Happily Received Gifts That Won’t Become Clutter

Clutter free gifts


Here is my updated annual list of fun gifts. Many are experiential. They are also environmentally friendly, because they come with little or no packaging and usually don’t need to be wrapped.

I know, the prettily wrapped gifts above don’t really represent the content of this blog, but I couldn’t resist the colorful photo!

I’ve added some very eco-friendly/zero waste gifts, too. They are unique, beautiful and a welcome gift to Mother Earth, as well as your friends and family! Just click on the photos to find where to buy them.

Give an Experience and Foster Great Memories

  • Theater/Movie Tickets
  • Sporting Events Tickets
  • Concert Tickets
  • Museum or Zoo Memberships
  • Massage, Facial, Manicure, Pedicure
  • A night at a Hotel and/or Dinner at a Fancy Restaurant
  • Kayaking Adventure
  • Hot Air Balloon Ride
  • Bowling
  • A Round of Golf
  • Theme Park Tickets
  • Indoor Rock Climbing


Dance, Yoga, Cooking, Golf, Tennis, Snowboard, Skiing, Drawing/Painting/Pottery


Amazon Prime


Audible – audio books

Photo Book Voucher

Give the gift of creating a photo book. Blurb and Shutterfly allow you to create photo books using online tools, and then have the book printed, bound and shipped to your home address.

Family Recipe Book

Gather your favorite recipes and have them printed into a book – a keepsake that can be passed down from generation to generation.

A framed family recipe written in grandmother’s hand is a wonderful gift, as well.


Who doesn’t like something green to nurture and purify the household air?

You can give a gift card to a nursery for outdoor plants, shrubs and trees, too.

Gift Cards

Auto detailing

Car wash or oil change booklet

Dog Groomer or Pet Store

House cleaning

Lawn Care/Mowing

Home Organization

Homemade Edibles

Providing food that the recipient actually eats is the ultimate clutter-free gift.

Use glass jars with cute labels and give infused oils, pesto, jams, sauces, pickles, etc.

Give a voucher for a loaf of bread a month for a year, or a meal a week for a few weeks. The latter is perfect for new parents or someone who just moved.

Make a Donation

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Audubon and other nature oriented non-profits often send the recipient a stuffed version of the animal they are helping to protect.



Bamboo Straws  $1.50

Hundreds of millions of plastic straws are thrown away every year. They go into landfills and the oceans. Bamboo is reusable and biodegradable.

bamboo straws


Bamboo Straws

Stainless Straws  $4.95

Stainless Steel Straws

Stainless Steel Straw

Bamboo Toothbrush $4.99 

Millions of plastic toothbrushes are discarded annually.

Bamboo Toothbrush

Bamboo Toothbrush

Stainless Steel Food Containers  $12 – $30

These beauties replace the toxic waste created by plastic bags and containers.

Eco organizing

Planet Box Steel Containers

Package Free Shop Steel Containers

Food Wraps $17

These colorful, biodegradable, washable wraps are made from beeswax, tree resin and organic cotton. Use them to cover food in bowls, or wrap a sandwich. They keep food fresh and don’t add to the waste stream.

Eco organizing

Beeswax Wraps

French Press Coffeemaker – $25-$50

Use a simple, environmentally friendly coffee maker instead of those small plastic cups that aren’t recyclable.

eco organizing

French Press



Quickly Declutter These 6 Areas And Get An Instant Mood Lift – Week 4 The Laundry Room

Laundry room organization

Photo Courtesy of Elfa


It’s easy for these six areas to become pretty cluttered and messy. Decluttering and organizing them takes less than an hour, but the payoff is big. It’s amazing how good you feel when you walk into a room, open a cabinet, or climb into a car with zero clutter.

And with the holidays on the horizon, you’ll feel better about entertaining and hosting house guests.

Let’s do 1 a week for 6 weeks. Each will take an hour or less.

  1. Master Bathroom Countertop, Cabinets, and Drawers
  2. Surface of Master Bedroom Bureau and Nightstand
  3. Kitchen Spice Cabinet
  4. Laundry Room/Area
  5. Pet Clutter
  6. Car

If you missed weeks 1, 2 & 3, here are the links –

Week 1 Master Bathroom

Week 2 Master Bedroom Bureau and Nightstand

Week 3 Kitchen Spice Cabinet


Week 4   The Laundry Room


Laundry rooms are often the repository of lost and lonely clothing. Be ruthless about making decisions, no more postponing.

