Archive for ‘Gifts’ Category

Posted on: December 26th, 2016 by Julie Bestry | 2 Comments

You’ve got boxes, right? After a weekend of giving and receiving gifts, you’re likely surrounded by boxes. Everywhere you turn, boxes. It’s practically a Day of Boxing! Well, actually…


Boxing Day, observed on December 26th, the day after Christmas (and this year, the second day of Hanukkah), is a holiday popularly celebrated in the UK and various Commonwealth nations, many of which used to be British colonies. The history of the holiday is complex and widely debated, but traditionally, servants and tradespeople were given Christmas boxes on the day after Christmas, when they were granted leave to visit their own families and did not have to work. How very Downton Abbey of them.

Before you move along to another post, affecting a posh accent and saying, “I’m going upstairs to take off my hat,” I’d like to suggest a much more rewarding way to observe Boxing Day.


Give Back Box®, through a partnership with Amazon,, Ann Taylor, REI Co-Op, and more than a dozen other retailers, has found a solution that allows you to encourage yourself to pare down your excess possessions, bless others with donations of your largesse, and get those cardboard shipping boxes out of your house, all in one fell swoop.



The purpose of Give Back Box® is to provide an effortless and convenient method of donating your used household items. Give Back Box not only provides an easy way to be part of a truly good cause, it also allows cardboard boxes a second life by recycling them and keeping them away from landfills to help improve our environment. So this is an all-round CSR & Sustainability solution that costs you literally nothing.


  • Take your Amazon (or any other retail partner’s box), and empty out the goodies you’ve received. (You can also use a plain cardboard box, if you like.)
  • Fill the box with donations of clothing, shoes, and various household goods. But please, no liquids, electronics, ammunition, or fragile or hazardous things! (And do check the pockets for any train tickets that might prove you innocent of murder.) Then seal up the package.
  • Print a free pre-paid shipping label from Give Back Box’s site and affix it to the box. The cost is covered by Give Back Box’s partner retailers, most of whom have special Give Back Box pages on their sites, too.

gbbneweggThere’s no weight limit, so you can fill the box to the brim — and print as many labels as you need.

  • Now, just send the package to Goodwill via UPS or the United States Postal Service at any UPS Store or post office, all at no cost to you. You can even request a free USPS pick-up of your package at your home, if the weather outside is not so delightful and you’d rather lounge about and have your lady’s maid, Anna, serve your meals in bed.


Give Back Box box has a variety of benefits — personal, social, economic, and environmental.

You’ll make donations more often — You know you’re busy. You know your house is full of things you don’t use, don’t wear, or don’t want. (Honestly, what was Aunt Rosamund thinking?) You want to donate more things and more often, but the truth is that every time you find something in your home that you want to donate, you set it aside and forget about it. Maybe you have a donation station in your home, with the pile getting bigger and bigger, but it practically takes an act of Congress to get the donations out of your house, into your car, and to whatever non-profit you choose.

By making it free and convenient, Give Back Box prompts you to think about what you can let go of every single time you receive a box from one of their partner retailers.

Boom! There’s your habit! Get a box of stuff? Give a box of stuff!

That’s good for you, and it’s good for all the work that Goodwill does, providing job training and putting people to work in the local community. And people who want and need what you no longer have space or time to manage reap the benefits, too!

It’s also sustainable. About 30 million tons of retailers’ cardboard box material is zooming around the earth each year. By following the principles of “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” Give Back Box and its partners are helping you clean out your house and helping us all clean up the environment.

Even the Dowager Countess would be excited!


Still have questions? Read through the Give Back Box page of frequently asked questions, and check out this little video.

Posted on: July 7th, 2016 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

EdoHouseHere at Paper Doll, the focus is almost always on how paper (and the information it represents) can be better managed to improve your productivity, reduce your stress, save you time, and put your money to good use. We don’t usually talk about play.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”  ~ Mr. Fred Rogers

Abraham Maslow (yes, for those of you who just barely recall Psych 101, the Hierarchy of Needs dude) said, “Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.”

And Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori approach, based her eponymous schools on the principles of self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play.

While we strive for order and productivity, we sometimes fail to notice that creating disorder, and then order out of that, is how children (and creative adults) make sense of the world.

When I work with (adult) clients to help them divest themselves of their own clutter, we start with some basic questions: Do you wear it or use it? When was the last time you used it, accessed it or read it? If it were more accessible, would that increase how often you incorporate it into your life or work? Does it fit with who you are, or who you are actively trying to be?

Understanding organizing issues with children it isn’t very different — though they may lack the self-awareness to discuss their toys and clutter. They snuggle with beloved stuffed animals that are “loved to death,” with floppy ears missing, and own bins of crayons worked down to the nubs. But more often, they have popular and expensive toys, given by well-meaning grownups who remember not a whit of childhood, that languish in toy chests or on shelves, while the cardboard boxes in which they were shipped become playhouses, or rocket ships, or science labs, or any of a million other things that fuel the imagination.

It’s with this notion, that cardboard boxes or bricks can organize a child’s play so that it’s robust, fulfilling, and full of reinvention, that we look today at Edo.


Edo are sturdy, flat-packed building blocks made of high-quality micro-corrugated cardboard. The Italian trio who created Edo developed the patent-pending features to provide a perfect strength-to-weight ratio in the assembled bricks. Parents (or older kids) simply fold the bricks into shape and then are ready to build new worlds.

In the words of the creators:

With Edo, kids can create and play with their own ideas. The possibility to create something from scratch stimulates imagination and creativity. The dimension of the blocks and the chance to create life-size buildings develops spatial awareness and social skills. Edo lets kids play alone while inspiring the creative thought process and easily gets contagious in groups of all sizes.

Edo currently has three types of double-decker Lego-like (but, y’know, cardboard!) bricks based on combining single-decker pieces folded from the “flats.”


Edo is environmentally friendly, as the bricks are made of recycled cardboard, and they are 100% recyclable. The dye colors are non-toxic, and the creators state that the cardboard will be FSC-certified in the United States and will have CE-certification in the European Union.

Once properly assembled, each Edo block can support at least 100 pounds, though the video below shows ways to push the envelope! (So, I guess…don’t show the video to Grandpa?)

They come in Havana (or what we’d call cardboard brown), Icy White, or (eventually) in a mix of five colors (green, red, yellow, blue, and orange). The individual bricks can be colored, spray-painted, or otherwise “transformed over and over again to tell countless stories.”

Add-on kits with accessories, such as ears and eyes for making animals, people, or monsters, can be purchased separately. Of course, DIY accessories can be made at home, by parents and children, with scraps of cloth, junk jewelry, pipe cleaners, and whatever else has outlived its otherwise practical usage.


The annoyance of many types of children’s toys is that when they are not being played with, they turn into a mess. Small items like toy cars and small blocks fall to the bottom of toy chests or bins never to be seen again unless the chests or bins are completely upended. Larger toys don’t fit anywhere, and, at best, get pushed against a wall, untidily. However, Edo can be stacked, even turned into a wall of bricks, flush against a playroom, bedroom, or family room wall.

Edo can also be used for functional storage and utilitarian purposes. You can turn it into a bookshelf, a bed-side table, a drawing table or child’s desk (with a smooth surface placed on top). As the web site notes, “You can also build the legs for a coffee table to be used with any top and of course you can create other furniture.”


The delightful Edo has a Kickstarter right now, with three weeks to go.  Please visit their page to view their package descriptions in greater detail. Right now you can get:

  • Edo 25 — a sort of starter kit
  • Edo 100 (also available in a two-pack) — you can build almost anything, including a T-Rex!
  • Edo 500 — for developing serious Edo architecture!
  • The Edolinis (also available in a two-pack) — 27 blocks plus three pairs of eyes to create life forms for which the creators hope to develop sets of clothes and uniforms, such as for firefighters, business-suited office workers, doctors, and construction workers.Edolinis
  • Choose Your Animal (also available in a two-pack)  — Pick a crocodile, giraffe, or elephant!
  • The Snowy Castle of Wonders — If this were available with enough pieces to build it for a full-size adult, Paper Doll would move in.

