How to Get Rid of Household Mold

Find out when to do it yourself and when to call in a pro in this guide to mold cleanup and prevention

By Julie Sheer   |  Courtesy of Houzz.com

You can procrastinate about some cleaning tasks, but when it comes to mold, it’s better to take care of it sooner rather than later. Mold can cause health problems and destroy whatever it grows on. The spores of mold fungi commonly float through the air, and when they adhere to damp surfaces and start to grow, they can gradually consume the surface. The key is to get the cleanup done before that happens.

Mold produces allergens that can cause reactions in some people, including hay fever-type symptoms. Even mold treated by a chemical or biocide can still cause allergic reactions, so in addition to killing mold, it also needs be removed, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Here’s a look at cleanup tips and how to prevent mold from forming.

Where Mold Is Most Common

A leaky roof or plumbing, flood damage, or indoor humidity that’s too high and without proper ventilation can all lead to mold problems. Unmitigated flood and water damage can lead to mold growth in as little as 24 hours, according to Gold Coast Flood Restorations in San Diego. 

Anyplace that remains damp and unventilated is a potential mold-forming zone. “Anywhere water travels” in a structure is vulnerable to mold, says Austin Reid, co-owner of Mold Masters in Southern California.

That includes areas where major plumbing arteries are located, crawl spaces with drains, walls plumbed from bathroom to bathroom and between floors. Incorrectly sealed tubs and faulty construction can cause water to seep in crevices and create big problems over time, Reid says.

Regions where the weather tends to be damp or humid can be mold hot spots — but arid areas are not immune. Buildings that are tightly sealed may lack adequate ventilation, which can lead to moisture buildup, says the EPA.

Mildew is another fungi-produced coating that can form on damp surfaces. Mildew usually grows in a flat pattern and appears powdery and white or gray. Mold is darker in color, usually black or green, and penetrates the surface of what it’s growing on. You may follow the same cleaning steps below to remove mold and mildew.

Most Mold-Prone Areas

  • Basements or cellars
  • Under kitchen and bathroom sinks
  • Under or behind refrigerators
  • Behind walls that house plumbing
  • Around air-conditioning units
  • Baseboards or around windowsills
  • Under carpeting
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Hidden Mold

Mold often goes undetected behind wallpaper. In the photo shown here, an inspector from Mold Inspection & Testing in Chicago found mold growing behind wallpaper and baseboards in a foreclosed home. Exterior walls aren’t a good location for wallpaper, says the company, because of big temperature changes between indoors and outdoors. In addition, glue can act as a nutrient to feed mold.

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To Clean or Throw Away?

If the mold is on a porous surface, such as carpeting, ceiling tiles, drywall or wallpaper, the items might have to be thrown away since the mold may be impossible to remove.

Mold will often cultivate on the backside of drywall inside wall cavities before it becomes evident on the surface, according to Gold Coast Flood Restorations.

DIY Mold Removal

Here are some options for simple surface mold removal from Indoor Science Consultants and Technicians, a mold testing organization with locations across the U.S.

  • Bleach: Mix 1 cup bleach with enough water to make 1 gallon. Put the solution in a spray bottle, or spread it with a sponge or cloth. There’s no need to rinse.
  • Borax: Mix 1 cup borax with enough water to make 1 gallon. Borax is less harsh-smelling and corrosive than bleach. Apply the solution to the surface and scrub with a brush; don’t rinse. Wipe the surface dry.
  • Vinegar: Use full-strength vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray the affected area and wipe off.
  • Ammonia: This is suitable for killing mold on smooth, nonporous surfaces. Never use it with bleach. Treat the area with a solution of equal parts ammonia and water, leave on for 10 minutes, and rinse with water.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: Spray full-strength hydrogen peroxide on the moldy surface and let it sit for 10 minutes to loosen the mold. Wipe the surface and don’t rinse.
  • Baking soda: Mix ½ teaspoon baking soda in 1 gallon water and scrub the moldy surface, then rinse with water. This is particularly useful for killing mold on upholstery.
  • Tea tree oil: Use 1 teaspoon tea tree oil per cup of water and spray on the surface. Leave it on for a few minutes and then wipe off.

Note: When cleaning up mold, the EPA advises wearing rubber gloves, goggles and possibly an N-95 respirator to avoid breathing in mold. The agency also cautions against using bleach or biocides (mold-killing chemicals) because they can cause severe reactions in some people.

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When to Call a Pro

Wiping down mildew in damp areas is always a good idea, but how do you know when it’s time to bring in a professional? The EPA advises using a mold remediation expert if the affected area is larger than about 10 square feet (roughly 3 by 3 feet).

But, depending on your comfort level, even a patch that’s 1 square foot may be enough for someone sensitive to mold to call in a pro, says Reid of Mold Masters.

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Testing for Mold

Chronic allergy-type health problems or mildewy odors mean it’s time to consider more extensive mold treatment. Start by using a mold testing company, which will take samples, send them to a lab, and obtain a report on mold levels and species. Use a company that does testing only, to avoid a conflict of interest.

