10 Decluttering Projects You Can Do in 15 Minutes or Less

Try these ideas to get organized at home one small step at a time

By Laura Gaskill | Courtesy of Houzz.com

Let’s face it: Clearing clutter doesn’t usually top our list of fun things to do. Sure, the joy of a clutter-free space is something we can all get behind, but finding the time (and the motivation) to make it happen is quite another matter. That’s where quickie clutter clearing comes in. Instead of waiting for that mythical perfect storm of ample time, energy and motivation to appear (spoiler alert — it’s not coming), why not take the reins and decide to make progress, one tiny project at a time? Here are 10 easy places to begin. Ready, set, start that timer.

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1. Food Storage Containers

Open up that messy Tupperware drawer and pull everything out. Match up the containers with their lids (check the dishwasher too) and toss or recycle mate-less pieces. Stack everything up neatly and return it to the drawer or cabinet. Use the dimensions of this space as a physical limit and give away containers that won’t fit comfortably in the space available.

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2. Fridge Door Condiments

Unload the whole sticky mess onto the kitchen counter. Check expiration dates and toss out anything past its prime — as well as any condiments you bought but did not like. Wipe the bottoms of the containers with a damp sponge before returning them to the fridge. If you want to be extra-organized about it, put sweet condiments on one shelf and savory condiments on another.

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3. Utensil Jar

Check out that crock of utensilsnear the stove — are all the pieces in it tools that get daily (or near-daily) use? Do you really need all those spatulas? Take everything out of the jar and put back only the items you reach for often. If there are tools you want to keep but don’t need to access daily, move them to a different spot. The prime real estate nearest your stove should be reserved for true essentials.

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4. Pen Cup

First, scoop up all the pens and pencils that are not actually in the pen cup, but instead are strewn randomly around the kitchen counter, dining table and any other flat surface in the area. Once you’ve gathered them all in one place, grab a blank sheet of scratch paper and start testing. Toss out pens that are out of ink and put your favorites back in the pen cup. 

If you have 5 million pens and pencils (joking … sort of), set them aside to donate. Many school districts and some nonprofit organizations are happy to receive donations of office supplies in good condition.

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5. Sock Drawer

Open up that drawer and pull out all the socks and tights. Match up pairs, and inspect each set for holes and worn areas. Fold the sets that have mates and are in good condition, and return them to the drawer. Bring the mate-less socks to the laundry area and check for mates before giving up on them.

When you’re done, toss all mate-less socks, as well as any socks or tights with holes, into a bag to bring to your local clothing recycling donation bin (search “textile recycling drop-off” and your city to find a bin near you).

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6. Shower Products

Pull all the products out of your shower and place them on the sink. Recycle the empty bottles and move infrequently used items to a drawer or cabinet. Have some products that you tried but didn’t like? Give it away or take it back. Depending on the store, you may still be able to get a refund — otherwise, pour out the product and recycle the container. Yes, it’s a waste, but letting a product you’re never going to use take up valuable space in your shower isn’t helping anyone. When you’re done, place your favorite everyday products back in the shower.

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7. Laundry Supplies

Check your laundry room for empty bottles of detergent and stain remover, and put these in the recycling bin. Put random items pulled from pockets where they belong. Straighten up the remaining supplies and wipe the counter clean.

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8. Dish Towels

Dish towels seem to get ratty when we’re not looking. Pull out all your dish towels and inspect them. Fold and put away the ones in good condition, and set aside the others to bring to a textile recycling bin or to cut up for use as rags. But don’t go overboard on the use-them-as-rags thing — there are only so many rag towels we really need, and then it’s just creating more clutter.

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9, Magazines and Catalogs

Gather up all your magazines and catalogs in a pile. Go through the stack, one by one, setting aside current issues that you still want to read, and recycle the rest. If there is an article you want to save, cut it out — or (if you really want to reduce paper clutter) check if the same content is available online and bookmark it instead of saving a paper copy.

10. Entryway Drop Spot

Put pocket change in a cup, recycle junk mail, hang up coats and put away any items that have migrated here from other areas of the house. If there are library books or other items waiting to be returned, take a moment to carry them out to the car so that they’re ready and waiting (and not cluttering up your entryway).

6 Habits to Reduce Clutter at Home This Year

It’s time for out with the old, in with the new — and that’s true for how you handle household papers and possessions

By Patricia Lee | Courtesy of Houzz.com

Is maintaining a neater, more organized home part of your New Year’s resolutions? Then try changing a few home habits to help keep clutter at bay. I’ve found there are a dozen simple habits that can help you keep your home tidy. In this story, we’ll look at the first six. 

Since new practices take time to stick, I recommend you try one new habit each month. That way, you can get in a good rhythm before adding a new one. Feel free to tackle any one of these habits first as the order that you do them in is up to you. By the end of the year, you’ll have a whole new decluttered way of life!

Photo by    kaboompics

Photo by kaboompics

1. Last year: You stacked your magazines for reading later. 

This year: Recycle publications you haven’t read after two weeks. If you’ve kept a magazine for that long and haven’t cracked it, there’s a good chance you won’t get to it before the next issue arrives. You can recycle these magazines without guilt, keeping in mind that you won’t get more of “your money’s worth,” as the catchphrase goes, by cluttering up your valuable space with stacks of unread magazines.