Pledge prices range from $35 for the smallest set to over $500 for the 500-piece set (which is more suitable for a school or entertaining all the kids in your neighborhood). Shipping is available to the United States, Canada, and European Union countries. Delivery dates for orders placed through the Kickstarter are planned for October 2016. [Edited to note: Ten hours after this Paper Doll post went live, and one week into the Kickstarter, Edo’s creators have canceled the funding campaign, with explanatory notes in English and Italian. Happily, this is a temporary pause, and Edo’s campaign reboot should be back up in September, in time for the holidays. Timing, eh?]

Oh, and even if you don’t have kids, the concept still holds that play boosts productivity.

Now skedaddle! Go play!

Posted on: December 19th, 2014 by Julie Bestry | 5 Comments


There are eight days of Hanukkah, twelve days of Christmas, and what seems like 365 shopping days each season to get it “right.” And yet, so often the gifts we give (and get) turn into clutter that we must store, dust and caretake. And not merely clutter, but forgettable clutter.

A few years back, I excerpted a portion of my little e-book Simplify the Season and Save Your Sanity and blogged the (mostly) clutter-free Holiday Gift List: Favorite Things Edition. I stand by my recommendation that gifts of experiences — like entertainment, adventure, education, and pampering — are key to making presents memorable. Even practical gifts for those who lack the time or inclination to deal with (or pay for) practicality, can be refreshing, as I wrote:

Any driver would benefit from gift certificates for oil changes, car washes and detailing…even memberships in AAA or a similar auto club. Multiple months or even an annual subscription for internet service, Netflix, cable or satellite TV, or cellular service are practical but charmingly unexpected. For college students or those on a fixed income, comping these expenses can really lighten the load.

Today, I’d like to share what my colleagues in the world of organizing and productivity have said recently about the best gifts for the holiday season.




Unclutterer, the first (and last) word in living a reasonably — rather than ridiculously — uncluttered life puts together an amazing gift-giving guide each year, with editions dating all the way back to 2007. This year’s roundup included:


Introducing the 2014 Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide by Erin Doland

Organizing gifts for the kitchen and bathroom by Jacki Hollywood Brown

Gifts for kids by David Caolo

Experience Gifts by Jeri Danksy

The ultimate uncluttered gift by Erin Doland

Productivity Gifts by Jacki Hollywood Brown

Technology Gifts by David Caolo

It would be impossible for me to pick a favorite item (though I was incredibly flattered that my 57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business was included on the Productivity Gifts list). However, one of the products David Caolo included on the Technology Gifts list was the Magnetic Organization System (MOS), which I reviewed in Paper Doll’s Cable Conundrums & the MOS: Magnetic Organization System.


I have the iMac-matching aluminum MOS next to my computer, and a white MOS bed-side to ensure that when I unplug my iPad charger, the cable doesn’t slip or slide beyond my reach, as it had previously — and annoyingly — done for a full year before I discovered the deceptively simple magnetic wonder.

As much as Paper Doll loves paper, I recognize that going paperless (or at least having less paper) in our lives is a worthy pursuit. If you or someone on your shopping list is hoping to lighten up and be responsible for fewer tree homicides, friend-of-the-blog and all-around Canadian nice guy Brooks Duncan of DocumentSnap has put together his own 12 Days of Paperless Gifts series to solve your woes.