Mold Remediation

For major mold cleanup, Reid says his company uses a plant-based, thyme oil mildicide that’s commonly used in hospitals. Professionals should follow EPA guidelines

If a mold that produces toxins, such as Stachybotrys chartarum(black mold) is found, you should always call a mold remediation company and not try to clean it yourself.

Black mold, which can permanently damage your health, often has a slimy, shiny outer layer, which may have a green sheen, according to Indoor Science Consultants and Technicians.

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Experts treat black mold by containing the space, using high-powered fans, and wearing respirators and biosecurity suits, usually while residents vacate the home. When choosing a mold remediation company, be sure it is licensed and bonded and certified by The Clean Trust (also known as the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification).

How to Prevent Mold

Controlling moisture inside the home is the key to avoiding mold. Mold Masters recommends yearly inspections of roofing, plumbing, exterior drainage and interior ventilation. Check for leaks under sinks and in crawl spaces. Always use ventilation in a bathroom to remove condensation from showers.

The bathroom in the photo above has hopper windows, which are placed to provide ventilation as well as natural light and privacy.

How to Clean Your Fireplace Surround

Stone, bricks, marble and wood are among the most popular surfaces for fireplace surrounds. Here’s how to clean them

By Leslie Reichert  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com

There are few better ways to spend a chilly winter’s day than in front of a cozy fireplace. But even if you use your fireplace only once or twice a season, it still needs to be cleaned and cared for correctly. Of all the things you can clean with just soap and water, soot is not one of them. Cleaning soot around your fireplace can create a huge mess unless you do it the right way. Let’s look at some ways you can clean fireplace surrounds in a variety of popular surfaces.

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Wood Surrounds

You can clean wood fireplace surrounds by using a dry sponge or an eraser sponge designed to remove soot. Whatever you do, don’t try to wipe soot off with a wet cloth or sponge. Soot is very oily, and water and oil just don’t mix. Instead, use a dry sponge or the eraser to remove as much soot as you can. If you have a few smears that won’t come off, dip a corner of the sponge in rubbing alcohol to remove the remaining soot.

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If there still seems to be a light film left on the wood, you can use a degreaser and a scrubbing sponge to get into the porous areas of the wood. Wipe the surface with a clean white cloth to see if the soot is coming off with the degreaser.

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Stone and Brick Surrounds

Stone and brick fireplace surrounds can be very porous and have lots of nooks and crannies that can hold soot and residue. By using a painter’s tool called TSP (trisodium phosphate) you can mix up a paste with water, then sponge it over the stone or brick to help remove the soot. This powerful cleaner removes dirt, grease and even soot. Once the TSP is spread over the stone or brick, use a wet sponge to rinse it off.

Safety tip: When using TSP, wear rubber gloves, safety goggles and long sleeves. If skin contact occurs, wash thoroughly with soap and water.

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A quick way to remove soot from iron trim around a fireplace is to spray a cloth with WD-40 and rub it into the metal. It will remove the soot and leave the metal finish looking brand new. 

Safety tip: Do not use WD-40 while the fireplace is in use or still hot because the chemical is flammable.

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Marble Surrounds

Though they provide elegance, marble fireplace surrounds need to be handled differently than any other surround surface. Marble is very absorbent, so start by dusting the entire surface with a dry microfiber cloth to see how much soot has embedded itself into the surround.

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After wiping the marble surround with a dry microfiber cloth, dip the cloth in warm distilled water. Wipe the damp cloth on an inconspicuous area of the marble surround to ensure the distilled water doesn’t have any minerals that can damage the marble.

If the soot does not come off with the distilled water, try using a cleaner specifically designed for cleaning marble.

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Glass Surrounds

To remove soot from a glass fireplace surround, use distilled white vinegar and an eraser sponge, like the one put out by Mr. Clean. Dip the sponge into the vinegar and rub it in circles over the glass. Repeat the process until all of the soot is removed.

Give Yourself a Break: 9 Resolutions That Are Easy to Keep

No DIY projects, cleaning, decluttering or guilt are required

By Becky Harris  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com

Juice fasts, decluttering, organizing finances and making the bed every day — these are the kinds of resolutions we, full of determination, typically come up with to kick off a new year. But they aren’t always easy to keep, and we can end up feeling bad and letting them all go. Let’s give ourselves a break around the house. Here are some resolutions that are easier to keep than not.

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When it comes to DIY projects, I will give myself a free pass. So many people make DIY projects seem like something we should all be spending our weekends completing. And they make it look so enjoyable and easy! That’s great for them, but this self-confessed DIY disaster knows firsthand that these projects aren’t for everyone. So laugh at yourself when it goes terribly wrong and know when it’s time to call in the pros or reclaim your free time.

