Author: Danielle OBrienFamily Holidays Organizing Project Management Seasonal Storage

The Key to a Simple Halloween Party

Picture Orange leaping flames from a crackling fire

Everyone can agree life can get a little hectic, especially around the holidays. Who has time to read Martha Stewart magazine, shop for the ingredients, put out an amazing buffet, craft fantastic decorations, and then be the “hostess with the mostest” at the time of the party? However, nobody wants to wants to miss out on having fun and seeing friends either. So I’ve come up with an easier way, a simplified way, to celebrate Halloween.

Here’s how to host a simple Halloween party:

• On October 1st my two Halloween bins come out of storage. One contains decorations, the same ones I use every year because they are full of memories. And the other of costumes, which we like to try on throughout the month just for laughs.

• Around the second week of October I place a flyer in every mailbox on my street, email the neighbors I know personally, and start spreading the word whenever I see anyone out and about.
My invite reads:
Halloween Party at Danielle’s house
Dress warm, bring a chair & snack to share

• On the third week of October I purchase my candy, beverages, and paper products. During this time, I also make sure I have enough fire wood and clean up my fire pit.

• Finally Halloween arrives! I start off the day with a short trip to the Conshohocken Bakery where I buy tomato pies, cakes, granola bars, and cookies for later that evening. We set up a buffet table and our fire pit in the driveway and not long after that, the neighbors arrive with chairs and snacks to share.

Sitting under the stars outside with my neighbors, enjoying the warmth and beauty of the fire, and watching the children make their rounds from house to house is a great way to spend Halloween. It’s relaxing, fun and you don’t even have to clean your house! Try it, you’ll love it.

Author: Margit NovakFamily General Holidays Seasonal Seniors & Aging

Passing the Passover Plate

this hand decorated table cloth has become a family traditionIt happens in every family — a rite of passage that marks a new life stage — when you give up, or take over, hosting family holiday dinners. As I take out our Seder plate and Passover dishes, I think back to when I assumed this function for our family, and wonder when my children will assume it for me.

If you’re lucky, these role changes occur over time. You offer to make the chicken soup or brisket, you arrive early to help set up or stay late to clean up. And then one day — you are hosting the holiday meal — and your parents and children are helping you. These are happy transitions, that you make of your own will and where you control the timing. But sometimes, change is thrust upon you, because someone passes away or is ill. These changes are no less natural, but metaphorically and physically, there is an empty place at the table.

There seems to be no set age when you “become the grown up.” Some people host holiday meals well into their eighties; others shift the responsibility in their fifties, sixties or seventies. I’m not sure how families decide when to change their routine and custom.

Passover is unique, perhaps, because you can host the holiday meal while a parent can lead the Seder. You can assume the physical work, and an older family member can still have the role of patriarch or matriarch. Perhaps every religion has holidays and rituals that pass this same way from one generation to another.

My husband and I are hosting Passover this year, but already my kids have started the Passover passage. My daughter is arriving the night before to help set up and prepare her famous matzo-spinach lasagna. My older son is helping his dad make chicken soup, and my younger son will help arrange our furniture to accommodate a crowd of 20. We plan to hold Seder at our house for many years to come, but we are grateful for the help, and thankful that our kids are interested in preserving the tradition.

As with all holiday traditions, initiating change is hard. When we once suggested moving away from brisket, there was widespread family rebellion. Every departure from a favorite dish, it seems, is suspect or outright vetoed in advance.  Dishes served year after year become comfort foods that define the holiday. And in part, I like this. For decades, a friend’s mother prepared a broccoli-corn casserole for Thanksgiving. Although her mom died five years ago, my friend and her dad still prepare the same broccoli-corn casserole together every year. In doing so, they honor her mother’s memory, and more important in my mind, they celebrate the relationship she has with her dad.

I heard today about a new custom, a lovely one, and although I am not sure it is right for us, it may be for others. Each year, everyone who attends this Seder signs their name on the tablecloth. My friend then embroiders the names, and the next year, the same tablecloth is used and that year’s names are added. They are starting their third year of this tradition, and already her children have said that this tablecloth is one of the things they most want when they “grow up.”

Personally, I like incorporating new traditions in with the old. It makes holidays into living things that evolve and change over time. Passing the baton to the next generation on Passover is like that too. It is as if, through change, we keep things the same.

