Baby Books

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ohhhhh baby books. Those two little words can conjure up all kinds of emotions, but one emotional constant I've seen when it comes to baby books is guilt, specifically "mommy guilt."

I can't say with confidence I've ever met a mother who has completed baby books for all of her children with equal enthusiasm and attention to detail. Some have purchased the books, some were gifted the books, some have started to fill out the books, and some have plans to buy the books one day...

More notably, I've yet to meet a mother who has joyously logged all of the baby gifts received, all of the baby shower attendees, and so forth.

I've experienced this first-hand. I purchased a beautiful light blue fabric-bound baby book for my son two weeks before he was born. The thought hit me like a freight train: "Oh no, I don't have a baby book!!" What's more, I felt the need to buy one of the nicest options on the market. I promptly brought the book home and placed it on my shelf.

That was three and half years ago.

Recently - probably after having Frozen on a loop in my house - I decided to "let it go" and practice what I preach to my clients. The book had stared me down for years and the guilt laser beam coming from that shelf was all too much. Why was I treating myself like this? Certainly my children wouldn't want this for me. There were times I'd pick up the book to work on it and immediately put it back down. Because. I. Just. Couldn't.

Let's be honest: baby books aren't fun to fill out - it's a chore. If it weren't, completed baby books would be seen in nurseries everywhere. And I'm pretty sure my children aren't going to care about what famous people share their birthday (who thinks of these questions?!).

This issue touches mothers of all generations. No matter your age or the amount of technology at your fingertips, the story is always the same: it's not going to happen.

Yes, documenting the infancy of your children is important and sharing some pictures, stats, and memories of this precious time with my kiddos when they're older is something I look forward to. But the process of collecting this information has got to be easy and enjoyable.

So donate or recycle those untouched baby books once and for all (trust me, it feels great!), and let's explore some workable options:
  • A family blog: This is certainly easier and more enjoyable if you're tech savvy, but I would caution you to think twice about this if you're not sure you can fully commit - otherwise, your blog will die a slow death like the baby books.
  • Digital baby books: like this one, this one (they'll even send you guilt lasers reminders), and this one - but again, think carefully about your habits and the likelihood of completion.
  • Baby email: When your children are born, set up an email address for them and over the years send them photos, notes, stories, etc. Not sure about email? Then write your children a personal note on special occasions and store them until your kids are old enough to appreciate them. I get a card for each child on Christmas, Easter, and their birthdays and write a special note. I love doing this, plus three cards per year per child is manageable for me.
  • Photo albums: When I finally moved on from my son's baby book, I still wanted something tangible from his first days, so I purchased one of those inexpensive "brag books" with 20 or so photo slots and filled it with pictures from the hospital. The project took less than an hour (thanks iPhoto!) and it was fun for me. I did it again for my daughter and both albums are kept out in their rooms so we can relive those special days. If you're looking for something a little fancier though, printed photo albums - from less expensive ChatBooks and MixBooks to more formal lay-flat albums like these from Artifact Uprising and Parabo Press - are always an option.
  • Baby milestone cards and my first year posters: Great alternatives to a traditional baby book. I also love the My Quotable Kid journal - my sister gave my son this journal on his first birthday and we love it! We keep it on his bookshelf so we can easily see it and regularly add to it.
  • A good old fashioned clear box (my faves) with a label (e.g. "Baby Stacey"): Fill it with ultrasound pictures, hospital bracelets, and other keepsakes. Easy peasy! And want to remember baby's first word and other highlights? Jot them down on a notecard and throw it in the box. I'm giving you permission to use index cards instead of homemade shrines for your baby's milestones.
Bottom line: find a method that works for you. The higher the price or the greater the effort does not represent the amount of love you have for your children.

If you have alternative baby book ideas, let me know - I'd love to hear from you!

Finally, here's a quote I keep framed in our nursery - it's a great reminder when mommy guilt starts to get the best of me (click on image to enlarge):

Stay tuned for a similar blog post: kids' artwork!

'Til next time,

UPDATE (as of 11/6/15): I recently learned about Chronicle Books. This is another alternative to baby email, but more custom than a greeting card. Their tag line is "Write Now. Read Later. Treasure Forever." Check them out!

UPDATE (as of 1/4/16): I recently learned about Qeepsake. Once a day, Qeepsake texts you a question about your child (e.g. "What makes Stacey smile?") and you text back the answer which is then added to your child's journal. Now that's the kind of journal I can keep up with!

UPDATE (as of 1/28/16): I recently learned about EveryStory. This is a great way to capture the stories behind your pictures - simply record, save, and share!

Birmingham-based professional organizer, Stacey McElrath, helps clients throughout Alabama and the southeast clear clutter and establish customized systems to maintain order in their homes or offices. Contact SHMorganizing today for more information:


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Happy New Year!