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I will spend more time in the bathroom. Consider pampering yourself with:

  • A soak or some steam
  • A great-smelling new soap treat
  • A little Bluetooth speaker so you can enjoy your favorite playlist
  • A few extra minutes primping or dry brushing (seriously, what the heck is all this dry-brushing hype about?)
  • The aroma of a fresh sprig of eucalyptus

And allow yourself to just shut the door and tell everyone in the house you’re having some me time. In a busy household, the bathroom may be the only place you can hide.

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I will be the kind of pet owner I want to be. Yup, your critters want to snuggle up on the furniture, and whether you want them to or not is up to you and no one else. But never feel bad about throwing an old sheet over Fluffy’s favorite armchair and just living with it. Chuck the throw in the bathtub to hide it when company is coming over and give it a good wash once a week.

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I will get more vitamin D. Here’s a health resolution that doesn’t involve a personal trainer or a juicer: Vow to find a special spot where you can enjoy the fresh air and soak up some sunlight. 

Whether you’re lucky enough to have a porch with a rocking chair or swing, a patio with a table for dinner, or a picnic blanket at the ready for a trip to a nearby park, grab a friend, a book or your lunch and head out whenever the weather and your schedule allow.

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I will teach my kids to help with laundry. If you’re a parent, laundry is probably an overwhelming chore. Start your kids out by having them help with the folding. Keep a basket around so they can scoop the laundry off the dryer or so you can dump it next to them on the sofa when they’re watching TV. Then have them take each family member’s freshly folded pile to their rooms.

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I won’t let photos of perfect pantries (or laundry rooms, or closets) make me feel bad about my own.Look, there are a lot of incredible pantries out there, and they inspire us to neaten up, offer us good design ideas we can adapt to our own homes or just give us something to daydream about. 

But they should never make us feel bad by comparison. If they inspire you to get organized, great, but if not, that’s OK. And if they aren’t making you feel good, get offline or use a filter or keyword to search smaller spaces. (On Houzz, this filter is on the left side of the page when you’re searching photos by room.)

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I’ll have friends over for super-casual dinners. Sure, it’s a lot of fun to play Martha Stewart and plan a beautiful dinner party once in a blue moon. It’s even better to enjoy more frequent stress-free, impromptu gatherings: cooking burgers, sharing that big crockpot of chili you made, making the night a potluck or ordering pizza. Pull out some paper plates and sit down at a kitchen table or out on the patio. Remember that your friends are there to enjoy your company, not act as Top Chefjudges.

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I will remove the word resale from my vocabulary. Unless you’re a house flipper or moving this year, chuck that TV-show-induced obsession out the window. You are the one who’s living in your house now, and you should enjoy it to the max. In this bedroom makeover, the young lady who lives here came up with the inspiration for the walls (that’s her framed artwork), and her designer made the rainbow happen for her. 

I won’t feel guilty about what some may call “clutter.” I know we post a lot of stories in January about how to go through our belongings and purge what we don’t use. If you’re in the mood to declutter, they’re a great help. But never feel bad about surrounding yourself with things you love. The only rule is to appreciate them.

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Feed the Birds! And 6 More Ways to Make the Most of This Weekend

Here’s a fresh batch of ideas for boosting your energy and mood at home

By Laura Gaskill  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com 

Mid-January begs for an extra helping of cheer. This weekend, stay healthy and well with a few small tweaks around the house (for instance, getting the humidity balance right), and then make some time for the little things — like feeding the birds and buying flowers — that lift your spirits.

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1. Increase entryway lighting. The days are getting longer bit by bit, but we still have quite a ways to go before it feels light in the early mornings and evenings. Fight off dreariness by adding an extra light or using a brighter bulb, if possible, on the front porch and inside your home’s entrance.

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2. Focus on making one room cozier. Is there a corner of your home you wish felt a bit comfier? Use this weekend to troubleshoot the problem area and bring in some cozy comforts. Sometimes a little tidying up and adding a few more plump pillows is all it takes to love your room again.

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3. Disinfect germ-y surfaces. It’s cold and flu season, and if anyone in your house has been sick, be sure to clean and disinfect surfaces to prevent further spreading of germs. Pay special attention to kitchen surfaces and frequently touched items like doorknobs, cell phones and remote controls. Wash laundry in hot water if possible, and use the hot or “sanitize” setting on your dishwasher if you have one.

And if you’re the one who’s not feeling good, set your to-do list aside and focus on feeling better. You deserve a proper sick day, complete with soft blankets, hot chicken soup and a stack of your favorite movies and books at your fingertips.

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4. Plan travels for the year ahead. If the weather outside isn’t cooperating with your weekend plans, don’t fret — use the time at home to dream up travel plans for the year ahead. Mark dates on your calendar, research destinations and (if you’re ready to commit) get ahead of the game by setting up that pet sitter or house sitter now.

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5. Keep humidity levels in balance. With the windows shut and heaters running, winter can be a beast when it comes to maintaining healthy levels of humidity in the home. Humidity between 40-50% is ideal: Too low and germs may spread more easily; too high and mold may become a problem. If the air in your home is too dry, adding a humidifier can do wonders. If you have the opposite problem (with moisture building up inside windows), first be sure you’re using your home’s exhaust fans when cooking or bathing (or open a window) — if that doesn’t do the trick, you may need to invest in a dehumidifier.

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6. Provide clean water and food for wild birds. Winter can be tough for non-migrating birds. Be kind to them by supplying fresh water for drinking and bathing, plus high-quality birdseed — and then enjoy the sight of grateful feathered friends stopping by to fuel up.

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7. Treat yourself to fresh flowers. Just because nothing’s growing in the garden doesn’t mean you have to go entirely without the cheer of colorful flowers. Treat yourself to a bouquet of tulips at the market, or pick up a potted orchid for a longer-lasting flower fix.

How to Simplify Your Life, All Year Long

Follow our 12-month plan to keep your to-do lists manageable and your home in good order

By Laura Gaskill  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com

If you’re hoping to make 2018 the year you finally simplify your life, here is a month-by-month guide to making your home feel more spacious and your schedule lighter. Take a look now to see which projects you might want to put on your list, and then save it to your ideabook to keep it handy throughout the seasons.

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January 

  • Clear clutter from your home this month, starting with the living room. Use a timer to stay focused, and clear clutter in short bursts.
  • Set a resolution to let go of two things for every new item you bring into your home.
  • Consolidate appointments, birthdays and to-dos on one master calendar (either paper or electronic), and toss the scraps.
  • Find out the location and hours of a local organization that accepts household donations, an e-waste drop-off site and a hazardous materials (e.g., leftover paint and motor oil) collection point, and store the information in your phone. Check Earth911.com to find recycling facilities in your area.
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February

  • Give your bedroom a thorough cleaning and decluttering to create the ultimate sleep cave.
  • Look at your schedule and let go of commitments that are not necessary and are no longer bringing you joy.
  • Carve out several islands of unplugged time each day to be in nature, chat with a friend or simply sit down and savor a cup of hot tea.
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March

  • Set up a simple system for handling incoming paper: sort mail at the door, immediately tossing junk into a recycling bin and placing the rest in a clearly defined drop spot, like a basket or file.
  • Streamline paper files, shredding and recycling documents you no longer need.
  • Back up computer files (including digital photos) with a combination of cloud-based storage and an external hard drive.
  • Automate your savings and bill payments where possible, to cut down on paper (and make your life a bit easier).
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April

  • Visit your local farmers market to shop for fresh spring fruits and veggies, honey and other local products. Find a farmers market near you at LocalHarvest.org.
  • Simplify your cleaning routine with easy daily habits, like wiping down the bathroom sink and mirror after your morning shower.
  • Pick one or two common kitchen disposable items to swap for reusables; for instance, trade paper napkins for cloth, and plastic water bottles for stainless steel.
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May

  • Spring is a wonderful time to treat yourself to fresh flowers. Look for lilacs, hydrangeas (shown here) or peonies at your local market, and bring home a bundle.
  • Clear clutter from around and under your kitchen sink. Replace only the products you regularly use, and set out a fresh kitchen towel and sponge.
  • Skip the car, and take a walk in your neighborhood. Try a cafe, restaurant or shop you’ve never been in before.

June

  • Clear clutter from the front porch, and wash your home’s exterior.
  • Do an end-of-school roundup of kids’ artwork and papers. Store favorites in a portfolio, or scan them and have the images compiled into a book; recycle the rest.
  • Add casual touches for summer: Store rolled-up beach towels by the door, keep flip-flops handy in a basket and designate space on the kitchen counter for a self-serve breakfast station.
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July

  • Eat outdoors. Grilling on the weekend is an easy way to entertain — but it can make weeknight meals feel special too.
  • Keep weekends unscheduled when possible. Give yourself some breathing space to just relax, read or play with the dog.
  • Great weather and an abundance of affordable in-season produce and free outdoor activities make July a good time to try a buy-less month. As a fun and beneficial challenge, focus on simple pleasures and free activities within your community.
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August

  • Declutter your wardrobe. Before you do fall shopping, take the time to weed out unwanted items from your wardrobe and make note of gaps you’d like to fill.
  • Revamp your morning coffee or tea routine. Get your morning off to a good start with a well-made cup of coffee or tea, and a restful place to enjoy it.
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September

  • Make over your mudroom. Get ready for a busy fall with a hardworking space that can handle all of the boots, scarves and bags you toss at it. Add hooks, baskets and bins, plus a tough rug to protect your floor.
  • Host a harvest swap with friends and neighbors. Catch up while you trade zucchini for tomatoes and come away with a variety of delicious, hyper-local produce.
  • Get cozy for fall with warm covers on the beds, a soft throw on the couch, good books to read and simple, natural decor like branches of fall leaves or a bowl full of apples.
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October

