Gadgets That Only Do One Thing

I’ve never been a big fan of gadgets that do only one thing. I warn my clients that they are not a good use of limited space if there is another way to accomplish that same task with something you already own and which has multiple uses. But I’m (occasionally) willing to be proved wrong.

A few years ago, a childhood friend came to stay with us for a few days during the summer. It was strawberry season, and I set about washing and cutting up strawberries for our breakfast. My friend watched me use a paring knife to core and slice the strawberries (something I learned by observing my mother) and exclaimed, “What?! You don’t have a strawberry huller?” It had never occurred to me to purchase a gadget just to pull the center out of strawberries. My paring knife would do just fine.

Strawberry Huller

After she returned home, I received a little package in  the mail with a thank you note for our hospitality — and a strawberry huller. At first I bristled at the thought of the extra gadget. But when the following summer rolled around and I started buying fresh strawberries again, I truly enjoyed being able to efficiently pull out the centers! It’s a tiny gadget, and it takes up little room in the back of my silverware drawer where I keep the utensils that don’t get used every day.

Recently, I was working with a client and came across an item that was still in the packaging. It was a tool for cutting, pitting, and skinning an avocado. Specifically, it was the Oxo Good Grips 3-in-1 Avocado Slicer. The client said she didn’t want it and was willing to let it go. Did I want it? Oxo happens to be my favorite housewares brand, and we do eat avocados at my home, so I said yes.

My daughter used the avocado tool first and gave it a thumbs up. When I tried it, I had to agree with her. I had been using a Cutco curved knife for cutting avocados (very effective) and a spoon for getting the flesh out of the skin (fairly effective). But I had discovered no good way for pitting the avocado. This tool accomplished that job amazingly, plus it did the other two jobs very effectively as well.

Oxo Good Grips 3-in-1 Avocado Slicer

This tool is used several times a week, so it now has a place in the front of the silverware drawer! Luckily it lays flat, so it was easy to fit into that space along with other frequently-used utensils. It cleans up well in the dishwasher and has now become indispensable in our avocado-eating household.

I’m still suspicious of most single-use gadgets — especially ones that take up a lot of space — but I’m sold on these!

The Burden of Getting New Things

For about a year, my husband had been saying, “We really need to replace these dishes.” He was right. Our everyday plates, bowls, and cups bore numerous chips, dings, and scratches. We had broken or chipped so many cups that we barely had enough to get through a day of three people consuming various beverages.

And yet I hesitated, because I know that in my house, “we” means “me”. If I could have magically snapped my fingers and had new dishes appear in place of the old ones, that would have been great. But I knew that it wasn’t going to be that simple. First of all, I needed to decide which new dishes to get. I would probably want to see them in person, which would take time and effort (especially during a pandemic). Secondly, I’d need to figure out how to dispose of the old ones, which sounded even more burdensome. And I might have to rearrange the cabinets to make them fit, since there was no guarantee that new dishes would fit into the same spaces as the old ones.

Late last year, I had an epiphany. Why not replace our old dishes with the same set? We knew that we loved the way they looked, and I also knew that I could order them online, as I had done with several pieces over the years. The simplicity of this solution was stunning.

I got online at the Pfaltzgraff website and looked for the Winterberry pattern. Unfortunately this was right after Christmas, and the green and red Winterberry pattern is a popular one at that time of year. Nearly everything was sold out. I started browsing the other patterns, and that’s when I discovered the Filigree pattern, which was essentially an all-white version of Winterberry. I had never had all-white dishes before, as I usually like a subtle pattern, but the elegance of these dishes won me over. I measured all of our plates, spoons, and bowls, and compared them to the Filigree measurements. In most cases, they were exactly the same.

I also gave careful thought to how many dishes we needed. I had previously purchased a service for 12 back in the early 2000s. But circumstances had changed since then. Both of my parents had passed away, and I no longer hosted large family get-togethers. I really didn’t need any more than 8 of each.

Certain dishes — like soup bowls and dessert plates — had been purchased online in more recent years, and they were in better shape than the rest. I decided to keep most of those and just to replace the older dishes. I knew they would go well together because of the similarity of the styles.

I went ahead and ordered 8 dinner plates, luncheon plates, dessert plates, cereal bowls, and mugs. They arrived a few days later in several heavy boxes, and the real work began. First, I had to undo the carefully cushioned packaging and examine each piece for damage. Luckily, everything arrived in great shape. Then I had to remove the labels and put all the items in the dishwasher. (It took two loads to accommodate everything). In the meantime, I removed all of the existing dishes from the cabinets and gave the shelves a good scrubbing.