Take a few minutes to match the unpaired socks and pitch the solos. Laundry room organization


Assess whether or not you are really going to do repairs on clothing that is hanging around with missing buttons, holes or failing hems. How long has the long-suffering apparel been waiting? It it’s more than two months, fix them now, or let them go.

Donate or toss unraveling towels and stained stuff.

Fold and put away any clean items.


Sort and pre-treat any loitering clothing, so that it can be thrown into the washer.


Laundry room organization

Photo Courtesy of bhg.com

Recycle empty soap bottles and cleaning agents you don’t use.

Put the rest of the bottles back in the cabinet. If they live on a shelf or the top of the machines, put them on a tray, lazy susan, or in a basket. It’s more user-friendly, and it keeps any dripping goo from spreading.

Wipe the counters and machines.


Just a few minutes of organizing transforms the space, and you won’t dread doing the laundry.

Next Week #5 Pet Clutter



Quickly Declutter These 6 Areas and Get an Instant Mood Lift – Week 3 – The Spice Cabinet

It’s easy for these six areas to become pretty cluttered and messy. Decluttering and organizing them takes less than an hour, but the payoff is big. It’s amazing how good you feel when you walk into a room, open a cabinet, or climb into a car with zero clutter.

Let’s do 1 a week. Each will take an hour or less.

And with the holiday guests and family coming to celebrate, you’ll feel much more relaxed when these areas give you a jolt of pleasure and contentment.

  1. Master Bathroom Countertop, Cabinets, and Drawers
  2. Surface of Master Bedroom Bureau and Nightstand
  3. Kitchen Spice Cabinet
  4. Laundry Room/Area
  5. Pet Clutter
  6. Car

If you missed weeks 1 & 2, here are the links –

Week 1 Master Bathroom

Week 2 Master Bedroom Bureau and Nightstand

Spice Jars










Week 3   The Spice Cabinet


It’s time to lose those decaying herbs lurking in the back of your spice cabinet. We all have them – an herb you bought for a fancy recipe, but never used again, or an herb that will take you a decade to finish, because you don’t use it often.

Personally, I wish that there were more choices in the amount of an herb you can buy. Many of the bottles are too large for my needs.

Dried herbs don’t really spoil. They do lose their flavor and aroma as they age, so they don’t enhance your cooking.


Like herbs, sometimes we buy spices for a single use and never reach for them again, or we find that we don’t like their flavor.

Ground spices like cinnamon and nutmeg last six to nine months after opening, while whole spices like cloves will stay fresh for two years.  Unopened, both types last about three years.

All spices stay fresh longer when stored in airtight containers away from heat and light.  For that reason, the worst places to store them are next to the stove, oven, or windows.

Spices last a long time, but if you aren’t using some, why waste the space storing them?


Take everything out to see and assess. If your rosemary has little or no aroma, pitch it. Do the same with any other herbs that aren’t aromatic, or look very grey.

Decide if you will ever use the Indian spice mix you received as a gift. If your idea of cooking Indian food is takeout, throw it, or re-gift it.

If you have two open bottles of the same thing, combine them.

When you buy a new herb or spice, mark the purchase date on the label somewhere, or on the bottom, so you’ll know how long you’ve had it.


If all of your bottles and bags of herbs and spices are in a cabinet willy nilly, here are two options that will make them more visible.

In my cabinet, I have a 3-tier expandable spice rack and it works very well. It fits lots of bottles, and I can see them all.

Expandable Spice Shelf

If you don’t have room for a rack of some kind, corral the jars and packets in containers. Use extra plastic food storage containers, or any kind of smaller bins. Then you can pull the container out and grab the bottle you need.

Handled Spice Baskets

It will be a pleasure to put everything back, because it will feel like a new cabinet.

NEXT WEEK #4 – The Laundry Room



Quickly Declutter These 6 Areas and Get an Instant Mood Lift – Week 2

Organize master bedroom


It’s easy for these six areas to become pretty cluttered and messy. Decluttering and organizing them takes less than an hour, but the payoff is big. It’s amazing how good you feel when you walk into a room, open a cabinet, or climb into a car with zero clutter.