  • Do some big-batch cooking, and stock your freezer with homemade meals. Your future weeknight self will thank you!
  • Cozy up your front porch. Add charming seasonal details, from a new chair pillow to a pumpkin, to help your porch transition from summer to fall.
  • Savor a fun fall tradition like picking apples in an orchard, taking a leaf-peeping drive or enjoying a picnic in a local park.
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November

  • Start a gratitude project. With a paper journal or note on your phone, begin listing little things that make you happy.
  • Sort through your digital photos from this year, and order prints or photo books of your favorites.
  • If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, be prepared in advance: Clean the bathroom, get the shopping done, make a cooking schedule and delegate other tasks.
  • Give back. Pick a local organization with a cause that’s close to your heart, and donate what you can: time, money or items it needs.
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December

  • Start with a clean kitchen. Clear out the pantry, fridge and freezer to make room for party food and Christmas cookies. Scrub surfaces, and keep counters clear so you have plenty of room to cook.
  • Simplify your holiday: Set intentions for the experience you want to have during the holiday season, and keep them in mind as you decide which traditions and events to include in your schedule.
  • Set aside time to care for yourself and rest. Give yourself permission to take a nap, soak in a bubble bath or cozy up in your favorite chair with a good book.

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 utensils near 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.

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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).

Will These 10 Colors Be Big in 2018?

From greenish blues to deep, dark hues, there’s something for everyone in these paint companies’ predictions

By Jennifer Ott  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com 

Pantone Color Institute recently declared Ultra Violet its 2018 Color of the Year, but many of you were dubious about the choice, at least when it comes to decorating your home. Those not crazy about Ultra Violet will be glad to know that paint manufacturers have also been rolling out their selections for 2018’s paint color of the year, and these hues tend to be more decorating-friendly. This year’s crop offers a diverse mix of lights, brights, darks and neutrals, so perhaps you’ll find a hue you would be happy to take home.

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In general we seem to be moving away from the everything-in-white trend and toward moodier, more introspective hues. Shades of black are in, as are watery blue-greens. I was expecting to see hotter hues dominating the field this year, but the only warm contenders are a bold red from Benjamin Moore and a soft tan from Dutch Boy. 

We’ve gathered together examples of each color to help you envision how they might look in a room, should you see something you like.

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1. Among my favorite picks for 2018 paint color of the year is Oceanside from Sherwin-Williams, shown above and below. It’s a rich blue-green hybrid that works well in any style of room, from traditional to contemporary.

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And, for lovers of white, because it’s a rather deep, dark hue, I think it needs a good bit of white or other light contrast to help keep it from feeling too somber.

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2. Heron from Pratt & Lambert is another deep, saturated hue, this one with more blue than green. 

I think this is a terrific color in a bedroom, where a cool, calm, soothing vibe is usually desirable. Because it’s a rather dark shade it’s also a good candidate for painting on just one or two walls.

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3. PPG Paints’ choice, Black Flame, is one of those colors that’s difficult to describe. It’s a navy-purple-black hybrid that will seem to transform during different times of the day in the changing light. 

This is a dramatic choice, one that’s best reserved for areas of the home where you want a strong visual impact, such as a background wall for artwork or as a headboard accent wall in a bedroom.

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4. Behr goes light and breezy this year with their selection of In the Moment. This is a terrific option for those who favor softer hues. I think it would look fantastic in a kitchen or living room. And, because it’s a relatively light color, it works well in spaces that don’t receive adequate natural light.

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5. Dunn-Edwards has also selected a greenish blue that’s a nice in-between shade — it’s not too light, not too bright and not too dark. I think The Green Hour is just right for an office, bedroom or bathroom.

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6. Neutral lovers, rejoice! Kelly-Moore has a nice pick for you: Bahia Grass, a fantastic light and neutral alternative for those tired of white, beige and gray. 

This soft sage has just a touch of yellow, which gives it a nudge to the warmer side, great for those living in cool climates who want a fresh new color in their home.

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7. I hate to mention the b-word (beige!), but while Dutch Boy’s selection of Sandstone Tint is firmly in beige territory, this particular shade has a touch of gray in it, which renders it less pink. It’s a solid base that plays well with all colors, allowing you to bring in more assertive hues through furnishings, artwork and other decorative accessories.

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8. In my work as an architectural color consultant I almost always present an option that involves Caliente, Benjamin Moore’s pick for color of the year, shown above and below.

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It’s the perfect shade of deep red, neither too orange nor too purple. It’s just right for a dining room, front door or accent wall in a room that gets plenty of light.

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9. For those looking to go to the dark side, Glidden’s selection, Deep Onyx, is an almost black that packs a punch. Use it sparingly in spaces that don’t get much natural light. It’s super chic in this dining space. 

If you want to use this for an accent wall, think about adding artwork or other decorative elements to the wall to break up the expanse of black. It will look elegant and dramatic without being too heavy.

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10. Olympic also chose a black as its color of 2018, Black Magic. For those leery of painting an interior wall or walls this dark, think about using it on your exterior doors. It’s one of my favorite options for a front door color.