Photo by    sabinevanerp

Photo by sabinevanerp

2. Last year: You kept papers and receipts in your wallet or purse until it was ready to burst.

This year: Empty your wallet and purse of receipts, business cards, extra tissues daily. And while you’re at it, form a habit of checking your pockets when you remove that item of clothing. If you don’t want to lose important papers among the grocery receipts, this is a good habit to adopt. Simply recycle, shred or file, as appropriate.

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3. Last year: You tossed mail on the table and let it pile up for days.

This year: Sort through mail as soon as it enters your home. Even if you’ve switched most of your documents to paperless, marketing materials such as store mailers, local real estate flyers and supermarket circulars still seem to make their way into our physical mailboxes. To stay ahead of a pileup, sort on the same day that you bring mail into your house. Deal with these items right away: Recycle, shred, file or scan.

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4. Last year: You kept unwanted toiletries until they were clearly past their prime. 

This year: Multitask while you are brushing your teeth and take a quick assessment of your toiletries drawer. Discard any items that have expired or that you realistically will never use again. If you don’t love that lipstick color, chances are you won’t suddenly change your mind. It serves no purpose for you to hang on to it — even if it was expensive. 

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5. Last year: You kept gifts that you didn’t need and wouldn’t use out of guilt. 

This year: Donate, exchange, return or sell gifts that you don’t love or need. My sister-in-law is a great example of following this habit, and she has done so with gifts I’ve given her that missed the mark. Though I usually put a lot of thought into picking gifts, sometimes I just don’t get it right. When she decides not to keep my gift, I’m not offended. She knows I am well-meaning, and in turn, I wouldn’t want her to keep something she doesn’t like. Plus, because she’s honest with me, I know her better and have become more spot-on with my gift giving. Actually, that’s a good reason to be honest: If you feign love of a gift when you actually don’t love it, you may receive more of the same in the future!

Gifts that don’t come with a gift receipt may still be accepted by retailers in exchange for store credit, though frequently for the current price, which may be lower than what the gift giver paid for it. Clothing, toys and household goods can be donated to nonprofits or sold at a local consignment store.

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6. Last year: You earmarked unwanted items for family and friends, assuming they would want your things.

This year: Send photos first and ask if they actually want or need those items. It’s not uncommon to declutter and want to pass on your beloved items to family and friends. But consider why you are doing this. Is it because you think they will really love it, or because it is worth a lot and you would feel less guilty giving it away if someone you know could enjoy it? Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, notes that giving your items to friends and family may be your way of avoiding those feelings of guilt and could even be burdensome for the receiver. So ask first. 

If they do want your item, be sure it is picked up within a reasonable amount of time; otherwise, your decluttering effort is defeated. I’ve had friends say they want my items, only to forget about them for a couple of months, indicating to me that they really didn’t love them in the first place. Then I know that I can go ahead and donate or sell it.

Are You a Fan of Pantone’s 2019 Color of the Year?

Living Coral is bold and bright. Here are places to consider using it indoors and out

By Jennifer Ott December 6, 2018 | Couresty of Houzz.com

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Color management company Pantone Color Institute announced its pick for Color of the Year for 2019, and it’s an eye-popping orange-pink hybrid called Living Coral. My initial reaction to Living Coral was that I prefer this color in the natural world and not in my home or wardrobe. But I do appreciate its boldness, so I set out to find successful uses of the new “it” color on Houzz.

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Pantone describes Living Coral as “an affable and animating shade whose golden undertone gives it a softer edge.” I don’t find Living Coral particularly soft, and if I’m going this bold to decorate a client’s home, I prefer a true orange or even a hot pink. But if you’re loving this trendy color, here are seven places to use it in your home and yard.

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1. Textiles. An easy way to integrate and play with a bright color in a room is to start small and simple, such as with accent pillows and throws.

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These pieces offer a dash of color that isn’t overwhelming, and they aren’t a big commitment since they are affordable enough to swap out down the road if you get tired of the color.

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2. Decorative accents. If you want to take things a bit further with Living Coral, think about sprinkling it in a few small areas throughout a room via artwork, floor or window treatments, or side tables or other small pieces of furniture.

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It’s a small amount of a big color, so this application doesn’t look too busy. By dispersing the color, you draw the eye all around the room.

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3. Furniture. If you want to go bolder, consider larger, more statement-making coral-colored furniture. Now I would never advise someone to decorate with a color simply because it has been deemed fashionable, but having your favorite color become trendy means it will be easier to find all manner of items in that hue.

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So if you are a big fan of bright coral and want to decorate with it, 2019 will be your year to stock up on home furnishings.

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4. Accent wall. Ready to go really bold with Living Coral? Painting one or two walls in a saturated coral is a great way to pack a punch with this color.

Just think about keeping the other wall or walls light and neutral, especially if you are using this color as an accent in a bedroom. Too much of this hue could start to feel busy and anxiety-inducing, in my opinion.

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5. Architectural accent. Because Living Coral is such a striking color, it can be called into service to bring attention to interesting architectural elements in your home.

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Whether using it on a beautiful built-in desk and bookcase or in a cool and contemporary stairway, go bold to make it stand out. Keep in mind that if you attempt to make everything in a room stand out, then nothing does. So use the vivid hue thoughtfully on only those elements worth the attention.

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6. Outside. A smart way to use a vibrant color that you love without knocking yourself or your guests over the head with it is to take it outside to furniture or accessories.

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Because of the abundance of natural light during the day (or the forgiveness of darkness at night), outdoor areas can take vivid color more easily than indoor rooms, especially dark or cramped indoor spaces that can feel claustrophobic when decorated with intense colors.