Brooks is a few days short of making it all the way through the series, but as of today, you can check out:




12 Days Of Paperless Gifts  Desktop Document Scanners

12 Days Of Paperless Gifts – Personal Document Scanners

12 Days Of Paperless Gifts – Mobile Document Scanners

12 Days Of Paperless Gifts – Book and Object Scanners

12 Days Of Paperless Gifts – External Hard Drives

12 Days Of Paperless Gifts – Personal Cloud Storage

12 Days Of Paperless Gifts – Online Backup

12 Days Of Paperless Gifts – Online Document Services

12 Days Of Paperless Gifts – Note Taking

12 Days Of Paperless Gifts – Helpful Resources

It wouldn’t be fair of me to pick a favorite from an unfinished gift guide series, but so far, the list of technology and paperless resources, like Brooks’ own The Unofficial ScanSnap Setup Guide and Brett Kelly’s Evernote Essentials, is in the running as a heavy favorite.

I don’t know for certain if Brooks will be tackling the topic of shredding, but after preventing paper from coming into the home or office, shredding it once the data contained becomes digital seems the obvious next step. However, just in case shredding isn’t on the agenda, I’d be remiss if I did not point out Jeri Dansky‘s Shredder Design for Function and Fashion post for Core77, an industrial design blog. Trying not to judge a book by its cover or a shredder solely by its sleek lines, I must admit a hankering for the Black & Decker iShred that Jeri reviewed.



Writers, speaker, blogger and podcaster Mike Vardy of Productivityist put together his own holiday shopping compendium, The 2014 Productivityist Holiday Gift Guide. I like the fact that Mike took the approach of looking at productivity from a holistic, whole-life approach, and didn’t limit his list to apps and software, or even to the office environment.

I won’t tell you which item on his list was my favorite, as I’ll (coincidentally, honest!) be writing about it soon. But I must give a nod to his recommendation for designer Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote notebook and workbook products, whose system my colleague Deron Bos  illustrated in my NAPO2014: Notetaking and Pendaflex/TOPS’ FocusNotes. I don’t have a visually creative bone in my paper body, but I’m fascinated by the Sketchnote method for visually depicting concepts while notetaking.





Lifehacker‘s Alan Henry (who interviewed me, as well as Unclutterer’s Erin Doland and others, for What Professional Organizers Really Do, and How They Can Help) recently curated The Gift of a More Organized Office, and it is chock-full of splendid items that could make you more efficient…or more cluttered, depending on whether you’re the sort of person who would use the items to their best effect. (Isn’t that always the case?)

I can tell you that I purchased one of the items appearing on the Lifehacker list, the Quirky Space Bar, on the recommendation of a client, and am already loving it, both aesthetically and functionally.


It’s not merely a monitor stand (available in black, white and iMac-matching aluminum); it had six USB ports, two high-power front ports for quick-charging of devices, and four ports (two front and two rear) for charging and syncing USB devices. The Space Bar is available from Quirky and Amazon. (Note: Following my own advice from 8 Brainy Tips to Organize Your Holiday Spending, using Ebates and RetailMeNot, I got it at a significantly discounted price and free shipping.) It’s great having my Fitbit’s bluetooth dongle and charger, my camera cable, the iPad charger and flash drives all potentially accessible without having to reach behind my iMac.

I can give a big thumbs-up to most of the product categories on the Lifehacker post: cable management tools, portable scanners, computer stands, whiteboards, and standing desks. However, while I am a major proponent of label makers, I would caution most readers against the one-handed model shown, with letters arrayed in alphabetical order. Most of us, even if not touch-typists, are adept at using a QUERTY keyboard, and trying to hunt-and-peck letters on an ABCDE keyboard can be maddeningly slow. Finally, the Lifehacker gift list reminds us of the not-very-sexy but ultimate importance of a surge protector and/or uninterruptible power supply (UPS).






Finally, nobody does a better job of gathering and collating the collective knowledge of professional organizers than Janet Barclay of Your Organizing Business, and I’m proud to have been one of the 68 bloggers to have contributed to this year’s series of monthly Professional Organizers Blog Carnivals as one of the SuperStar Bloggers.


The most recent Professional Organizers Blog Carnival on Holiday Gift Giving includes posts from 31 organizing experts (including yours truly). That edition covers organizing-related gifts, clutter-free and clutter-reducing gifts, and gift-giving tips. Along with the practical advice, you’ll find some wise philosophizing on gift-giving for minimalists, maximalists and all your recipients in between.