To-Dos: Your January Home Checklist

Protect your home from harsh winter weather and get a jump-start on your top projects for the year

By Laura Gaskill  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com  

anuary may be cold and dark, but it can also be a time for bold beginnings. Make the most of your month by clearing space in your home, boosting warmth and dreaming up plans for the year ahead. Here are 13 to-dos to give your home a little midwinter TLC.

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Things to Check Off Your List in an Hour or Less

Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. With more heater use and wood fires in the fireplace, it is especially important during winter to make sure those smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working. Use the test button on each device, and change batteries as needed.

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Organize the board games. When bad weather has you stuck indoors and you’re looking for an alternative to screen time, board games and cards are a crowd-pleaser. Pull out everything you’ve got and check that each set has all of the pieces. Put games your family no longer enjoys aside to give away, and put the rest back neatly.

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Organize cold-weather accessories. Stay toasty warm with plush, thick socks, cozy hats, scarves and gloves or mittens. Sort through your sock drawer, entryway baskets and hooks and anywhere else cold-weather accessories are hiding, and take stock of what you have. Replenish as needed.

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Tackle These Tasks Over a Weekend

Protect pipes from freezing. Why? Because frozen pipes can burst, leading to costly repairs. If you haven’t done so yet, be sure to insulate any exposed outdoor pipes. And if you’re planning to be away from home, ask a friend or neighbor to turn on your water to a trickle. Also, find out where your home’s water shut-off valve is so you can cut off the water quickly if a pipe does burst — and be sure to show your house sitter where it is.

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Refresh play spaces. Entice little ones stuck indoors to creative play and cut down on cries of “I’m bored!” Try adding a chalkboard or whiteboard wall, a play tent or tepee, an area for messy art, a “stage” for acting or a tumbling mat.

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Give potted plants some TLC. If your house gets very dry in the winter with the heater on, you may need to add humidity to the air around some plants, especially citrus trees and ferns. You can use a humidifier or simply spritz them with plain water occasionally.

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Clear home and wardrobe clutter. Make a fresh start with the new year and clear out the clutter. If dealing with the whole house feels overwhelming, focus on just a few categories of items, such as clothes, books and children’s toys.
 

Clean out the kitchen and pantry. Remove everything from the pantry, toss out stale and expired foods and wipe down the shelves before putting everything back. 

Clean out the fridge and freezer, and clear off countertops. Let the refreshed space motivate you to stick with your health resolutions for the new year.

Knock heavy snow from tree branches. Heavy coatings of snow can cause tree limbs to break — which can be especially dangerous if a large limb is positioned near your home. Using a long-handled broom or rake, gently knock snow from branches after each storm.

Take down holiday decorations, and store them well. When you’re ready to put away the holiday decorations, take the time to do it with care (you’ll thank yourself later). Wrap delicate ornaments in tissue paper, and wrap string lights around cardboard to prevent tangling. Consider giving away ornaments that didn’t make it onto the tree this year, and repair or toss broken items. And if you’re not ready to say goodbye to the white twinkle lights quite yet, leave them up. We can all use a little extra cheer in the middle of winter.

Give in to the urge to hibernate. In winter, it’s natural to want to spend extra time at home, just relaxing. Make yourself a haven for snuggling up to watch a movie or read. Layer on warming textiles, pour some hot tea or make cocoa, and settle in. 

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Maintenance and Extras to Budget for This Month

Take steps to prevent ice dams. Ice dams are areas of built-up ice that can accumulate around your roof line, causing leaks when the backed-up snow behind them begins to melt. Using a roof rake, remove snow after each storm. And, if you notice an ice dam beginning to form (and if you can safely reach the area), break it up now to prevent future damage.

Plan big home projects for the year ahead. Thinking of remodeling the kitchen or bath, painting the exterior or adding on? Use Houzzto save your ideas, resources and inspiration, and start contacting pros to help make your project a reality.
 

How to Get Your Home Back in Shape After the Holidays

Putting your home in order can be a great way to transition from the holiday season to a fresh new year

By Jeanne Taylor  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com

For many people, the week between Christmas and New Year’s can be chaotic, with the kids home from school, the grown-ups off work and winter weather keeping everyone indoors. New toys and books may be scattered across the living room, and gifts to return piled up under the tree. By Jan. 2, we’re often ready to be done with the whole holiday season. 

In case that describes you, here are some tips for getting your home back in order for the start of the new year. With a little extra effort, you can get your home in better shape than before the season began.

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Organize and Store Holiday Decor

1. Corral your outdoor decorations. As most people do, place your outdoor items all together — perhaps in the attic or basement — for easy retrieval next December. But before packing lights, replace burned-out bulbs and dispose of strands not working properly. It’s a good idea to wrap your lights around coffee cans or cardboard pieces to prevent them from tangling. 

Wreaths take a bit of special care to preserve their shape. I recommend you keep them in storage containers specifically designed for wreaths, making sure your containers can accommodate bows and other attachments without squishing them. Another good option is to hang wreaths in a closet. Using twine, attach the wreath to the hook of a hanger and cover with a dry-cleaning bag or large trash bag to protect it. Some of my clients also hang wreaths on hooks in their basement or on garment racks. 

Garlands can be wrapped and tied with twine and stored in large boxes. I personally prefer airtight plastic containers for all of my holiday decor to keep out dust, moisture and pests.

Holiday lawn decor may be too large to fit in a box, and if this is the case I recommend you use large garbage bags to protect and keep items clean.

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2. Arrange for tree disposal or storage. In many areas, Christmas trees get collected curbside during the first two weeks in January, usually on your normal trash day. Be sure to remove all lights, tinsel, ornaments and the stand. Sometimes trees larger than the standard 6 to 7 feet need to be cut in half to be accepted by your garbage company. Check with your local disposal company for all the details. 

If you have an artificial tree, keep in mind that the original cardboard box it came in won’t protect the tree from mold, moisture and pests. ou may want to consider purchasing a container designed specifically for Christmas tree storage to help your tree last through the years.

3. Declutter your indoor decorations before storing. Many of us receive ornaments as gifts and tend to leave our older, less popular decor packed in storage boxes year after year. So before you store your decor, assess what’s already in your boxes. If you haven’t used an ornament or tabletop decoration for several years, consider donating it. Let go of items that you don’t really like, and toss anything broken or damaged. Personally, I like to store my holiday ornaments in specialized ornament storage containers, and often these boxes are discounted in January. I wrap delicate ornaments in tissue paper before storing. 

Larger decor can be stored in large plastic storage boxes with an airtight lid to protect items from moisture. I recommend that you label boxes with a list of contents and place them in storage in the order they will be needed next year. For example, I always store my fireplace mantel garland and lights in front, because I put them up at the beginning of December. We do not purchase our tree until mid-December, so tree ornaments are stored in the back.
 

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Sort and Store Gifts

1. Clothing, jewelry and other personal Items. Gifts are wonderful, but if we don’t periodically purge our possessions they can pile up beyond what is ideal. The holidays offer a great opportunity to let go of your unwanted things. When storing apparel, consider getting rid of one older item for every new item you receive as a gift. Scan your closet and drawers for clothing and accessories you have not worn over the last year. Consider donating any items that are unworn or (barely) stained or do not fit well. Also take a close look at personal items you have accumulated such as hand lotion, soap and perfume. If you don’t like the scent or will never use them, consider donating them to a women’s shelter. In addition, try not to have too many decorative knick-knacks cluttering your dresser. Only keep the ones you truly love. To quote Marie Kondo, get rid of anything that does not “spark joy.”

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2. Toys and books. It is easy to become overwhelmed with children’s toys and books after the holidays, especially if you come from a large extended family that gives many gifts. If your children receive an abundant supply of new toys, consider putting some away and rotating them in later during the year. That way, newer toys will remain fresh and exciting.

Also consider donating any toys and books your children have outgrown. If it’s difficult to let go of books, consider storing favorites in your attic or basement so they are not cluttering your living space. Donate the rest of the unwanted reading material to a local nonprofit or library.

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3. Household goods. If you received new household items that you would enjoy using, cut off the tags and use them right away rather than storing or saving them for later. Wash and hang a new set of towels and enjoy them. This frees you to donate old or faded towels, perhaps to a local animal shelter that will likely accept towels in any condition.

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Organize Your Returns and Donations

Let’s face it: Sometimes even the most well-intentioned gift just isn’t to our liking. Those gifts can clutter our homes for days or weeks if we don’t make the time to return them. To make the process easier, place all items for returns and their associated receipts in a shopping bag and leave them by your front door, or even in the trunk of your car. Then set a time on your calendar when you can return or exchange them. 

Sometimes, a gift may be impossible to return. Many of us feel guilty getting rid of things that someone put time and money into giving us. But keep in mind that the true purpose of a gift is conveying feelings of warmth and friendship, and that the item itself is not as important as the giving and receiving. In fact, Marie Kondo summed this up nicely in her classic book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (page 108 on my copy): “The true purpose of a present is to be received. Presents are not ‘things’ but a means for conveying someone’s feelings. When viewed from this perspective, you don’t need to feel guilty about parting with a gift.” Well said. Don’t hold onto something out of obligation or guilt, as this will only create unnecessary household clutter.

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Get Your House Back in Order

1. Clean out the refrigerator and pantry. During the holiday season, these areas often get stuffed with leftover food and holiday cookies. Take the time to pull out all your containers of uneaten leftovers and survey their freshness. When in doubt, throw it out — the risk of food poisoning is not worth it! Also toss out any stale baked goods. However, chocolate can be stored in a cool, dry place for several months, or you can store it in an airtight container in the freezer for up to one year. 

Once you’ve addressed the food, take a few minutes to wipe down refrigerator and pantry shelves so they’ll be ready for your next grocery trip.

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2. Tidy up the guest room. If you had overnight visitors for the holidays, change the sheets and clean the room. Having clean sheets on the bed and a tidy room will make it much easier the next time you host overnight guests.

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3. Create a decorative winter scene. When my daughters were little they always felt sad when it was time to take down our holiday decor. One year, we decided to leave the fireplace garland on the mantel after the tree and other decorations were put away. We added white lights as well as white decorations — snowflakes and snowmen — to create a winter scene that didn’t feel Christmas-specific. We liked this solution so much that we now keep our mantel decorated until early February. For my family, this practice has helped take the sting out of the end of time off from school and work.

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Finally, Take Time to Be Thankful

Once your house is back in order, take some time to relax, sit down with a cup of tea and write thank-you notes or emails. You should send a written note anytime you receive a gift and the giver wasn’t there to be thanked in person, according to the Emily Post Institute. If the gift is from a close friend or relative, though, a call or email is acceptable.

Gratitude improves both physical and psychological health — grateful people sleep better, have less stress and are more resilient, according to Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. This should give us all motivation to be thankful! 

10 Things to Declutter Before the New Year

By Laura Gaskill  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com

It’s so nice to start fresh in the new year with a clean, clear space. Tackle these 10 common clutter problem areas now with an end-of-the-year sorting and culling spree, and you’ll be ahead of the game by Jan. 1. Watch out, moth-eaten sweaters; we’re coming for you.

1. Coats and cold-weather accessories. Notice which coats and winter accessories consistently go unworn, and consider donating those in good condition to a local nonprofit or coat drive. 

Your old coats and gear could be out there keeping someone warm. For this reason, it’s especially good to donate cold-weather items now, when they are needed, rather than waiting until spring for a clean-out.

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2. Gift wrapping supplies. In the bustle of holiday gift wrapping, it can be tempting to shove all those unusable scraps of paper and ribbon bits back into the drawer. But taking the time to tidy up what’s left of your gift wrapping supplies now will make your life much easier next year. 

Neatly roll up remaining gift wrap, and secure using an empty toilet paper tube. (Cut the cardboard tube lengthwise to make a cuff.) Toss out bits of ribbon and paper too small to use, as well as empty tape rolls and dried-up pens. Store what’s left together in one spot where it will be easy to find when you need it.

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3. Bedding and throws. If you treated yourself to new bedding (or a new throw for the couch) this year, pick out an old set to give away, and keep your linen closet neat and orderly. If you’re on a decluttering roll, sort through the bath towels too. Veterinarian offices and animal shelters can often use spare towels; call first to check.

4. Kids’ toys. Clearing out the toy bins is a lot less painful for kids after the holidays, when they have new gifts to play with. Aim to keep toys that are well made and long-lasting and inspire creative play (like the classic dollhouse shown here) and let go of toys that were impulse buys, have missing or broken parts or your child has outgrown.

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5. Your closet. Between holiday sale purchases and gifts, our closets can become overstuffed by the new year. Remove old, worn-out items, pieces that no longer fit and anything that just doesn’t fit your current style or life phase. Give pieces in good condition to a nonprofit, or sell items at a local vintage shop; drop worn-out clothes in a textile recycling bin. To keep the balance in your wardrobe, aim to give away one item for every new piece you bring in.

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6. Pantry extras. When shopping for holiday feasts and cookie baking sessions, it’s easy to overbuy — but that doesn’t mean you must keep surplus goods in your pantry when you know you’ll never use them. 

Instead of shoving extras to the back where they will be forgotten, fill a bag with unopened, unexpired food and spices and take it to your local food pantry.

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7. Art and craft supplies. New boxes of colored pencils get shoved atop baskets of broken crayons, markers lose caps and glitter spills into every crevice: When you add new materials to an already-full art and craft area, it can devolve into chaos in the blink of an eye. This year, before putting away any new materials, take a moment to clean out the drawer or cupboard where you keep supplies. A neat cupboard filled with a few carefully chosen, fresh art materials is much more inviting to use.

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8. Magazines and mail.Pour yourself a cup of hot cider or cocoa, put on some music and go on a mail-sorting spree. 

Recycle old magazines and holiday catalogs, and sort through mail and papers that have built up. 

When you’re done, take the time to file important documents, and note any upcoming events on your calendar before tossing the notice. 

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9. Bookshelves. Get your bookshelves in order for cozy winter reading by giving away (or selling) books you didn’t love and corralling your TBR (to-be-read) books in one section for easy reference. When you’re done weeding out unloved titles, use a lambswool or electrostatic duster to dust the shelves and spines of books.

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10. Holiday decorations. Before you pack up the ornaments, lights and snow globes, peek inside the storage box: Are there decorations that never made it out this year? If so, consider giving those items away instead of letting them languish in your storage area another year. Test lights before putting them away, and consider storing your most treasured ornaments in a separate box where you can grab it easily in case of emergency.