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7. Front door. One of my favorite places to use a daring color is on the front door. The kinetic corals in this photo and the next one are energetic and inviting. To me, this is the best use of the lively hue — to welcome visitors to your home.

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Let Holiday Gatherings Inspire Your Kitchen Remodel

As you host guests this season, consider 6 ideas that could make your kitchen more comfortable for entertaining

Sean Lewis December 18, 2018 | Courtesy of Houzz.com

If you’re considering a kitchen remodel, the holidays can be a great time to think about the features you’d like to include. With parties and family gatherings happening more frequently this month, people may be filling your kitchen. As they do, I encourage you to pay attention to what’s working in your space and what is not. Perhaps jot down some notes that can help you start a remodeling wish list. 

In my experience, I know you can change a kitchen in a number of ways, both big and small, to make it more inviting for guests. Here are four strategies you might consider for a future remodel — plus a couple of smaller projects to consider for the near-term if you want a quicker, less expensive upgrade. Which improvement would you most like to see in your kitchen?

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Projects to Consider in a Kitchen Remodel

1. Create out-of-the-way seating. 
Lounge seating is great for keeping guests comfortable and out of the way when you’re cooking, so consider adding a window seat or sofa. While many kitchens have bar stools, lounge seats are more comfortable, and lower seats are easier for elderly guests to use. Built-in seating can also include storage for pots or platters. This kitchen window seat feels inviting with its bright cushions and garden view. 

Adding a lounge seat to a window, such as the one in this remodel by Koffka Phakos Design, could be a way to enhance your kitchen for guests without investing in a full remodel. Or it could be a good project to consider as part of a larger kitchen remodel down the road. 

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2. Design your kitchen around a fireplace, or add one. Is there anything cozier than a crackling fire at a family holiday? If you are expanding your kitchen into another room or even building a new home, consider including a fireplace in the kitchen, as in this project by Barbara Gisel Design. We always light fires in our living room during winter parties, but it’s not enough to draw the crowds; everyone still hangs out in the kitchen. If a new fireplace is not an option for your renovation plan, try to open sight lines to a hearth in another room that has one.

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Alternatively, a wood-burning stove gives even more warmth than a fireplace and can be installed at a much lower cost. Some wood stoves can also be used for cooking or keeping a dish warm. Kitchen & Bath Gallery worked on this project.

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3. Install glass-front cabinets or open shelves. Keeping dishes and barware in glass-front cabinets is a great way to make guests comfortable because it makes it easier for them to find items without having to ask. Guests will also feel more comfortable helping to unload the dishwasher if they can see where dishes go, and who doesn’t like help with that? The glass cabinet doors in this kitchen by Airy Kitchens bring more color to the room by displaying colorful china.

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4. Build in convenient garbage and recycling areas. It’s so annoying when you’re trying to do dishes at a party where the garbage is under the sink, and you constantly have to move every time a guest needs to throw out a napkin. Although you do want to keep garbage near the sink, try to place it where guests can easily access it without blocking the sink, stove or dishwasher. Try locating garbage and recycling near the end of your island or peninsula so guests don’t have to enter your work zone. This Studio Dearborn kitchen has a convenient trash station that also keeps paper towels easy to see and grab — key if there are spills at your party!

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Projects to Consider Without a Full Remodel

5. Create a coffee station. 
Make it easy for overnight guests to rise and shine while you sleep in by having all the coffee and tea in one spot (with labels) so people can fend for themselves. This way, if you’re busy cooking pancakes, guests can feel comfortable brewing a second pot of coffee. A coffee bar is a great built-in to consider when renovating, but this useful station can also be set up in an existing kitchen using a piece of furniture like a hutch, as shown in this Edmondson Interiorsproject, or even a console table.

6. Install speakers and dimmers. A bright and quiet kitchen may be ideal for the everyday, but parties are quite the opposite. Lights are dimmed, and music gets turned up. Dimmers are easy to install, and they give good ambience for a party. This Shaker Kitchen Co. kitchen has a nearby television and speakers, so guests and cooks can keep their eye on the game while hanging out in the kitchen.

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This open-plan kitchen by Signature Custom Homes — connected to a dining area and living area — features built-in speakers in the ceiling. Although it’s easier to install these during a remodel, it’s not too difficult to add them to an existing kitchen. Consider hiring an acoustical consultant to help figure out the best places to install speakers. Using built-in speakers throughout your entertaining areas allows you to play music more quietly and still hear it in different rooms (rather than having it too loud in one room and too quiet in another).

10 Ways to Decorate With Christmas Lights

Use these techniques to light up your house and garden for the holiday season

By Lauren Dunec Hoang  | Courtesy of Houzz.com

As anyone who has untangled a snarled string of lights or come up 5 feet short on the roofline can attest, the process of hanging holiday lights is more complicated than it looks. A satisfying result depends both on having the right products on hand as well as proper installation. Let us help take the guesswork out of your holiday light setup this year with tips from lighting professionals, including tricks for hiding cords, the best lights for tree-wrapping and how to evenly hang lights along the eaves of your home.

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1. Wrap shrubs. Adding just a few lights to the landscape can make a big difference in making the garden an inviting place to walk through or gaze at. In this walled garden in Manchester, England, a pair of clipped shrubs wrapped with white lights makes a lovely entrance to a garden room.