Author: Naomi CookClutter Donating General Holidays Recyling Seasonal

Recycling Christmas

Recycling arrows decorated for Christmas

The magical holiday season has come and gone and now it’s time to face the reality of the New Year…and the inevitable task of taking decorations down and cleaning up. You can just toss your tree to the curb, but what if you want a more meaningful way to lay your tree to rest? Read on for some great ways to tackle your clean up list and do some good for the planet at the same time!

Recycle Your Christmas Tree: Yes, you can recycle your tree! Just make sure that you take all the light strands, tinsel, and ornaments off before doing so. Earth 911 ( offers a great link for anyone to be able to recycle their tree and turn it into mulch.  Type in your zip code and find the closest drop off spot near you.

Recycle Your Shipping Boxes: Of course you can break them down and put them into the recycling bin, or pass them along to a friend who will be moving soon. Note to my colleagues — as Professional Organizers, you can also offer them to clients who are moving, for their belongings and/or for taking away any donations.

Recycle Your Wrapping Paper: If you were careful to unwrap your presents because you love the paper — hang onto it for another gift. Or if it’s a larger piece, create a placemat (by simply cutting the sheet into a small rectangle) or a pretty tray liner. Another fun idea is to use a hole puncher on your wrap scraps to create confetti for your next party!

Recycle Your Gift Bags: Keep your holiday spirit going throughout the New Year! Use them as a lunch bag to bring to work or as a catchall for coupons and sale ads when you’re headed out shopping.

Recycle Your Greeting Cards: Treat your favorite cards to a frame and use them for your décor next year, or keep them up year round. You can “re-gift” them by cutting off the back of the card, which has the writing on it and give it a postcard look, writing on the flipside of the front of the card.

Recycle Your Gift Boxes: Smaller cardboard jewelry boxes work well as organizers in your catchall drawer, while shirt size cardboard boxes can be used to separate stacks of items in drawers and keep them vertical.

I hope you learned some fun tips to make recycling fun. Here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year full of special times ahead with your family and friends, and of course…a clutter-free home!

Author: Vali HeistClutter Family General Holidays Organizing Seasonal Shopping


image showing 3 wrapped giftsI spent this past Thanksgiving holiday with my son and his extended family in Florida. Traveling during a major holiday has never been my first choice, but as a professional organizer, I realize that being organized helps to lessen the stress that holiday travel can bring. Most would agree that Thanksgiving has the best part of Christmas (family gathering) without the gifts getting in the way. In my profession, I see many gifts go unused regardless of the generous spirit in which they were given. Some of my clients dread the pending influx of additional clutter and want suggestions on how to curb the CRAP.

As a result, I often recommend clutter-free gift giving. A clutter-free gift is the gift of time, memories, an experience, or health. You can also give a gift that helps others who have needs beyond our imagination. Here are some suggestions:


  • Car wash coupons
  • Cooking lessons
  • Dance/Yoga lessons
  • Gym membership
  • Movie tickets
  • Museum membership
  • Pottery/glass-making glasses (think Goggleworks)
  • Savings Bonds (purchase online at
  • 529 plan contributions
  • Self-defense classes (think young women)
  • Tattoo in honor of someone (my son did this for my husband and me)
  • Tickets to the symphony/theatre

GIFT CARDS (not entirely clutter-free)

  • Garden nurseries, home improvement stores, and bookstores
  • Gas stations, grocery stores, and convenience stores
  • iTunes, eMusic, and Ticketmaster
  • Restaurants, coffee shops, and fast food restaurants
  • Spa, facial, and massages


  • Cash donation to a charity in honor of the recipient. Let the recipient know via a card.
  • Give a gift certificate so they can choose what charity to donate to:
  • International Relief Fund:
  • Green gifts for global impact:
  • Life-sustaining gifts to help abolish global poverty or renew our planet’s environment:
  • Donate an animal in honor of someone: or
  • Participate in the local toy drives
  • Give a tree in honor of someone:
  • Donate a book on health information to communities all over the world at


  • Join a friend (instead of exchanging gifts): local art studio classes, yoga, book club, film club, craft and scrapbooking classes
  • Babysitting coupons for nieces, nephews and grandchildren
  • Take a child: to lunch, on a day trip, to the museum, to a local college for a sports event, to the zoo
  • “First Christmas Together” (or other name) coupon book: Make a list of the things you know your partner would enjoy and include practical and fun things: e.g. a back rub, do the dishes for a week, make a candlelit dinner, do grocery shopping, etc.