It's been awhile since I've written, but I have some fun organizing treats in store for 2015 and can't wait to share them with you! I spent some time over the holidays getting really real (look away Grammar teachers) with my recipes, kitchen tools, clothes, etc. First topic on the chopping block organizing checklist: my recipe and cookbook collection.

But case you missed it, SHMorganizing was in the news! Special thanks to Celebrate Magazine for asking me to assist with their "Refresh Your Home: Get Organized" piece. To read the full article, be sure to pick up their Jan/Feb issue on newsstands now.

As I mentioned in Celebrate's article, magazines and cookbooks are famous for being massively accumulated then forgotten about. And when it comes to meal planning, if you don't have your game face on then your time, energy, and resources pay the price.

We've been in a food rut lately and I believe that's because our system wasn't working. Similar to our manuals, we had everything in the same place but there was no functionality. The biggest issue was our loose recipes (e.g. index cards, online recipe print-outs, newspaper cut-outs, etc.)...yes they were all in one folder, but one dare not open it.

BEFORE (click on images to enlarge)

I put my SHMorganizing hat on and got to work!

I pulled all of the cookbooks out and found a couple to donate. I reviewed all of the loose recipes and tossed at least two dozen. Remember: get real with yourself. I love a great meal, but cooking isn't one of my passions. So other than several "fancy" recipes I use for holidays and celebrations, why was I hanging onto meals that kept me at the stove longer than at the dinner table with the people I love?! Finally, I tore out all of the recipes and kitchen tips I had flagged in magazines and recycled what was left.

When the time came to put everything back together, I went with the Five Star Flex 1" Hybrid NoteBinder. The pages can be tucked under and the special rings won't break or misalign. Not fancy, but oh so easy to use!

I purchased some clear sheet protectors and loaded each sleeve with two recipes (front and back), then categorized them by appetizers, soups & chili, salads & sides, and so forth. If the recipe was an odd size - an index card, for example - I taped it to a letter-size piece of paper so it would stay in place. Traditional tab dividers don't stick out far enough when you use sheet protectors, so I used Post-it Writable Tabs and labeled accordingly.

Finally - my favorite part - I put a velcro binder pocket in the front of the binder for recipes I want to try soon or recipes we haven't made in awhile. So when it's the eleventh hour and I need a meal, I know right where to go!

If your meal planning could use some similar attention, keep these points in mind:
* Realistically think about your cooking abilities, likes & dislikes, time, ingredient budget, etc.
* Respect the space you have and acknowledge limits. Overcrowded cookbook shelf? Time to purge. Plus you're more likely to use and maintain a tidy space.
* Don't let such things make you feel guilty. Tried enough recipes in a cookbook to know it's not a good match? Donate that sucker and give it new life! As the saying goes: keep the best, get rid of the rest.
* Look through and edit your recipes a couple times per year so your collection stays manageable.
* Use what you love. Prefer a fancier recipe binder? Need more categories? Etc. etc. etc. Use supplies you love so you'll love to use your supplies.
* Ready to go paperless? Consider a personalized & digital cookbook app like Paprika or My Recipe Book.

'Til next time,

Birmingham-based professional organizer, Stacey McElrath, helps clients throughout Alabama and the southeast clear clutter and establish customized systems to maintain order in their homes or offices. Contact SHMorganizing today for more information:

She's Here!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

She's here! Our precious daughter arrived happy & healthy on 8/14/14 and she's already taking my jewelry...

Please forgive my lack of blog posts lately - surviving my ninth month of the South...should be an Olympic sport! This heat is no joke. But I look forward to getting back to work and posting more projects & pictures after I spend a few weeks with our baby girl.

If you're interested in booking time with me this Fall, please email me ( to schedule a consultation. It'll feel so good to welcome the holidays with a decluttered space!

'Til next time,

Birmingham-based professional organizer, Stacey McElrath, helps clients throughout Alabama and the southeast clear clutter and establish customized systems to maintain order in their homes or offices. Contact SHMorganizing today for more information:

Product Manuals

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

These days it seems like every product, no matter how simple and straight-forward, is accompanied by a manual. In some ways, these little reference books are invaluable (especially if you're putting together toddler toys or IKEA furniture!), but why do we feel compelled to keep every piece of paper that comes with these items?

As my husband & I continue to prep for baby #2 (new chapters are a great time to reevaluate your systems) and simplify areas around our home, I knew this situation needed to be addressed (click on images to enlarge):

Each time a manual made its way into our home, it got thrown into this box. No bueno. I guess I get a few points for having everything in the same place - but not only was this system an eyesore, it wasn't reliable or functional. So when our house alarm recently decided to quit working and I couldn't find what I needed, I knew it was t-i-m-e.

