for your furry friends. It’s also helpful to see if a friend or neighbor can stop by to water your plants a few times while you are gone.Pack well and stress-free for your upcoming vacation with these great tips and ideas from Shira Gill, professional organizer.

Make a Plan for Your Mail

Make sure to pause your mail delivery through the post office or line up a friend or neighbor to bring it in regularly while you are gone.

Confirm Flights and Accommodations

An obvious one, but it always gives me great peace of mind to double confirm my flights, transfers and hotel or AirBnB reservations a week or so before I depart.

Treat Yourself!

One of my favorite things about traveling is snuggling up with a good book and a stack of my favorite magazines. I also like to stock up on gum and some treats and snacks for the plane. Whatever your pleasure, make sure to load up your carry-on a few days before so you are ready to roll!

Stay tuned for next week when I’ll be sharing how I packed for 10-Days in Europe in this tiny carry-on!

Three Easy Hacks to Keep Your Purse Organized

Purses tend to be a magnet for clutter. Even the most organized among us can end up with handbags filled with old receipts, loose change, gum wrappers, and business cards. Some of my dearest friends and clients won’t even let me peek in their bags because they are so embarrassed about the chaos lurking inside!

Maintain a clean and organized purse with these three tips from professional organizer, Shira Gill.

Fear not! Here are the three simple hacks I use to keep my own handbags organized and clutter-free:

Your Purse is Not a Storage Facility

Purses seem to become a convenient catchall for storing everything from work projects to toiletries and accessories. Not only can an overstuffed purse make it hard to find what you need when you need it, but heavy bags can also lead to chronic back and neck pain and who needs that?

Simplify your life by dumping everything out and relocating items that are not required for daily use. In my bag, I do my best to carry only my wallet, a small leather makeup bag, my keys and mobile phone (I have a separate work tote stocked for organizing and styling projects that I keep in my trunk).

Organizing your life includes keeping your purse clean and organized. Here are three tips to do so!

Group by Category

Once you have edited down to the essentials, make sure to group and store by category. All make-up, hair-ties, and beauty products should be stored together in a pouch or cosmetic bag. Money, credit and I.D. cards, cash, change, and checkbooks can all be contained in a wallet. Earbuds and chargers can be stored in a sunglass case or zip pouch for easy access. If you have young kids, try storing diapers, snacks, pacifiers, band-aids, etc. together in an oversized zip pouch like this one.

Pouches are a fantastic way to keep items organized in your purse.

The Daily Clean-Out

You’re busy, I know! But it will take you less than a minute to discard any wrappers, stray receipts, and trash that has made it’s way into your purse each day. A little daily maintenance will guarantee that you never have an overstuffed, disorganized bag to contend with.

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Video: How to Organize Your Under-Sink Storage

I recently was asked to collaborate with my friends over at Apartment Therapy on their new before/after video series. We wanted to make organizing fun, and accessible, and also provide you with all the tips necessary to transform your own spaces. Watch below to see how to transform one of the hardest working areas in your home: your under-sink bathroom storage!

So fun, right? You can check out the full story and all of my tips right here. This is one of those mini makeovers that will pack a major punch in your day to day life.

Next up: I’ll be sharing how to organize your entry closet and how to style your open storage shelves. Until then!

A Guide to Minimalist Style with Hygge

Erin Wallace is an Oakland-based designer and the founder of Hygge (with partner Lisa Fontaine). Hygge was built on the idea that an uncomplicated piece of clothing can be surprisingly modern and compulsively wearable. The company recently launched with only a single itemthis denim kimono jacket. My friend, Caitlin, who introduced me to Hygge, describes it as a magical cloak that can transform any outfit!

In this interview with Hygge founder, Shira Gill learns about minimalist style and how a single piece can change a wardrobe.

Erin and Lisa have since completed a trilogy of versatile pieces including the jacket, dress, and double gauze top. All garments are ethically produced in a woman-owned sewing studio in Oakland, California.

A talk with Hygge owner about minimalist styles and practices in life.

I was thrilled to be able to sit down with Erin and chat about her new brand, the convergence of minimalism and style, and her dramatically minimal bedroom.

Q // Why did you decide to launch your company with only a single item, the denim kimono?

Erin: I wanted a very specific jacket and could not find what I wanted in a textile I liked, or a reasonable price range, so I originally just wanted to make one for myself. It’s been really cool to see how my design has had a broader appeal than I expected. I love seeing how other women wear it – It seems to be a versatile enough garment for most shapes, sizes, and styles.