If, after all this, you’re still unsure of what to get (or ask for) for the holidays in order to keep clutter at bay and satisfaction maximized, never fear. Tune in next time for last-minute gifts that won’t break the bank, pile on the clutter, or arrive too late.

Posted on: November 26th, 2014 by Julie Bestry | 2 Comments

It’s time for the seasonal shopping juggernaut. Usually, I’d focus on recommending holiday gifts of experiences and consumables (i.e., stuff to do and stuff to eat, rather than stuff to install, assemble, store, and eventually, dust), but you’re probably heading out into the fray, anyway, if not this weekend, then at some point in the coming month.

Before you risk sleep, life and limb, and your retirement fund to shop for your loved ones (and their loved ones, and piano teachers and soccer coaches, and the paper boy and the shampoo girl), and before you come home with twice as many gifts for yourself that you weren’t planning to acquire in the first place, Paper Doll has some research-based guidance for facing this shopping season.



In 1990, research on the Endowment Effect showed that the mere act of touching an object creates a feeling of ownership. This is why we professional organizers sometimes hold things up for our clients to make purging decisions instead of handing them over — it allows them to make a more dispassionate, less emotion-based decision.

Now, Professors S. Adam Brasel and James Gips at Boston College have found that touching things on a screen has that same impact, triggering the brain to spend, acquire and own. Their paper in the Journal of Consumer PsychologyTablets, Touchscreens, and Touchpads: How Varying Touch Interfaces Trigger Psychological Ownership and Endowment discussed their findings that if you’re using a touch screen, it increases the Endowment Effect almost as much as touching the actual item, and makes you less aware of factors like price.

So, if you’re shopping in the store, keep your hands in your pockets or wear your winter gloves. (Also, you’ll avoid germy germs!) If you’re shopping online, use your laptop or desktop to shop, or if you must use your phone or tablet, wait until you’re using a mouse or trackpad to make the final purchase.


Keeping clutter from building up depends not only on jettisoning what you don’t need, but also in keeping things from coming into your space altogether. To do that, beware of consumer psychology tricks that retailers play.

We’ve all heard of baking cookies during real estate open houses – it tricks the brain into thinking the house is more cozy. Consumer psychologists have found that our olfactory senses (i.e., our sniffers) impact the memory and emotion centers in the brain more than sight, hearing, and even touch, and controls our emotional reasoning, which is behind most of our purchasing decisions. (We may do extensive research before making purchases, but in the end, we buy what makes us “feel” best.)

If you find yourself making impulse decisions in stores that have lots of fragrant stimuli like lotions, flowers, or candles, consider these strategies. Whenever possible, shop online so you’re better able to limit sensory inputs to 2D visual stimuli, which tend to focus on facts (prices, features, measurements) rather than emotions. When you do shop in person, take along a friend who can help you avoid temptation. It helps if that friend has allergies, it’ll keep you out of the shops that practice olfactory sneakiness!


Have you ever noticed how, when the signs say “Limit: four per customer,” that people feel the need to acquire the absolute limit? In research published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Cornell Professor Brian Wansink and colleagues found that quantity limits imposed on purchases can tempt consumers to buy twice as much or more of any product than they’d otherwise have considered.

Scientists call this concept ‘Anchoring and Adjustment’ — with lower-priced items, most people see the limit as the optimum number or amount to purchase. If shoppers buy less than the limit, it still tends to be more than they’d originally planned to buy, if they’d planned to buy anything at all.

With higher priced or luxury items, like iPads or video games, a purchase limit implies that there’s some level of scarcity, and many consumers infer that scarcity means a higher inherent value, making them desire the item more. You’re not likely to buy more than one iPad Air at a time, even if the limit is, say, three to a customer, but somehow knowing you can ONLY have three makes the one you intend to purchase somehow seem more valuable. Pretty sneaky, eh?

How can you countermand these retailing tricks?