Get the look: To evenly cover outdoor shrubs, pick up “net lights,” which have bulbs distributed over a square or rectangular lattice of cords. Energy-efficient LED net lights often have a more true-white or bluish-white color than those with incandescent bulbs. Read the packaging to be sure the netting is large enough to wrap all the way around your shrubs.

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2. Deck out your front porch. This front porch in Atlanta — done up with festive garlands, strings of lights and a Santa figurine — looks lavishly festive without being overwhelming.

Get the look: Concentrating outdoor decorations in a single area, such as the entryway or a garden bed, can be a great way to go all out with holiday exuberance without turning your front yard into Disneyland. 

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3. Showcase trees. Gardens this time of year are primarily quiet. Highlight the branch structure of deciduous trees by wrapping the trunk and individual branches with white lights. Choose a single tree as a specimen, or illuminate a cluster of trees for greater impact.

Pro tip: To get the professional look in this photo, Ryan Morici of Heritage Oaks Landscaping recommends swapping regular holiday lights for LED mini lights to save on power consumption. “The LED lights allow you to use many more lights per circuit versus the incandescent lights,” Morici says.

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4. Line a pathway with luminarias. Welcome guests this year with an enchanting walkway lined with glowing luminarias. 

Get the look: You can purchase luminarias or make your own with paper bags weighted with a handful of sand at the bottom. If you’re thinking of a large display, gather some helpers to place tea lights in each one — or use battery-powered candles — and light just before guests arrive.

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5. Hang snowflakes. Trade traditional string lights for a set with glittering snowflakes. Hang them where they have room to stand out, such as just below the eaves or along large branches of a tree in the front yard.

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6. Illuminate potted branches. You may not have small trees or shrubs to wrap with lights along driveways or paved entryways. But you can light up container plantings instead.

Get the look: Pick up branches from the backyard or a florist, and set them upright in containers filled with sand or gravel. Wrap the branches with lights of your choosing, and use conifer trimmings to hide the plugs and containers.

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7. Add magic to snowy landscapes. Lights twinkling like tiny stars hovering over a snowy garden are just about as magical as it gets. To mimic stars overhead, wrap branches that overhang garden walkways or beds to create a softly lit canopy.

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8. Light up a treehouse. As if a backyard treehouse weren’t magical enough, this one is fully decked out for Christmas. A Houzz favorite for the past few years — with good reason — the treehouse was built by a Dallas couple, with the help of an architect, to give their grandchildren a place for imaginative play. 

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9. Highlight a wreath. If you already have landscape lighting that washes a wall with light, use this as an opportunity to hang a holiday wreath or swag. Weave string lights into the wreath or simply leave it as is — either way looks classic and understated.

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10. Outline the eaves of your home. Perhaps the most classic style, perimeter lighting along a home’s eaves and roofline creates an inviting arrival. Pelham McMurry from Light Up Nashville shares these tips for getting a professional look at home:

  • Upgrade your lights. “Even the most expensive sets of LED lights at box stores are cheap-quality,” McMurry says. “Commercial-grade LED lights purchased from specialty retailers is the way to go if you don’t want to repurchase your lights year after year. Quality lights cost more, but in the long run, you’ll save time, frustration and money by not having to repurchase every year.” To get those perfectly straight lines, where every bulb seems exactly aligned with the next one, attach lights to your trim with commercial-grade clips.

  • Consider a professional. “There are many reasons to hire a professional to install your holiday lightings, but maybe the most important is safety,” McMurry says. To avoid the risk of falling from a ladder or slipping on an icy roof, consider hiring a local lighting professional.

12 Halloween Decor Ideas to Scare and Delight

Gather inspiration for your seasonal style with these spooky tricks and treats

By Gwendolyn Purdom Courtesy of Houzz.com

Getting dressed up for Halloween is hardly limited to people and pets. Decking out your home with jack-o’-lanterns, spiderwebs and other creepy decor details can be just as fun as getting your little pirates and witches in costume this time of year — and often easier. Here’s a goody bag of our favorite tips and inspirations.

1. A Gothic Glow

Part Phantom of the Operaand part haunted house, a cluster of flickering candles sets an instantly spooky scene. To get the most wow for your wicks, combine tapered candles of varying heights and thicknesses all in the same color (white is classic, black a notch more mysterious). If you don’t have an appropriately unnerving candelabrum or individual candleholders handy, a heatproof tray or platter should do the trick as a base. Keep the candles in place with a dab of candle adhesive to bond each candle directly to the display surface.

Decorator beware: Candles packed together like this mean more heat and more danger if they aren’t monitored closely. Never leave the candle arrangement unattended, and if you have young kids or pets nearby, flameless candles will likely be a safer bet.

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2. Spooky Specimens

Going for Mad Scientist Chic? A collection of classic candy dishes goes from sweet to sinister when you swap out the gumdrops for snakes and spiders. Stock up on rubber critters in the toy aisle and show off your specimens on a mantel or as a chilling centerpiece. Bonus points for (gently) knocking one over so it looks as if the creepy crawlies are on the move.

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3. Freaky Foliage

Fall color palettes go beyond oranges and reds. Plant an unexpected jolt of black blooms or foliage in the yard or your front porch container garden to keep things feeling haunting but not over the top. Fall is a great time to plant the perennial black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) shown here, for instance. It adds visual interest, texture and a contrasting backdrop for the pumpkins.