This week, we tackle the master bedroom nightstand and bureau. This won’t take long at all.

  1. Master Bathroom Countertop, Cabinets, and Drawers
  2. Surface of Master Bedroom Nightstand and Bureau
  3. Kitchen Spice Cabinet
  4. Laundry Room/Area
  5. Pet Clutter
  6. Car

Week 2

Your bedroom is a sanctuary. It’s a place for rest and relaxation, an escape from the day’s activities and stressors.

As you declutter, think about what you want surrounding you there.


A tottering stack of books covering your bedside table doesn’t feel restful. Take a couple of minutes to remove all the books except the one you’re reading. Find another home for them. Do the same for the pile of magazines and work-related reading.

If you usually leave your laptop and cell phone on your nightstand, try to find another place that’s not on the same plane as your head and is further away.

Laptops and cell phones emit electromagnetic field energy (EMF) and electromagnetic radiation (EMR). There isn’t any agreement on whether or not this causes harm at the levels emitted, but why not move them away from your sleeping body for 7 or 8 hours a day.

Move anything else that’s cluttering your nightstand, and that might distract you from a peaceful night’s sleep.


Take an objective look at the top of your dresser. Is it cluttered with change, receipts, socks, jewelry, nail polish, hairbands, and other flotsam and jetsam?

Clear off everything that doesn’t belong there. If you want to keep things like jewelry and change on top, find attractive holders/containers for them.

Organizing master bedroom

Photo by Better Homes & Gardens

Organizing jewelry



There are lots of jewelry boxes and jewelry hangers to choose from. Cake holders are great for displaying jewelry, too.

A porcelain bowl or pretty teacup/mug are attractive options for storing coins.



The idea is to make your nightstand and the top of your dresser aesthetically pleasing. Once you’ve cleared them of clutter, you can add things that make your senses happy – scented candle, plant, favorite photo.

At the end of the day, the feeling you want when you walk in to your bedroom is ahhhhh, not eeeeek.








Quickly Declutter These 6 Areas and Get an Instant Mood Lift


Organized Bathroom Drawer







It’s easy for these six areas to become pretty cluttered and messy. Decluttering and organizing them takes less than an hour, but the payoff is big. It’s amazing how good you feel when you walk into a room, open a cabinet, or climb into a car with zero clutter.

1.  Master Bathroom Countertop, Cabinets, and Drawers

2. Surface of Master Bedroom Bureau and Nightstand

3. Kitchen Spice Cabinet

4. Laundry Room/Area

5. Pet Clutter

6. Car

Week 1

Declutter your bathroom countertop, cabinets and drawers.

Undoubtedly, there are products you don’t use; empty bottles; expired make-up and medicine, and stray Q-tips cluttering your bathroom space.

Pull everything out, so you can see what you have. You may be a bit surprised at the number of things you’ve accumulated.

I find lots of unused samples and promotional products in clients’ bathrooms, especially the little bottles of hotel shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and soaps. It seems we just can’t resist freebies. Discard anything you didn’t choose to buy and haven’t used within a few months.


Dispose of expired medicines (both prescription and over the counter), but not in the trash. Many police and sheriff’s stations have drop-offs for pharmaceuticals. Some Walgreens and most HealthPartners pharmacies take medicines, as well. To find locations, check your county’s website or http://www.rethinkrecycling.com/


Most make-up products have a Period After Opening symbol (PAO), a guideline for when to throw them away.  bathroom declutter

The symbol has a number and the letter M. The M stands for months, so 12M means that it should be discarded after 12 months.

Eye make-up has the shortest shelf life, because it is more susceptible to microbial infection during use.

Lipstick, Concealer, Foundation, Moisturizer – 1 year

Blush – 2 years

Eyeliner Liquid – 4-6 months

Eyeliner Pencil – 2 years

Mascara – 4-6 months

Eyeshadow Cream – 6 months

Eyeshadow Powder – 2 years

Nail Polish – 2 years

Give the empty drawers and cabinets a quick cleaning before you return the items.

If you need containers to corral some of the categories of items, go to your kitchen and search your plastic container collection. Use the lidless, the oddballs, and the extras (everyone has them) for containment.