— For lower-priced items, decide how much of something you want or need before you leave the house, and put it on your list. Once in the store, ask yourself if buying three times as much as you planned will save you (and your giftee) more than the frustration of having no space in the kitchen or closet.

— For big-ticket items, remind yourself that the purchase limits are not just there to ensure equal access, but to boost consumer enthusiasm. That should make you resent the tactic enough to think more reasonably as to whether you want the item in the first place.


Whether you’re shopping for ingredients for the holiday open house or presents for Grandma and Uncle Joe, don’t shop aimlessly.

Have you ever come home from the grocery store to find you not only didn’t purchase everything you intended to buy, but that you’ve got oodles of things you hadn’t even planned to get in the first place? Or you tell yourself, “Oh, I’m sure that will be the perfect gift for … somebody.”

You already know that shopping when you’re hungry tends to make you buy more. But did you know that doesn’t just apply to food? Research shows that maintaining even levels of blood sugar helps us make better decisions – about what foods and products to buy, but also about the values of things and how much money to spend. But even if you are hungry when shopping, you can prevent impulse buying.

A study with the scary title of The Future Is Now: Temporal Correction in Affective Forecasting, published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, found that even if shoppers are hungry, simply shopping with a list helps consumers stick to purchasing what they intend. The lesson?


Your method of payment can actually help or hinder your ability to shop wisely (and thus limit your potential clutter). A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that paying with cash instead of credit cards decreases the number of impulse purchases consumers make. While the study focused on food purchases, anecdotal evidence suggest this applies to other purchases, too. Other solutions to organize against impulse buys:

Have a budget. Know how much you can reasonably afford and make a game of trying to stay within your target zone.

Use cash when you’re likely to buy small, disposable items like quick meals and items near the register (especially when you’re tired and hungry after a day of shopping).

Save credit cards for when you buy tangible items of significant value or “big-ticket” purchases like travel. Credit cards offer purchase protection and other advantages, but it can be a bit depressing to find that you’re paying for a mediocre meal you ate five weeks earlier.

Save up for moderate or large purchases. Your appreciation for something will grow if you spend months socking away the money; you’ll do a better job of researching features and the item is less likely to become clutter.


You probably didn’t need research to tell you that when big box stores come in to an area, the number of retail jobs actually decrease and that wages and benefits decrease.

We are all implored to shop small, and shop locally: to purchase from our neighbors, friends and members of our community, rather than chain stores. I really haven’t figured out what the excellent Simon & Garfunkel song “America” has to do with shopping at local small businesses, but Small Business Saturday is happening again this Saturday, November 29, 2014.

Yes, the song pulls at our heartstrings, and yes, it coaxes us to use American Express cards. Paper Doll is not eager to encourage you to amass shopping debt. However, if you do have an AmEx card, and are planning to shop at all this Saturday, you can take advantage of the opportunity at the above link to register your card (or all of your AmEx branded cards), and any purchases you make at local small businesses registered with the program will earn you up to three $10 statement credits per card.

So, instead of Starbucks, visit your locally owned coffeehouse for your mid-shopping break, and treat your companion (the one whose allergies kept you from overspending, up above), to a nice snack.


Paper Doll’s own non-academic research yields useful tools for organizing your finances so the shopping budget goes further.






Ebates rocks! Imagine if every time you walked into your favorite store, a doorman slipped you a tip.

Ebates began as a shopping portal. You clicked on the name of the online store, were taken to the store’s site, and any purchase you made gave you cash back. Now, it’s even easier with the Cash-Back Button installed in your browser. Shop online as usual, and Ebates gives you a little on-screen alert that if you make a purchase at that store, it’s worth 3% (or 5%, or whatever) back. Click, which reloads the page and through the magic of cookies (the non-edible kind), Ebates knows you bought something at whatever store, and then you get a cash-back check. Apple’s the least joyous — you only get 1% back; the magazine subscription company I use yields 15%. Most are anywhere from 2-10%, with all sorts of extra bonuses and discounts. The Ebates app for iOS and Android has deal alerts and scan-and-compare features.