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4. Trick-or-Treat-Ready Front Door

The warm wood door that Boston design firm JS Interiors found at a Maine salvage company combined with frosted-glass star lanterns, a friendly Halloween doormat and three pretty pumpkins makes for a well-appointed, well-lit entryway to welcome candy-seeking boys and ghouls.

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5. Color-Coordinated Candles

Make these cute candy-corn-inspired candles yourself or just use the iconic sugary fall treat as color inspiration. An array of glowing orange, white and yellow candles gets across the same sweet and seasonal idea.

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6. Orange-Free Zone

Some design-minded homeowners may shy away from Halloween decor for fear of overdoing it on the orange. But black, gray and silver accents, like the paper skull garland, tombstone and candles on display here, feel just as holiday-ready without all the intensity of the season’s dominant shade.

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7. Eerie Terrarium

You don’t have to be crafty to give planters or terrariums you already have an unsettling Halloween upgrade. A handful of moss, faux cobwebs or a flameless candle or two can evoke a Halloween feeling without sacrificing style. Or, if you’re up to it, you can build your own seasonal terrarium from scratch.

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8. Words of Warning

There’s a way to get into the holiday spirit without turning your yard into a parade of zombies and ghosts. Why not have some fun guiding visitors to the door with a not-so-threatening warning written with vinyl decals? Similar messages could work in the window or on the front door too. 

Want to make things even scarier? Throw in a terrifying guard dog, like the one shown here. (Just kidding, that pup’s adorable.)

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9. Gourd Goals

With the autumn-tastic art above the mantel, the bold candleholders and the eclectic pile of pumpkins spilling from the fireplace, this whimsical scene gives an example of how to take your Halloween decor in a more playful direction. And by using painted pumpkins instead of carved ones, the homeowners also saved themselves a lot of time, effort and goop.

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10. Taking Flight

With a little creativity, the Houzz user’s garage door shown here went from wasted space to an unexpected canvas for a colony of bats. With the help of stick-on vinyl decals, yours could too.

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11. Sophisticated Scares

You might as well think about your mantel as a little art gallery for you to curate. These homeowners in Brooklyn, New York, took that concept and filtered it through a sophisticated Halloween lens. Clean white gourds, a bouquet of black ostrich feathers, a faux crow and a cloche jar filled with seasonal root veggies capture an easy-to-replicate fall feeling with a dash of grown-up Halloween scares.

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12. Rethinking the Definition of Decor

Sure, candy corn is great by the handful and fall leaves signal the season in the yard, but they can make for great home accents too. Display the colorful corn in a pretty glass vase, thread the best leaves you rake up into a festive garland, and keep an open mind when it comes to other autumn staples and how you might be able to repurpose them around the house.

Five Ways to Ease into Back-to-School Routines

By 425 staff | September 10, 2018 | Courtesy of 425magazine.com

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It’s tough to get kids back in a routine after long summer days, late nights, sleeping in, and loose schedules. Here are some tips for the whole family to get back into the September school groove.

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Use A Family Calendar

It is difficult to keep track of it all — and each other. Find a family communication system that works for your family. It can be an old-fashioned paper calendar everyone can write on, or an app like Cozi Family Organizer. In addition to keeping track of schedules, it also features to-do lists, family journals, and shopping lists!

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Check Homework First

Check backpacks when everyone gets home, and encourage kids to do homework as soon as they get home, while enjoying a healthy snack. The sooner homework is done, the better for everyone’s sanity. It’s tough to do homework when everyone is tired. Now put that prepped backpack by the door for tomorrow morning.

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Plan Dinners

It’s tough to get a healthy meal on the table with all that homework help, after-school activities, and your own work schedule. We get it. To make life easier, try meal prepping over the weekend. Cut veggies and fruits, boil eggs, and bake chicken breasts, all building blocks for meals later, or quick snacks. Utilize your slow cooker — and dinner can be done before you walk in the door! Not a planner? Maybe it’s time to invest in a new and improved pressure cooker to speed up the process.

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Get Ready at Night

If you pick everyone’s outfits out the night before, pack lunches, get backpacks and computer bags ready, and have shoes by the door, your morning will be a lot better. And you will have more time to deal with everything that is bound to still go wrong, because, well, mornings.

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Go To Sleep

If you hope the kids are sleeping at 8:30 p.m., make sure they are ready for bed at 7:30 p.m. — getting to actual sleep might take longer than you hope, and unwind time is essential. Plus, this gives more time to read some books, or talk about whatever is on their minds.

10 End-of-Summer Cleanup Tips for Outdoor Spaces

Roll up your outdoor rugs, take down the string lights and plant those bulbs before it gets too cold

By Leslie Reichert  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com

You’ve hopefully had a glorious summer with plenty of vacations and day trips to parks and beaches. But fall is just around the corner and it’s time to get ready for the change. Here are 10 cleanup tips to help preserve your outdoor spaces through the winter so they will be ready to go when the warm weather returns.

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1. Clean and Protect Wood Decking

September is a great time to clean your outdoor wood decking before bad weather hits. First, remove all the furniture from the area and use a leaf blower to remove all large dirt and debris. Then, fill up a large bucket with warm water and just a few drops of gentle dish detergent. Using a scrubbing brush or a brush attached to a long wand, scrub the deck. Rinse with a hose and let the deck completely dry. Finally, most wood decks require a coat of wood sealer every other year to protect it from water damage and the sun — so your deck might be due for a coat.