Finally, if you can’t go clutter-free, choose a gift that donates a portion of its profit to a favorite non-profit agency of your choice. Verify the charity at

Organize your best holiday season by starting early and focusing on family. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson


Author: Gabrielle Watters-SmithGeneral Goal Setting Holidays Project Management Seasonal Shopping

The Holiday Time Puzzle

Keep Calm & Twinkle On

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. The grocery store revealed the first clue that something was happening. There — I was greeted with remnants of goblins and candy, cranberries and stuffing, tinsel and gift wrap galore – ALL AT ONCE.

Immediately, my mind tallied the numerous tasks that needed to be accomplished in the next few weeks. By the time I made my way to the check-out line, I’m fairly certain that my frazzled expression and my declaration that the “holiday season has arrived” caused the cashier concern.

I really do enjoy the holidays, but sometimes it’s hard to wrap my head around the extra seasonal tasks and obligations that need to fit into my already busy 24 hours. It’s a time puzzle indeed!

With these five simple strategies below, you — and I — will have time to enjoy this season.

Take a few minutes and “Brain Dump.” Do NOT keep your holiday to-dos in your head! One of my favorite everyday organizational tools is workflowy. It’s a great way to organize your projects and tasks on your computer, smart phone, or tablet. For those who like to write, a notebook works just as well, but have it with you everywhere you go.

Focus on what’s important. Pause and really think about what makes your holiday season special to you and your family. Are there traditions and events that you look forward to or approach with less than a little enthusiasm? For example, if the thought of baking 12 dozen cookies does not fill you with the holiday spirit, take it off your list or delegate it!

Calendar your important holiday projects and tasks first. You will be more productive knowing that you are planning for and doing what brings you joy during the holidays. Then fill in with the less significant tasks.  Be at peace, if you cannot accomplish it all.

Set time limits to these tasks. Parkinson’s Law states that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’ You will be amazed how quickly you are able to make a decision with a time limit. Go ahead, limit time spent gift shopping at the store or online.

Delegate, delegate, delegate. If you are entertaining during the holiday season, allow others to help you. This can mean a guest bringing a dish to contribute to your festive meal, someone setting the table, or helping with the mega dish clean-up. This year, I recognized that hosting the Thanksgiving meal was more than I could take on. After discussing alternatives with my family, we agreed that getting together was very important. Our solution — to meet at a centrally located restaurant for a leisurely family dinner. Less time shopping, cooking, cleaning, traveling and MORE time being together. I am grateful!

Feel free to share with us how you are planning to ease the stress of your holiday season.

Author: Kelly GalfandGeneral Holidays Seasonal Shopping

Gift Giving the Green Way

Celebrate life’s blessings.

Still life with hands

Opening presents sure can be fun — but dealing with the hassle of wrapping paper, tissue wrap, ribbons, and recycling trash can sometimes be the bummer at the end of the party. That task sometimes falls to me…even on my own birthday. As I turn one year older this month, I treated my family to the gift of captured moments with a professional family photo sitting. We got all of the shots we wanted PLUS which I’m sharing at the end of this post.

What kinds of gifts can YOU give this year that don’t involve packaging or plastic — and don’t take up room on shelves? Theater events, spa treatments, and special meals out are just a few ways to celebrate the good times in life with the people you love. Keep this in mind while you shop for the holidays. Ask nieces and grandparents what events (sporting or cultural) they’d like to attend in lieu of cappuccino makers and electronic gadgets. Cousins could organize a bowling party instead of racking their brains for what “Suzy” wants this year for Christmas.

Now is the time to get your family on board with the idea of green gifts — like time spent together — rather than purchased goods. If the idea of intangible gifts is too big a leap (this year) then at least make sure to share your want-list. Don’t be shy telling people (friends, family, co-workers) what you’d really like. In this economy, no one wants to throw good money after bad. Happy Holidays.

Kelly with Husband

NOT your typical siblings shot

Family Portrait in FEET!