I keep waiting to hear that there’s something secretly malevolent about Ebates, but after using it for years, it’s all still good. But here’s the main thing — there’s no work (beyond signing up for the account). How’s that for organizing your finances and time management?

Disclosure: If you use my affiliate link above to register with Ebates, I’ll get rewarded for the referral. If you have concerns about that, you can just manually go to and sign up all on your own.




Retail Me Not is another superlative solution for reducing online shopping expenses. Stores send out mailers and include discounts in catalogs, but if you’ve avoided paper clutter all year, there’s no reason you should be punished during the shopping season.

Whenever you’re planning to make an online purchase, go to Retail Me Not and enter the name of the online store at which you’re shopping. Chances are good that a discount code (or several) will pop up. Either click the link provided, or copy and paste the code at checkout to lower your cost.

Another solution is to type “[name of store] free shipping” into your favorite search engine to, yes, get a code for free shipping!


Know the return policies for the online and brick-and-mortar stores at which you buy presents. Check out Paper Doll Organizes Your Many Happy Returns for guidance. And be sure to request gift receipts from the cashier when you’re shopping in person.

Finally, whether you’ll be dozing on the couch, making snow angels or planning your holiday shopping assault strategy, I wish you all a happy, healthy Thanksgiving.

Posted on: August 12th, 2014 by Julie Bestry | 6 Comments

Paper Doll is old enough to remember the excitement that the August back-to-school issue of Seventeen Magazine would bring. I especially loved the articles about preparing for college.


Long before I was ready to go to college, I couldn’t wait to get organized to go to college. And by the summer between graduation and going off to school, it seemed like Paper Mommy and I comparison-shopped every possible dorm room item, as if we were setting up a color-coordinated magazine spread for Dorm Room Beautiful!

Over the years, I’ve offered a lot of advice about preparing for college. Elsewhere on my site, I’ve written articles like Organizing Your College Search and Application Process and Organize Your Dorm Room. A search of the Paper Doll blog for the tag “Notes and Notebooks” examines options for the right note-taking solutions and resources, and the blog covered Textbook Rentals: How to Avoid College Textbook Clutter as early as 2009, and then in again in 2010, and looked at 11 Tips for Beating the High Cost of Textbooks in 2012.

Today’s entry offers up some of Paper Doll‘s favorite items and venues for organizing college life.


Pivot Power — this flexible power strip and surge protector from Quirky comes in a few versions: junior, with three outlets, as well as six-outlet versions in traditional black, white with blue, and various colors in the POP line. This full-sized pink POP Pivot (say that three times fast!) runs about $20.
QuirkyPinkPivotBend the Pivot to accommodate hairpin dorm room turns, large chargers and inconveniently-placed furniture.


We’ve already talked about the Vertical Step Index Expanding File and the


Organized Up™ Vertical Stadium File when we looked at NAPO2014: Our Friends at Smead Are on the Up and Up!, and we’ve covered the Organized Up™ folders, which have dual tabs for easy storage in backbacks and when traditionally filed. But be sure to check out other backpack-friendly vertical school supplies in that same line. I’m particularly fond of poly folders, as they won’t rip or get wrinkled with overuse, and seem like a step up from the paper subject folders prevalent in middle and high school.

For example, there’s the Poly Backpack Folder.

SmeadCampusPolyBackpackThese upright folders are designed to hold one subject at a time, and the fold-over flap keeps your syllabus and handouts secure. The flap is straight-cut, so it can be tucked or untucked (like college shirts after the Freshman Fifteen take hold) and each Poly Backpack folder will hold up to 100 sheets and run about $1.29 at Amazon and elsewhere.

Smead’s line also includes the similar Poly Backpack Organizer. Each of the three pockets will hold up to 50 sheets. (For those who are still fond of paper over poly, both products are available in 11-point textured paper stock, as well as poly.) You can find the organizers for about $5 each.