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2. Store Outdoor Rugs

Don’t plan on leaving your outdoor rugs outside for the winter season. After you’ve removed them to clean the deck, roll them up and put them in storage for the colder months. This will protect them from the weather and also protect your deck from being damaged by the extra moisture that may build up underneath the rug.

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3. Clean and Store Outdoor Furniture Cushions

At the end of the summer, the fabric covers on your outdoor furniture should be washed, dried and stored in a protected storage unit, such as a shed, basement or garage. 

You should wash removable outdoor furniture fabric in a washing machine on cold-water setting. Add a small amount of detergent and use the permanent-press setting on your washer if you have it. Once washed, let the covers air dry to avoid shrinkage.

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4. Remove and Store Outdoor Lighting 

Don’t make the mistake of leaving your outdoor string lights up all winter. The odds are great that the bulbs and wiring will get damaged by wind, ice and snow. Take the time to wrap them up and store them until next spring.
 

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5. Clean and Maintain Gas Grills 

Plan to give your grill a thorough cleaning at the end of the summer. Remove all the pieces that could be contaminated with food and grease and empty and clean the drip tray. Once the grill is clean, check to make sure your grill cover is free of holes and rips. Cover the grill and tie down the base so the cover isn’t damaged by the wind and weather. Make sure the propane tank is in the “off” position and the supply line is disconnected from the grill.

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6. Clean Outdoor Showers 

If you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor shower, it likely got a lot of use during the summer but was rarely cleaned. Take the time to clean every inch of the shower with a large bucket of warm water and just a few drops of gentle dish detergent. 

Friendly reminder: If you live in a climate where temperatures drop below freezing, remember to schedule the water to your outdoor shower to be turned off in October. You don’t want to deal with frozen pipes this upcoming winter.

7. Hot Tub Maintenance

If you’re also lucky enough to have a hot tub, it’s important that you keep it clean and the chlorine level balanced on a regular basis. But making sure the water is clean and disinfected is only half the battle. You should also use a Mr. Clean magic eraser to remove the film and rings above the interior wall’s waterline so you don’t contaminate the water with dirt and excess cleaning chemicals.

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. Clean the Garage 

September is the best time to get your garage ready for the colder winter months. While the weather is still nice, empty the entire garage and sweep it out completely. It’s a good time to check the floors for oil and gas spills and use a specialized cleaner to get those spots removed.

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9. Front Walkway Upkeep 

If you were busy traveling or hitting the beach all summer, you may have neglected your front walkway. Spend a few minutes giving it a cleaning. Start by removing everything from the front stoop and give it a good sweeping. Make sure to check for cobwebs around light fixtures.

Crabgrass loves this time of year, so it might be a good idea to do some weeding. Take a few minutes with a bucket and your gardening gloves to pull out the weeds and grass that have sprung up on your walkway. Those few minutes will make your walkway look more welcoming to guests.

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10. Think Spring and Plan Ahead

If you have a few minutes, purchase some bulbs to add some extra color to your front walkway or garden. Now is the time to get them in the ground so you can enjoy their colorful blooms next spring.

Clear the Air: A Guide to Indoor Air Purifiers

Get the lowdown on air filtration systems for your house — and what to do if you are affected by wildfire smoke

By Laura Gaskill  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com

If you have allergies or asthma, or are sensitive to pollution, you may have considered purchasing an air purifier to clean the air inside your home. When wildfires burn, even 100 miles away, even those without specific health concerns think about ways to improve indoor air quality. 

With so many types of filtration systems on the market (and prices ranging from $100 to nearly $1,000), it can be hard to know where to begin. Check out this quick guide to home air purifiers to figure out which are worth the cost.

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Why use an air purifier? Indoor air pollution comes from a combination of particulate matter (dust, mold, pet dander and particles from smoke and cooking stoves) and gaseous pollutants (vehicle exhaust, smoke and chemical fumes) and can be far worse than the pollution outside, simply because it has no way to dissipate. 

Those who suffer from asthma or allergies can be especially sensitive to air quality, and using an air purifier could be helpful, together with other methods of keeping out pollution and allergens.

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Purify your home, not just the air. Air purifiers can do wonders for removing particulate matter from the air; the problem is that dust, pet dander and the like don’t stay in the air for long. Allergens drift to the ground and become embedded in rugs and soft furnishings — places an air purifier cannot reach. A combination approach will reduce indoor air pollution and allergens more than any one method alone. Here are a few strategies to try:

  • Remove wall-to-wall carpeting; go for easy-to-clean hard flooring and washable area rugs.
  • Vacuum and dust with a microfiber cloth regularly.
  • Ban smoking in and around the house.
  • Do not use a fireplace.
  • Do use the exhaust fans over the stove and in the bathroom.
  • Establish a no-shoes policy.
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What to do if you are affected by wildfire smoke. Depending on wind direction and other atmospheric conditions, smoke from wildfires can drift 100 miles or farther from the source of the flames. If you are affected by wildfire smoke (but not in an evacuation area), the Centers for Disease Control recommends staying indoors when possible, with windows, doors, and fireplace dampers closed. Here are a few more things you can do:

  • Use your central air-conditioning system if you have one, but keep the fresh air intake closed to prevent smoke from getting inside.
  • Clean or replace the HVAC filter more frequently as long as you are experiencing smoky conditions.
  • Cut down on activities that contribute to indoor air pollution, including burning candles and using a fireplace, wood stove or gas stove.
  • Avoid vacuuming, as this can stir up large particles that have settled.
  • If you do not have an in-duct air filtration system, it can be helpful to use a portable air purifier with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to remove some of the particulate matter from the air.
  • If you have a medical emergency from smoke, you should call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room immediately.