Now, enjoy walking into your bathroom!

Next week, #2 – Bedroom bureau and nightstand.






Squirrel It Away!


Fox squirrels stockpile between 3000 and 10,000 nuts a year. And guess what? They organize them by category – like with like.

The squirrels arrange their nuts using “chunking,” an oddly named cognitive strategy used to organize stuff into smaller, more manageable categories. It’s like creating subfolders on a computer in order to find things more easily.

In a study, when given nuts, the squirrels buried almonds in one area, walnuts in another, pecans in another, and hazelnuts in another. They organized their nut caches by nut type!

Their storage technique maximizes the squirrels’ ability to remember where they’ve stored their prized food. When they’re in the mood for a hazelnut, they know right where to look.

Organizing like with like not only helps you find things quickly, it also allows you to see how much you have in any given category.  For instance, put all of your pasta sauce together, so you can see how many jars you have; ditto for the noodles and everything else in your pantry. ‘Natch, you need to look in the pantry before you go shopping, or you’ll end up like me with three jars of mayo and no pasta sauce.

Guess what happens when you can’t find something, or you can’t see it?  You become frustrated searching for what you need, and then you go out and buy duplicates – waste of time, yup, waste of money, yup.

Follow the squirrels’ example, instead.  Organized nuts and fruits


Related reading — Don’t Waste Another Minute Searching for Things

How to Keep Sunk Costs from Sinking your De-cluttering


Have you ever continued to watch a horrible movie, because you’ve already invested an hour in it? That hour is a sunk cost.

Costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered are sunk costs. Watching the rest of the movie just increases your sunk cost – your time.

Most of the belongings in our homes are sunk costs, except for items like jewelry and art that may increase in value. Unfortunately, we cannot recoup the money spent on the majority of household items and clothing.

Keeping things we don’t really need or want increases our sunk costs, because there are costs involved in ownership – cleaning, maintaining, organizing, storing, moving.

Ownership = Sunk Costs
If you can accept that sunk costs are a part of ownership, it will enable you to make rational decisions about what to keep and what to release.

After all, everything has a life span, and if you’ve enjoyed having, wearing, or using something, then you’ve received your money’s worth. If you haven’t, then storing it longer still won’t bring the money back.

Does This Have Value Now?
Instead of thinking about what something cost, focus on the value it brings to your life now, or will bring in the future. If you think about whether or not something is enriching your life, it becomes easier to see the things that are weighing you down.

So try not to get stuck on the cost of that pair of tragically uncomfortable shoes you never wear. Let them go!


Cat Enforced Minimalism


I have ornamental and sentimental bric-a-brac sitting on tables and bureaus in my bedroom and bathroom. There’s not a lot of it. I believe in only keeping things that have meaning for me.

Enter Neytiri, the cat. She is a strict minimalist.

The Minimalist’s Technique


Every dawn, I would be awakened by the sound of objects being batted off my bureau, side tables, and bathroom counter – slide, stop, slide, stop, slide, stop, thunk. Neytiri wanted her breakfast.

Sometimes, there were pauses between the batting, and I would lie there waiting, irritated and almost impatient, for the thing to hit the floor. When she batted off my new prescription glasses, and my foster puppy ate them, I surrendered and scooped everything into drawers.

After a few weeks of blissfully quiet mornings, I decided to reduce the somewhat barren feeling of my bedroom and bathroom by putting a few large crystal geodes on some of the surfaces. It was a bit of a one-note decorating scheme, but the upside was that they were very heavy. I was sure Neytiri couldn’t move them far.

Humans make plans and cats unmake them. It was a much louder and longer process, but she sent every single geode over the edge – quartz, amethyst, calcite, and agate all hit the floor. Those were big thunks that jerked me awake in an adrenaline-fueled fight or flight state.


I now live with bare flat surfaces in my bedroom and bathroom – zero clutter – no dish for my rings, no candles, no framed photos, no miniatures, no toothbrush, toothpaste, or comb.

The Advantages of Minimalism

I can sleep later. Dusting takes seconds instead of minutes. Nothing gets broken or chewed. I have large, smooth surfaces on which to fold laundry. And, after an initial mourning period, I don’t miss any of the things too much. If I do, I just open a drawer and take a look.