Then I had to figure out what to do with the old dishes. Many of them were destined for the garbage, as they were not in good enough shape to pass on to someone else. I couldn’t just put them all in a garbage bag, as it would be too heavy. So I stacked the throwaways in the corner and deposited two per day into the garbage, wrapped in some of the bubble plastic from the new dishes. I didn’t want the plates to shatter and end up cutting somebody.

As for the ones that were in good enough shape to give away, I reached out to someone from my local Buy Nothing group on Facebook who I knew was setting up a household from scratch. I sent her a photo and she was excited to get them. I wrapped those up securely, again using the packaging from the new dishes, and on the appointed day I transported them to the lobby of my building so that she could pick them up.

As I suspected, disposing of the old dishes (and the remaining packaging that I did not reuse) was more work than washing and putting away the new ones. But the good news is that reducing from 12 settings to 8 meant that there was more room in the cabinet, and I was able to move around some items that had been less accessible. Overall, we ended up with a better arrangement in our cabinets than we had before. And while it took me a couple of weeks to get used to dishes that had no design on them, now I love them!

As with everything I do, I saw some important organizing lessons in this experience. Before purchasing anything, give careful thought to where you will store it and what you may need to get rid of in order to have room for it. Ask yourself whether owning this new, shiny item is worth the effort that will be required. Don’t buy it unless you have figured this out beforehand. I have been to too many client homes where new items sit on the floor in the box, unused, because their purchase was not well thought out. Or other homes where old items get relegated to the top of a closet or a storage unit because there was no exit plan for them.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.”

Tricking Out My Kitchen

The more time I spend in my home, the more organized it gets. I’m continually revisiting spaces that I’ve already worked on to make them even easier to use.

Take my kitchen, for example. I’ve written about numerous kitchen projects in recent years. In Keeping A Lid on Your Pots and Pans and But I Paid So Much For It, I wrote about getting rid of pots I wasn’t using, rearranging my lower cabinets to make my pots and pans more accessible, and hanging my two most frequently-used pans on the wall.

The catalyst for my latest change was when one of my colleagues posted a picture on Facebook of the youCopia Pan & Lid 11″ Rack. This product lets you store frying pans, pot lids, and baking pans vertically so that they can easily be taken out and put back without having to rearrange everything. I had been struggling with that very issue, so I excitedly measured my cabinets and ordered it from Amazon.

While I was waiting for it to arrive, I gave some thought to the content of my lower cabinets. Ever since we got rid of the china closet in the living room (see You Have More Room Than You Think), one of my lower kitchen cabinets has been chock full of serving dishes that we rarely use. The other cabinet is one of those deep and wide cabinets that is partially a blind corner. It was actually rather spacious because we had gotten rid of so many large items in recent years.

On the day the Pan & Lid Rack arrived, I took everything out of both cabinets, scrubbed the cabinets carefully, and then started rearranging. The rarely-used serving dishes were carefully reviewed and culled, then stacked in the blind corner. The liquor that had previously been stored there was put in a better-lit spot. In the narrower cabinet, I put the Pan & Lid Rack on the bottom shelf and the pots on the top shelf. And I added one more frying pan to my wall of pans.

The Pan & Lid Rack has been working out beautifully. The baking pans that I use several times a week in my toaster oven are so easy to slide in and out. And the large pan cover that also gets used frequently is no longer taking up horizontal space and getting in the way of the pots. The slats of the rack are adjustable, so I was easily able to match the width of my items.

My three most frequently-used pans are now hanging on the wall, providing easy access. It’s such a pleasure now to cook and clean up, because it’s so easy to reach what I need and then put things away afterward. And that, my friends, is what organizing is all about. It’s not about making things look pretty and photo-worthy. It’s about making your life easier.

 

What Are You Saving It For?

Do you have clothing hanging in your closet that still has the tags on? I see this in my clients’ closets all the time. When I ask them why they haven’t worn it, they often say that they are saving it for a special occasion. It’s too nice for them to wear on just any day.

We all love getting new clothes. The best thing about new clothes — other than their newness — is that they fit the body we have right now. This is unlike much of the clothing we already own, which has stretched or shrunk — or has not kept up with us as we’ve stretched or shrunk.