I pulled everything out of the box and sorted the contents into piles. My trash pile grew pretty quickly when I realized I had French manuals, duplicate manuals, and manuals for products I no longer owned:

I also ran across some product registration forms. I tend not to fill these out because it's one less company that can fill up my mailbox and inbox with junk, but I do believe this is an important form to submit for car seats or any other item where you'd want the company to notify you as quickly as possible regarding recalls, etc.

I felt it was safe to toss this registration form, especially since it was for the oldest TV in our house.
Since most product manuals are now available online ( is a great resource), I knew I could take advantage of this fact and free up some storage space. Additionally, electronic manuals have the most up-to-date product information.

I was able to toss all of these manuals after I confirmed they were available online.
FAQ sections on company websites also contain valuable information when you have product questions.
The motivators might be different for each family, but for one reason or another, there were several manuals I wanted to keep handy and in print. I also had some warranties and original purchase receipts I attached to our printed manuals.

I found this unused wicker file box in our home office and knew it would be a great new home for our sorted manuals. I am a big fan of reusing supplies if they appeal functionally and fashionably.

When it comes to filing paper, always keep retrieval in mind when labeling. In other words, when you're looking for something, will "pet" stick out to you or "dog" or "Scout?" After you assign labels with titles, a font, and a size you like (I recommend straight-line tab filing with all CAPS and bold print for easier reading), organize your files alphabetically and voila!

I added an asterisk to manuals that will stay with the house if we ever move.
How do you organize your product manuals? Let me know - I'd love to hear from you!

'Til next time,

UPDATE (as of 7/8/14): I recently learned about This smartphone app allows you to scan the UPC code from your product, which then gives you online access to that item's manual. You'll also get recall notifications, assistance registering your product, and be connected to Customer Service if you're having problems with your appliance or gadget.

Birmingham-based professional organizer, Stacey McElrath, helps clients throughout Alabama and the southeast clear clutter and establish customized systems to maintain order in their homes or offices. Contact SHMorganizing today for more information:

Product Review: PerfectCurve CapRack 9

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Happy Spring!

Maybe it's the time of year or maybe my nesting is kicking in (we're expecting our second child in August!) or maybe I'm obsessed with great organizing products or maybe our 100-year old home needs regular tweaking to maximize non-existent storage space or maybe it's a combination of all of these realities that's pushing me to make some organizational improvements around our house. Whatever the reason, I find it extremely energizing and exciting when simple solutions and new systems improve the flow of space.

I plan to share these adjustments and products with you in the coming months, and my hope is you can use these tips and my experience to improve efficiency around your home or office.

First up: the PerfectCurve CapRack 9. I love this product! And for $4.99 per about low cost, high impact!

We're a hat family - in fact, all three of us have our own collections. But, my husband wins with 20+ hats:

This system was simply not working. The door couldn't be closed completely because the hats were overflowing on either side, and finding the perfect hat was a chore.

Whether I'm working with a client or in my own home, the first two steps are always the same: consider the needs & habits of the client (my husband, in this case), then sort & purge.

Asking a hat collector to give up two-thirds of his collection so I can close the closet door is an attempt to change the client...not productive at all. Instead, I need to change the environment in which the client operates. Change the system, not the individual.

After considering the size of the door and doing some product research, I landed on the PerfectCurve CapRack 9. I could easily fit two racks side-by-side inside the closet door, allowing my husband up to 18 hat hooks. Done and done!

After sorting his hats, my husband quickly realized he had some duplicates, so donating three hats to get to 18 was the perfect compromise. It's important to respect the "real estate" you have. In other words, you don't have more space than the space you have. When these limits are not acknowledged = clutter. Now we're on a one in/one out system. The new hat racks are maxed out, so if a new hat is desired then an existing hat must be donated.

The hats stay firmly in place on the hooks!
If you have similar head gear needs, I highly recommend the PerfectCurve CapRack 9! Or do you use another great system? Let me know - I'd love to hear from you!

Screws are included with this product if you'd prefer not to have hooks showing on the outside of the door.
As information, the PerfectCurve BagRack 9 was not a winner. I tried it out for my purses and hats, and the hooks were not strong enough to hold my purses in place, especially when I opened or closed the closet door. Back to the drawing board on that one!

And in case you missed it, SHMorganizing's services have expanded! Need help organizing and clearing out your inbox, want assistance managing your calendar and appointments, don't have the space, time or budget to hire a full-time employee, just need help on an "as needed" basis? SHMorganizing is now offering virtual assistance. Contact me for more information or to schedule a consultation!

'Til next time,

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are mine alone. I have not been compensated in any way to review or promote these products.

Birmingham-based professional organizer, Stacey McElrath, helps clients throughout Alabama and the southeast clear clutter and establish customized systems to maintain order in their homes or offices. Contact SHMorganizing today for more information: