Project Simplify, week 3: closets, countertops, and drawers (oh my)

We’re halfway through Project Simplify! Feeling better yet? I’m excited about this week’s because it’s the cousin to my arch nemesis, paper clutter. Isn’t the note above hilarious? It’s from contributor Sarah Park‘s daughter. Perhaps she’s on to her.

This week, we’re focusing on closets, countertops, and drawers. Know that one spot in your house where everything is dumped? This week, you can clear it.

Or how about your coat closet where jackets are relegated to the floor because there’s no more hanging room? Now you can set aside time to weed through your collection and box some up for the thrift store.

Do yours kids have a craft station full of dried markers, like mine? Make a plan to cull through the defects and weed through the scrap paper pile.

Whatever’s giving you grief in your home in the department of closets, countertops, or drawers, this week it’s being tackled. Won’t it feel good to get this crossed off your list?

Paper: the beast that spawns

Paper tends to be cause for a lot of clutter in these specific areas, so here’s a few thoughts as you approach your hotspots this week.

Go paperless

Head online to your bill services and select the paperless option. You’ll receive an email when it’s time to pay, which can then obviously be done online. I don’t even know where my checkbook is anymore.

Opt out of junk mail

If you’re in the U.S., there isn’t one main government site to completely eradicate junk mail. Head here to be removed from Direct Mail’s “do not mail” list, though they can’t guarantee complete removal. At least it’s a start.

Head here if you’re in Canada. I’m not sure what’s available for those of you elsewhere, but if you know, please share in the comments below.

For any flier or notice related to an upcoming event, write down necessary info on your calendar, then toss the paper in the recycling bin.


Honestly, Pinterest has changed how and why I keep magazines. So many mags have their photos online, so if it’s a picture of a particular wall color, or if they have a recipe I’d like to try, I first search online. If it’s there, then I pin it.

If I truly love a magazine from cover to cover, I’ll keep it. I’m keeping all my issues of Cottage Living (may my favorite defunct shelter mag rest in peace).

But if I haven’t flipped through the magazine in about six months or so, I usually recycle or donate it.


This is a tricky one, because sometimes you need them, sometimes you don’t.

If they’re for a debit card purchase you know you’re not returning (or some other purchase that would otherwise show up online), toss it in the shred pile. You’ve got a digital record of that purchase, and you can use that to enter it in your budgeting record (we use Pear Budget).

If they’re for a cash purchase, grab the pen and label it with your budget category, then store it near your computer so you can add these to your budget record. After you record it, toss it in the shred box.

If you’re self-employed and the receipts are tax-deductible business expenses, store them somewhere logical and write down as much info on it you think you’ll need. (See below about a nifty receipt-handling tool you can week this week!)

Kids’ creations

There’s absolutely no way I can keep all my kids’ artwork, so some things just have to go. I love the advice to save three things from every age of each kid — one that shows handprint size, one that shows handwriting, and one drawing. Don’t ask me how to possibly decide which of those are the most save-worthy.

But I do love getting rid of stuff, so for me, unless it’s remarkably creative or unique, out it goes. I either stash it back in the scrap paper pile, to be drawn on the other side, I photograph it and store the digital file, it’s kept and reused as gift wrap, or — most commonly — it gets recycled.

I’m a fan of displaying kids’ artwork as unique and frugal home decor. I like framing it, displaying it on the fridge, and pinning artwork from a clothesline on the wall. I know other people take digital photos of artwork, too.

Tax info

I am not a CPA, so please, double-check with a professional who can talk with you if you have specific questions. But according to the IRS website, simple annual tax returns should be kept for a minimum of three years or a comfortable seven years.  If you’re not sure, then plan on keeping them for life. They’re usually a few short pages, and since it holds all your necessary financial information for that year, more than likely you won’t need to keep “extras,” like W2s or 1099s.

Instruction manuals and warranties

I like to scan these things. Quickly scan them, store them as PDF files on a simple CD or hard drive, and then toss the paper.

Even better, you can easily find instruction manuals online for many common electronics and appliances, rendering their storage at home rather pointless.

My plan

We have this lovely dresser in the dining room that serves as our craft station. I refurbished it last year, so it looks great on the outside. The inside, however, is horrendous.

I’m going to show those crayon stubs and dried markers no mercy, and I’m going to make it a lot easier for the kids to find the glue, pipe cleaners, and stencils.

I’m also going to clear one particular countertop in the kitchen that seems to attract paper like white on rice.

And then I’ll clear out our one closet, organize the ski stuff (man, that puffy winter gear takes up a lot of room), and make it a little less scary to open.

Your turn

One participant in this week’s Project Simplify will win a NeatDesk. Seriously! I’ve wanted one forever (we have their smaller NeatReceipts), and it’s already helped us streamline our receipts, notes, and contracts. Helpful, as we’re in the home buying process. I’ll show you how we use it on Friday.

This baby will seriously help you handle the paper clutter in your home. And I’m thrilled that one of you will win it!

Update: See my before and after photos from this week’s hotspot here.

What spots are you targeting this week?

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. I’m tackling my desk… And I’m looking for a computer armoire to transition to so that I can keep the office area looking neat!

  2. i have so many places that need this work! i am thinking the most beneficial one would be the clutter on our desk in our room. it has gotten a bit out of control.

  3. Doing it and being so so proud of myself! Thanks!

  4. Paper is a constant struggle for me 🙂 I’ve been looking into the Neat Desk and thinking it would really help. Finding a home for everything on my counter and in my office and actually putting stuff where it belongs is my main goal this week. Thanks for the great tips and encouragement – it is nice to know I’m not alone!!

  5. I swear I hang up everything in the back door closet – but my husband and 3.5 year old don’t… so it is piled up about 3 feet deep. One day last week my husband asked for mittens for my daughter… I dug around and came up with 8 individual mittens, not one single pair! A few evenings later, hubby cleaned out the truck and found 6 of the 8 other mittens. We now have 6 pairs of mittens. Which is good because most pairs these days are going right out into the mud puddles, so we need lots of pairs.
    My junk drawer also needs an overhaul! Maybe tonight?

  6. I’ve gone through most of my house, just leaving those dark corners- closets and under the beds. Thanks for the help, your book is really wonderful!

  7. We decorate our guest room with the children’s nicest artwork. When relatives come and stay (mostly Grandma) they get to take anything that they want 🙂

    I’m a little late to this game so I am going through my kitchen cabinets today. It is a gold mine. I did my linen closet a few weeks ago, I like to peek in it now to see the clean tidiness. It makes me happy 🙂

  8. I am targeting my craft room/storage space/guest room this week. We have guests coming into town on Friday, so I guess I better get on it.

  9. This is off-topic, but you know what I love about that note? When your kids get old enough to start writing and sounding out words they don’t know how to spell, you learn an awful lot about your own mispronunciations. Obviously, this little girl hears “chrash” instead of the enunciated “trash,” from her parents. Too funny. That’s how we learned we were slurring “the movie theater” into something closer to “th’movie-ter,” and saying “a’ready” instead of “all ready.”

  10. I just posted about my challenge in cleaning some “treasures” out of my guest room closet from 7th grade. My husband thought it was quite amusing! Thank you so much for this challenge!

  11. kids’ craft stuff is definitely on my list this week!

  12. In an effort to, as Dave Ramsay puts it, “live like no one else” so that later in life we can “live like no one else,” we are preparing to move into a smaller home, and then sell two houses. We are kickin’ the mortgage to the curb!

    However, that means kickin’ a lot of other stuff the familiy ‘gathers’ too, you know the clutter. paper. stuff. Sorting through it all and continually making decisions is just plain hard work some days. BUT it will be well worth it in the end so I just keep on “Starting with the end in mind.”:)

    Timely and Great post. Thank you Ladies!;)

  13. I’m trying to move our desk and computer out of the living room to make room for a kids play area… this means major sorting and downsizing of desk needs… this would be perfect timing for the NeatDesk! Great post.

  14. Man, this is exactly what I need to clear out the giant filing cabinet in the study!

  15. I hereby promise myself that I will work on my desk, the craft drawers and the dreaded JUNK DRAWER in the kitchen. There, I have written it down and I must do it. : )

  16. I am a self-proclaimed organizing junkie! But alas, don’t we all have our Achilles’ heel? Mine would be receipts. I keep drawers of them (in folders by year and function, of course), but they are still taking up unnecessary space. I would love the NeatDesk to help eliminate my paper piles!

  17. julieann009 says:

    My desk drawer in my computer room is where I just throw papers in to keep it out of site. Nice desktop but a messy drawer. Probably could get rid of most of them. Papers should go in one pile – trash, or filing and scanning recepts. Purchased a few flash drives to store my paperwork. Thanks for a great blog and giveaway.

  18. Oh man… closet time! 🙂 We have a neighborhood pick up for the cancer research center this Saturday and my goal is 6 bags of clothes, shoes, and household items! I’ve filled a bag and a half this week already…

  19. I’ve worked on my kitchen “junk” drawer. Went through the markers, and pens to see what actually worked…surprisingly this decluttered quite a bit and made organizing easier…next on the list is the coat closet!

  20. Regarding dealing with the kid’s artwork, I actually took a big stack of our favorite preschool arts and crafts and took pictures of all of them. Then I made a photo book from Snapfish and know we have a hardcover professional-looking album full of color photos and captions of our son’s preschool and Sunday School color pages, crafts and artwork. We honestly enjoy looking at the album and it really is THE coolest thing! I recycled all of the paper ~ oh, and I did put 2 original pieces in his baby album.

    I will be tackling our food pantry ~ it’s in pretty decent shape, but I need to check expiration dates and do a general cleaning and re-organizing.