How air purifiers work. There are a few different types of air purifiers on the market, and not all of them are especially effective or safe. It is important to know what you are buying, so read the fine print on your air purifier before purchasing. The main thing to check is how the purifier cleans the air. It will likely use one or more of these methods:

  • High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter: This is the most common and one of the most effective methods available.
  • Activated carbon: Usually used with a HEPA filter or another filter, activated carbon can help reduce pollution by attracting some chemicals, which bond to the surface of the carbon.
  • Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) cleaners: These use a UV light to kill viruses, bacteria, allergens and some molds. UVGI cleaners may not reduce allergy or asthma symptoms, because typical home cleaners have limited effectiveness.
  • Electrostatic precipitators: Particles entering the purifier are given a charge and then trapped on oppositely charged plates. These machines create a small amount of ozone, which is a lung irritant and pollutant itself, so this type of purifier is probably best avoided.

Not effective as an air purifier at all, ozone generators are being marketed as air cleaners, but they actually add lung-irritating ozone to your home, which can be hazardous. The Environmental Protection Agency does not recommend buying ozone generators.

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When to choose a whole-house air cleaner: If you have a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system in your home, you have the option of having a whole-house air cleaner installed right in the ductwork. The benefits of a whole-house system are that all of the air is cleaned and there are no bulky appliances to deal with. In-duct systems are expensive, and they must be professionally installed and maintained.

When to choose a portable room purifier: Room purifiers are a good choice for smaller spaces, and multiple units can be used to clean the air even in a larger home. They are portable, so they are a good solution for renters, and cost anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per unit.

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Get to know the rating systems. For in-duct air filters, look for the minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) to tell how efficiently they pull particles from the air. MERV values range from 1 to 20; a system rated 7 or higher is about as effective as a HEPA filter. True HEPA filters, which have MERV values of 17 to 20, are not typically installed in HVAC systems. However, some newer homes may be specially designed with in-duct HEPA filtration.

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When shopping for a portable air purifier, look for a clean air delivery rate (CADR) of at least 250, but the higher the better. This is a voluntary system developed by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), so not all appliances have a CADR.

An Energy Star label on any air purifier indicates better energy efficiency but does not necessarily mean it is more effective — so also be sure to check the MERV or CADR rating.

Want to be really sure your air purifier is doing its job? Look for the AHAM Verifidemark on your portable air cleaner, which indicates that the manufacturer’s claims have been independently tested and certified.

How to Store Your Outdoor Gear for Summer and All Year

Bikes, boats, boards and beach chairs can take over at this time of year. Here’s how to store them safely and neatly

By Jeanne Taylor | Courtesy of Houzz.com

Warm-weather activities are among summer’s greatest pleasures, whether you prefer riding a bike, camping or paddling a kayak or canoe. But all these wonderful activities also can lead to an accumulation of outdoor gear — sometimes with no organized system for stashing it. 

Here are some tips for storing your summer activity gear so you can easily find and use it this summer. Perhaps one or more of these ideas can serve as inspiration for storing gear in your home.

Before you start organizing, take stock of your gear and reflect on how often you’ve used the items in recent years. If you own items that you haven’t used in a while, think about whether you’ll continue to use them. If not, consider donating them, selling them or sharing them with a friend who might enjoy them more often. 

Where to Store Camping Gear

As a professional organizer, I usually recommend that my clients store camping gear in the garage so they can quickly pack up the car for a weekend getaway. Consider using a sturdy shelving system, unless you have a garage closet or cabinetry system, which would also work. Tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, tarps and coolers should all be stored in the same area. You can purchase one or two clear plastic containers to hold smaller items like flashlights, matches, eating utensils, plates and cookware. That way, you can simply load these into the car when you’re ready to head out. Several smaller containers are usually more functional than one large container, which can get heavy.

If you do not have a garage, you could store your camping gear in a hall closet or extra bedroom closet.

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Camping gear storage tips:

  • To make getting away simpler, I recommend keeping a checklist stored with your equipment so you don’t forget anything for your trip. Your list should include all items you will typically want to bring along.
  • After using your tents and sleeping bags, spot-clean them with cold water and a mild soap to remove any dirt. Be sure these items are completely dry before putting them away to prevent mildew.
  • Store tents and sleeping bags loosely in cotton bags or breathable mesh bags (an old pillowcase will work well). Loosely fold your sleeping bag rather than rolling it tightly, as compressing a sleeping bag can eventually damage its fill. Avoid watertight storage bags for tents and sleeping bags, as condensation can build up inside of them and result in mildew.
Photo by  Dani Jace

Photo by Dani Jace

Where to Store Beach Gear

I store my beach bags and beach towels in the same area as my beach chairs so I can pack quickly. I recommend hanging beach chairs and toys in the garage for a quick grab-and-go into your car (see next photo).

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Personally, I like the mesh baskets that hold shovels and balls in this photo. If you have garage shelving, you can place toys in clear plastic storage containers so they are easily visible.

If you do not have a garage, a hall closet or spare bedroom closet will also work. As with camping gear, the key is to keep everything together so you can get out of the house quickly.

Beach gear storage tip:

  • The most important thing to remember with beach gear is to hose off the sand before you store it!
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Where to Store Canoes and Kayaks

Canoes and kayaks are financial investments, and proper storage will help prevent damage. Manufacturers and retailers recommend storing these items indoors so the elements do not degrade fiberglass, plastic, fabric or epoxy-coated wood hulls (the bottom of the boat) or cause painted surfaces to fade or crack.

Outdoor summer storage. While indoor storage is generally best, you don’t want your canoe or kayak to be so inaccessible for the summer that you never use it. You can store boats outdoors if you take precautions. Limit exposure to ultraviolet rays by placing your boat under a deck, covered patio or suspended tarp. If you use a tarp, keep it from touching the hull, as this could lead to mold or fungal growth in areas with summer rain.

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Outdoor winter storage. Although storing your canoe or kayak inside during winter months is generally the best option, for those without access to a garage, shed or basement, outdoor storage might be your only option. If this is the case, keep in mind that exposure to moisture from rain and snow can cause hull materials to degrade over time. You can use the same strategies as for summer outdoor boat storage (store under a deck, covered patio or suspended tarp), but during the winter you’ll need to take a few extra steps to keep your gear in shape.

After storms, check to see if rain or snow has collected inside the boat, and if so, remove it. If you use a tarp, be sure it doesn’t fill with snow or rain and press down on your boat’s hull, which could deform its shape. Also consider storing your boat off the ground using a rack or suspension system. Placing a boat directly on the ground for long periods of time can cause the hull to become deformed. Unfortunately, you probably also need to think about whether theft is a concern. It’s a good idea to keep your boat hidden from view and in a position where it would be difficult for a thief to grab. You might also secure your boat to a post, fence or building using a durable cable.

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Indoor winter storage. Before stowing your canoe or kayak inside for the winter, wash it with water and a mild soap to remove dirt, sand, salt or grime. Make sure the boat is completely dry before storing. Keep your boat away from heat sources like furnaces or hot water heaters, as extreme heat can deform the hull. You might also use a rack or suspension system to raise your boat off the floor. 

Canoe storage tips:

  • Spread out your canoe’s weight by supporting the boat at several points along its length using padded cradles or wide nylon straps.
  • A rack or pulley system not only gets your canoe off the floor but also will allow you to store other items underneath.
  • Don’t store your canoe upside down on the ground, support it from its ends only, stand it up on one end or hang it from its grab handles (or thwarts), all of which can damage the boat.


Kayak storage tips:

  • To protect the hull of your kayak, consider using a rack that keeps the boat off the ground and supports it either on its side or with the hull facing up.
  • Suspending your kayak from the ceiling is another good way to get it out of the way. Never hang the boat by the grab loops (carrying handles) because this can bend the boat. Instead, use wide straps that wrap around the body of the boat.
  • Whether you put your kayak on a rack or suspend it from the ceiling, be sure to distribute its weight evenly using padded cradles or wide nylon straps. Don’t strap the boat down too tightly because over time this can deform the body of your kayak.
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Where to Store Bikes

Inside the home. Bulky bikes can be challenging to store, particularly if you don’t have a garage. If you use your bike as daily transportation, then easy access is key. Hanging bikes from wall-mounted racks might be a good option if you must store bikes in your living space. In this Manhattan apartment living space, the bike blends in as part of the decor.

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Inside the garage. If you have a garage, a wall-mounted bike rack for that space can work nicely for people who want their bikes easily accessible. In this photo, the back tire rests on the floor and supports the weight of the bike. This setup makes it possible to lift the bike and remove it from the rack without having to bear the bike’s full weight.

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A pulley system or bike hoist works well in the garage for people who like to have their floor free for other storage. In some cases, if your ceiling is high enough, you may even be able to park your car underneath. (This pulley solution may also work inside the house.) Of course, you can always simply park your bike inside the garage if you have the room.

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Where to Store Stand-Up Paddleboards

Stand-up paddleboards are generally 10 to 12 feet long and heavy, making them cumbersome to store. So before you buy one, think about where you’ll keep yours. Indoors offers the best protection against sun, moisture and heat. But as with other summer gear, sometimes you want your paddleboard easily accessible. 

If storing your board outdoors is your only option, avoid direct sunlight, because ultraviolet rays can discolor or damage the board’s shell. Place your board beneath the roof eaves, a covered patio, a deck or a strung-up tarp. Do not wrap a tarp around a board because it could cause mold or mildew to develop. 

If storing your board indoors, you’d be wise to use racks to keep it off the floor. Distribute the weight evenly and avoid strapping the board too tightly or it may warp over time. Hanging your board from the ceiling is another good option to get it out of the way. You can purchase a suspension system designed specifically for a paddleboard. To best protect the hull (the bottom of the board), hang it with the hull facing the ceiling.

Paddleboard storage tips:

  • If you are leaning a board against a wall, be sure to lean it on its side or tail, as storing a board on its nose can damage it over time. It’s also a good idea to put some padding between the board and the floor to protect the paddleboard.
  • If you’re storing your board upright, you may want to secure it in place so it won’t fall. To do so you can fasten a wooden peg to the wall on either side of the board, then use a strap to secure the board to the pegs.
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If you love the outdoors and own a lot of gear, in an ideal world you would have ample storage indoors to protect all your gear from weather and theft. For those lucky enough to have sufficient space, this photo is an excellent example of using one wall in a garage to hang a variety of equipment in a central location. This allows for easy access and transfer to your car so you can make a quick getaway to the mountains, beach or trail.