Now, what do I do about the other cat, Romulus, whose nocturnal entertainment is opening cabinet doors and drawers in the kitchen – bang, bang, bang?

If you need a hand reducing clutter, I can help, and I’m more respectful of your belongings than Neytiri.

My Shangri-La and the Beauty of Less


       The View from the Deck

Next week, I am traveling to the family cabin on an island in Ontario, Canada.

Island’s End, named by my mother, is my Shangri-La, respite from civilization’s stressors such as traffic, schedules, and to do lists.

It’s wonderfully quiet and tranquil, and, above all, rejuvenating. I fill my days with reading on the deck, swimming, or lazily kayaking around the islands hoping to spot some wildlife.

As I was thinking about how restorative it feels, it occurred to me that it isn’t just the lifestyle, but the actual cabins and their contents that contribute to the lightness of being.

The Cabins
The buildings and most of their contents were built by the descendants of Norwegian craftsmen who emigrated to the area in the mid-1800’s. The cabins are made of local pine, as is most of the furniture. The dining tables, chairs, dressers, and side tables are all simple designs crafted by hand.

In the kitchen, the plates, bowls, glasses, and food are stored on open pine shelving, instead of behind cabinet doors.

Open Kitchen Shelves

                    Open Kitchen Shelves

There are few decorative items – some photos, prints, and a carved paddle on the walls; some rocks with fossils in them; a porcupine quill box; candles, and a dish full of Canadian change on the tables.

When I arrive, the dressers and closets are empty, so it takes 10 minutes to put my clothing away, and it’s effortless to find what I want to wear each day.

The Maintenance
None of the storage spaces are crowded, and every room has an open, airy feeling.

Cleaning is easy, because there is little to move or maneuver around and few things to dust.

It’s less work to live with fewer belongings. It’s easier to find things. Maintenance is reduced, and the simplicity of the spaces feels wonderful to me.

The Contrast
When I return to St Paul, I’m always struck by the lack of simplicity in my house. Although I keep things pretty clutter-free (and considering my occupation, would I admit otherwise?), there is a lot more stuff here than there is at the cabin. It feels closed-in and too full.

I’m struck most by how I needed very few things around me to be blissfully happy on the island. In fact, having less things in my environment was part of the bliss!

Less Stuff, Less Work, More Value

Every August on re-entry from Island’s End, I try to pare down, so my home will feel more like the cabin – less clothing, less decorative trinkets, less kitchen accessories, less of the stuff that I once thought I needed.

I want to value the things that surround me, and it feels easier to do that when there are fewer of them.

Equally important, I want to spend less time maintaining my belongings and have a smaller ecological footprint. Simplifying will achieve both goals.

But first, the island!

Wherever or whatever your utopia may be this summer, I hope it brings you everything you wish for.

How to Overcome Procrastination and Master your Organizing Projects

After five days of fireworks induced terror, my dogs are slowly returning to normal. I am rather tired from the loss of sleep and cleaning up pee, because the dogs declined to go outside where the evil was.

I must say that I would be grateful if the celebratory explosions leading up to July 4th weren’t quite as extended!

Anyway, here are some tips to get over the procrastination hurdle, so you can tackle your organizing projects.

Overcome procrastination become organized

Nowhere is the adage, procrastination is the thief of time, truer than when applied to disorganization.

Lack of organization leads to wasting time looking for, re-purchasing, and re-creating things – be it a pair of scissors you need to use, a sweater you want to wear, or a document you can’t find.

Over our lifetimes, we spend 3,680 hours or 153 days searching for things. (Esure Home Insurance Study, 2015)

Less tangible, but equally costly to our equanimity, is the stress and frustration involved.

As we all know, procrastination just multiplies the problems.


Stop thinking. Start doing.

If you are procrastinating, you are probably thinking about the project in a negative way, which inevitably makes it grow bigger and worse in your mind.

Take the first step today.

You don’t need to know how it will all unfold. Just focus on the first step.

If you need to plan a bit, that’s ok. Plan a little, then take action. Don’t get stuck on the plan.

Finish it.

Not finishing a task weighs on you. Completing one feels great and amplifies your inner power.

Before you even realize it, you’ll be transforming things and feeling very happy about it.


If you need a little help getting motivated, call me!