Paper Doll perennial faves Office Candy have a whole line for fashionable college students to get their organizational groove on. Collegiate-themed Campus Candy has the same philosophy as its older sibling — if your organizing resources are appealing, you’ll be more likely to use them to keep yourself orderly.

From Kate Spade storage boxes ($52 for a set of three sturdy, patterned boxes with gold foil accents and gold foil ID labels)


to a plethora of Lily Pulitzer agendas, spiral notebooks, water bottles, desk sets and more, Campus Candy offers decorative sweets.



I’ll admit, in my day, when dinosaurs roamed the campus, backpacks were pretty basic. One large interior pocket, one smaller, zipped exterior pocket, and if you were lucky, padded straps. As far as I can recall, bottle water (let alone mesh pockets for water bottles) wasn’t even a thing yet. Now, students have an embarrassment of stuff-schlepping riches from which to choose.

Cocoon Innovations, makers of the Grid-It! (in all of its various incarnations), has always been a Paper Doll all-star. I think college-bound students should be considering a variety of Grid-It! resources, from the standard Grid-It! Organizers (Medium shown here, 10 1/2″ x 7 1/2″, $18, available in red, blue and black)216_xlarge

to the Grid-It! Wraps for tablets (in black, grey and red) for $30.

GridItWrapOpenBut the backpacks have taken the game up a notch — and while the Central Park Professional Backpack (designed to hold a 17″ laptop) is definitely practical and stylish, the Cocoon Slim Backpack (able to hold up to a 15″ MacBook Pro) has everything a college student might need to make it from breakfast to bedtime without a moment’s clutter kerfuffle.


The slim has a padded compartment for a laptop as well as a separate iPad compartment, and a built-in 16″” x 10 1/2″” GRID-IT! front pocket. There’s an interior document section, and an exterior zippered compartment for more storage. The whole interior is lined in faux suede to buffer the high-tech gadgets, and the exterior features water-resistant ballistic nylon, waterproof zippers, and gun-metal hardware. Ridiculously organized and durable, but also sleek, when fully packed, it’s still only 3 1/2″ deep:


And it’s only $79! I’d always thought that if I were going back to college, I couldn’t find anything more perfect for me than my Züca bag combined with a Grid-It for all my chargers and gadgets, but the Slim is mighty tempting.

Of course, if you (or your college-bound student) want a similarly lean alternative but with a little more minimalist cachet, the Evernote-branded, French-designed Côte & Ciel Flat Backpack may fit the bill. The high performance, dark grey EcoYarn exterior is tough but attractiveEvernoteFlatin that oh-so-Old-World, “Oh, this old thing?” manner, and the three interior pouches will accommodate a 13″ or 15″ laptop, a tablet and stacks of papers, all in under 4″ of depth. The price, however, is a not-so-slender $180!


Most college students can adequately outfit themselves for campus survival without ever leaving their nearest Big Box store plaza. For example, Power Bed Risers, like these from Bed, Bath and Beyond, serve two purposes: superior storage and increased available outlets.


A set for four, for $30, raises a dorm room bed 7″ from the floor, allowing for more ample storage of lidded tubs (for extra supplies and off-season clothing) without cluttering the room. Additionally, one riser in each set includes twin 110-volt, 15-amp grounded power outlets and twin USB 5-volt DC outlets with a charging light, so you can make sure everything from phones to Fitbits, iPads to (probably still contraband) toaster ovens will be ready when the need arises.


Finally, there’s something to be said for the basics. College students have put milk crates to use as bookshelves, open armoires for clothing, fridge-top food storage, filing boxes, chairs, dining tables and more for about half a century.


Nowadays, they’re designed primarily for files, not wholesome dairy products, and have hanging file rails running along the interior in both directions to corral letter- or legal-sized files.

For between $4 and $6 each at Walmart, Target or Staples, you can grab two or three plastic milk crates in mix-and-match colors, pack and stack them with minimal fuss and cost, and maximize the organization in your postage stamp-sized castle. It’s academic.

And by the way, Seventeen Magazine is still offering advice on what to bring to college.