  21. I had to laugh when I was writing my progress post tonight. My husband and I LOVE board games, but our collection has gotten a little out of control. Yikes! The pictures alone motivated me to take half and donate them.

  22. Oh yes! Cottage Living, it has a special place in magazine holders on the bookshelf. I have every single issue and couldn’t bear to throw any away!

  23. I am working on my bedroom dresser, the window seat, and my nightstand, as well as my old paper files. I have been cleaning along this month with you (but not linking up), and I finally blogged about all the progress. Thank you for this motivation!

  24. Definitely going to work on my daughter’s closet. I’ve already pulled out all the clothes that don’t fit her but everything else needs organizing! And since I live in an old house without many closets – I’ll be focusing on some kitchen cabinets instead!

  25. Danielle says:

    Im so excited to get my drawers cleaned out! I done did my daughters closet when we were on kids stuff. That was a huge accomplishment for me! Now it’s on to my closet and my husbands. Ours arent that bad just need to get rid of some clothes that we haven’t worn in forever. My shoes.. well thats another story. I may tackle my jewelry box as well its a heaping pile of silver and costume jelwery! I don’t even know what all I got its so cluttered. And last but not least the dresser is getting cleaned out too!

  26. I definitely need to work on my desk area where the bills/receipts accumulate into piles and then sit. I would love being able to scan and toss!

  27. Laura Haske says:

    Tsh – I’m reading your book and inspired to put a yard sale on the calendar and work through your ten day plan. Watch out junk drawers, cluttered kitchen, and overcrowded storage area. I’m coming armed with focus and purpose this time.

  28. My whole house needs decluttered due to 2 home business + 2 kids in elementary school + mounds of paper and art supplies around every room. I’m watching craigslist for a kitchen island to help with organizing and would love to use one of those Neat Desk machines.

  29. I went through all of the baby clothes bins and just kept my favorites for the next baby. Was able to give so many good outfits away and condense storage bins!

  30. Lina Hong Lee says:

    OOoh! I’ve been eyeing the neat receipt scanner for awhile. I took advantage of my baby’s nap to tackle some eyesores. Although it takes work, I feel so relaxed afterwards.

  31. I tackled the kids cabinet in the school room….2 loads of recycles, and a full garbage bin later, it’s looking better! “Save worthy” artwork is up on the wall, crayon stubs are gone, scribbled papers are torn from old notebooks and recycled, puzzles are put together (and un-fun-ones are purged for the yard sale box.) Awesome!! MAN, I hope I win the scanner 😉 (Odd coincidence, I’m actually writing up synopses of your chapters right now, in a read-along with Organized Simplicity. It’s been amazing!)

  32. i’m tackling my closet, the laundry room counter and the kitchen counters. i am especially looking forward to a clutter-free laundry room!

  33. Susan DR says:

    I seem to be constantly working on the countertop in the kitchen that gets all the paper piled on it. So, this week I am not only going to clean off the magazines, mail, school papers, newspaper clippings, coupons, etc, but I am going to rearrange a few kitchen cabinets. The kitchen is organized with small children in mind – no breakables down low, plastic containers too low for me to enjoy using them, etc. Since my youngest just turned 14 I think it is time to rethink my organization, and purge while I’m at it. Last week I cleaned out the linen closet – filled the back of my SUV with donations! It feels so good (and my 25 year old really doesn’t want his Power Ranger beach towel anymore – LOL). Thanks for the motivation – lightening up really feels good!

  34. Our hall closet. We live in a small city apartment with four teeny, tiny closets and that hall closet has a lot of stuff in there we “think” we need. Time to go through it!

  35. Amy Forgey says:

    Hey- I’m late in the game because we’ve been sick with colds…so far this week I tackled the linen closet 🙂 and I’m 2/3 done with my desk- oh! the dust I’ve found!

    • Amy Forgey says:

      PS- I loved Cottage Living too….if you ever get some free time…you could always make a new one:)

  36. this week, I want to organize my kids clothes, put away what doesn’t fit anymore and once I’m done with that I will organize my office et especially get rid of all those pencils, pen, markers that don’t work anymore, but I keep for no reason.

  37. I think throwing things away might be one of my favorite things to do!

  38. I am clearing out the counter tops .. We just moved into our first house together ever and don’t have “junk drawer ” yet but we have paper all over the counters & my desk…. My son’s Craft box is just beginning and I am determined to get my house organized by the time we move in June!

  39. You craft dresser is a great idea. It’s so big and with all of those 9 drawers you should be able to get almost everything in there. It seams the older kids get the more stuff they have. I found that lockers for kids work for us, my kids are a little older and into sports but if they have a place for all of their stuff, there is no excuse for leaving it around the house.

  40. I was glad to read about so many people just like me. I’ve been contemplating the Neat Desk, as I have the same problem as many of you, paper clutter on the counters, dining room table, nightstand, couch, and in boxed in closets, all under miscellaneous papers.
    I am ready for Neat Desk, unless anyone has a better idea.

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