A great example of minimalist style with the Hygge kimono.

Q // You have developed a clearly defined personal style. Any advice for moms who are in a fashion rut or having a hard time knowing how to elevate their style in a practical way?

Erin: People get very used to a specific silhouette, and sometimes trying a new silhouette is a leap of faith and takes getting used to. It’s good to question your assumptions about what you can and can’t wear, and experiment with proportion, layers, and unusual combinations.  My practical advice would be let go of your old style and just move forward. Honestly, the best thing to do is not get stuck in the era where you felt most relevant. Step into your current body and situation and be open to that being different. Look around at other woman who seem put together and observe what they’re doing. Throw out the rules and try something new.

Keep your closet simple and minimal with these great tips from Hygge fashion designer.

Q// What inspires you? Favorite people or brands to follow:

Erin: Design, art, and architecture inspire my style much more than fashion. Current inspirations include this creative directorthis shop, and this blog.

Q // Any tips for maximizing a capsule wardrobe? How do you add variety and keep things fresh in your own wardrobe?

Erin:  It’s a bit of a cliche, but shoes. I’ll find a great pair of shoes and they will dictate how I will dress for an entire season. I also change my bag almost every day to add variety. I keep everything in individual pouches so I can easily transition from bag to bag. I also like to play with layers and proportions. A top layer like an open shirt dress, kimono, or jacket completes an outfit and makes it look polished.

Hygge talks with professional organizer Shira Gill about minimal pieces and capsule wardrobes. Q // Can you tell us about your very minimal bedroom? Why did you make the choice to go so minimal (Erin’s whitewashed bedroom contains only a bed and two small cubes that function as nightstands.)

My closet has always been in a different room, so my clothing was always separated from my bedroom. I wanted my bedroom to feel super calm and simple but didn’t want to do that through stuff. I like having almost nothing in my bedroom. I painted everything, including the floors, white, and my friend gave me a Tom Dixon light. The bedside tables are simple wood and acrylic cubes made by a friend. I use my phone as an alarm clock, but otherwise it’s a technology-free zone. I don’t think my laptop has ever been in my bedroom. I love it, and think my bedroom is an accurate depiction of where I’m at right now, but I know it will evolve along with me. I haven’t completely figured it out, and I’m pretty sure I never will, but I plan to enjoy it along the way.

Keep your closet simple and organized with these great style tips from Hygge.

Thank you, Erin!  I love the idea that you can completely transform and update your wardrobe just by playing with proportion and layering unusual combinations. You can check out the full Hygge collection right here. 

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Fewer Better: The Best Clean Beauty Products

I had quite the educational meeting with The Sustainability Concierge, learning how to reduce potentially harmful toxins from our home.  It was relatively quick and painless to replace our nonstick frying pans with stainless steel replacements, and ditch our plastic containers and water bottles in favor of glass and metal alternatives.

When it came to my beauty products, however, things were not so simple. I am very attached to my favorite makeup, body and hair care products, but after learning about the potentially toxic (!) and harmful ingredients that were present in many them, I decided to shop around for cleaner, greener alternatives.

I turned to Carolyn, a holistic oncology nurse practitioner and Beauty Counter consultant. Carolyn is on a mission to help people use safer, greener personal care products and learn what to look for and which ingredients to avoid.

The amount of information on this topic can be overwhelming, but Carolyn helped to keep it simple. Her key takeaways: Steer clear of  products that contain Phthalates, Parabens, and synthetic fragrances. You can also check out a full list of ingredients to avoid right here and look up any products in question on the EWG Skin Deep Database.

Shira Gill shares her favorite "eco-friendly" "green" beauty products for this summer.

Here is a round-up of my favorites so far:

(1) For super dewy, glowing skin // (2) So fresh and so clean (and a great hostess gift!) // (3) A healthy summer glow for cheeks and lips //(4) Organic infused coconut oils for hair, body, and everything else under the sun! (5) A hydrating pop of color// (6) The best multi-tasking soap for the whole family.

Want to makeover your makeup bag and help improve the cosmetics industry? Other helpful resources include:

Green Beauty Products: Beauty Counter // EO // Todos Organics // True Botanicals // RMS Beauty

General Resources: We All Deserve Better //Campaign for Safe Cosmetics //Environmental Working Group 

Books and Films: Not Just a Pretty Face //The New Puberty //Stink //The Story of Stuff

Facebook Groups: Breast Cancer Fund //Campaign for Safe Cosmetics  //Environmental Working Group