So this new item of clothing — the one with the tags — is probably never going to fit you any better than on the day you bought it. Why not make it a special occasion by wearing it now?

I’m in the enviable position right now of having lost 20 pounds and needing to retire many of my pants because they are now too big. I was about to go online and buy some new pants, when I came across two pairs of pants that I had been saving as my “nice jeans”. One pair is black and the other is dark blue. They had each been worn a couple of times, but no more.

For the past few years — even before the pandemic drove us all into perpetual casual mode — I have been wearing jeans every day. Since I don’t wear jeans that are faded or torn, all my jeans are actually pretty nice. If I was going to wear something a step up from jeans, then I would dip into my selection of pants that aren’t jeans. So why was I still saving these “nice jeans”? It was time to start wearing them. And I am.

The danger in putting off wearing new clothes is that they may no longer fit you by the time you get around to wearing them. Or they may still fit you but no longer fit the times. (See my previous post What Decade Does Your Closet Reflect?)

So go ahead and wear those nice clothes. And wear that special jewelry. And use those nice dishes. And drink that good wine. Life is too short.

Small Improvements Add Up

In addition to my husband’s home office setup and my daughter’s exercise bike, both of which I wrote about recently, I’ve been making a lot of small changes to my home since the pandemic started. Some of them were as a result of the pandemic while others resulted from my having more time available to research them.

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

My new sink grid and dish drainer

We’ve been living in this apartment for over 18 years, and until recently I never had a sink grid that fits my kitchen sink. When we first moved in, I searched online for one that would fit the shape of my sink. I even searched the website of the sink manufacturer, but to no avail. So I bought a small one at the local housewares store and we lived with it for many years, even though was not a good fit.

Last year I admired the sink grid at a client’s home and made a mental note to finally find one for my kitchen. When the pandemic hit, I had plenty of time to sit at home and look all over the internet for the perfect sink grid. I bought one from Wayfair that was made by my sink manufacturer. It was a good fit lengthwise but could have been wider. I spent even more time on the Wayfair website looking at every sink grid that was in the right shape (sort of oval at the top) and with the drain hole in the right place. I ended up in communication with the excellent customer service people at Wayfair, who found me the perfect sink grid. It makes me so happy when I walk in the kitchen and see it!

Then it was time to turn my attention to the dish drainer, since the one we had was no longer meeting our needs. Again, having a slower schedule allowed me to spend a lot of time searching for the right combination of size and features. Then I had to search for a tray to go under it. Until the items arrived from Amazon, I really had no idea if they would work. But they do, and we love how much more functional it is than our old one.

Simple Human garbage can and recycling bin

The last improvement I made in my kitchen was inspired by a client. We worked a lot on his kitchen via Virtual Organizing during the pandemic. When we at last resumed on-site sessions, I suggested that he get a two-compartment garbage/recycling bin, made by Simple Human, for his small kitchen. He did, and I loved it so much that I bought one for my kitchen, too. We use both of the compartments for recycling (plastic in one, paper in the other). It makes a wonderful complement to my garbage can, also from Simple Human.

Hanging Around

Command™ Clothes Hanger hooks in action

When nearly everything in New York City shut down and I stopped going to see clients, I often didn’t go out of the house except to walk my dog or visit the supermarket around the corner. As a result, I found myself wearing the same outfit for several days in a row. For convenience, I added two Command™ hooks on the outside of my closet door so that I could hang the outfit overnight. I have different size Command™ hooks all over my house, but for this I chose the Command™ Clothes Hanger hooks. They are designed to each hold 7 metal hangers and up to 7.5 pounds, so when I stop using them for this purpose, their versatility will enable me to get other uses out of them.

I made another discovery while doing Virtual Organizing. When working with a client via FaceTime on my iPhone, it worked well to stand my iPhone on my desk leaning against my monitor stand, and to use my wireless AirPods. However, if the session went on for a long time, my AirPods would lose their juice and I would have to use my wired headphones. Since the headphone jack is at the bottom of the iPhone, that made it hard to stand up the phone. I could flip it upside down or sideways, but the result was awkward.

So I purchased an iPhone stand that had a space underneath the phone cradle and would enable me to plug in headphones or a power cord. The stand rotates so that I can adjust the angle of the phone, and it also telescopes to a longer length if I need the phone to be higher. I leave it in the stand even if I’m not on FaceTime because it’s so handy.

All of these small changes add up to a big improvement in utility and convenience in my home.