Welcome to Sparkleize

Sparkleize offers how-to articles and affordable services to help you get organized.

Ask Crystal

Crystal gives free advice about home organizing via e-mail. E-mail her with your questions and receive personalized suggestions.
Sign up for Sparkleize's quarterly newsletter
How-to articles and useful advice straight to your inbox

(Required fields are bold)

Preferred format
Preferred format    

Email Marketing Powered by MailChimp

© 2012 BlogName - All rigths reserved.

Firstyme WordPress Theme.
Designed by Charlie Asemota.

What paperwork to keep and for how long

- Author: Crystal

Struggling with paperwork and filing? Check out this handy 1-page reference document, “What Paperwork to Keep and For How Long?”

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: Office and paperwork

Unclog and freshen your sink drains

- Author: Crystal

Right now we live in an old rental house, and we inherited from the prior tenants several nasty, clogged drains. These were slow to drain water and emitted foul odors. That is, until I unclogged and freshened them!

This is a process that takes only 10 minutes but feels incredibly satisfying. No complicated gadgets, toxic chemicals or prior knowledge is required.

Part 1: Unclogging

What you’ll need:

  • One Zip-It drain cleaning tool. These are cheap and easy to come by. It’s basically just a plastic stick with big sharp teeth on it. Seriously, these are available in any hardware store or on Amazon. I keep a few of them under my bathroom sink, because you discard them after one use. (You’ll see why.)
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic bag
  • Pair of tweezers (optional)
  • Gloves if you’re squeamish.


  1. Put on gloves if you’re easily grossed out.
  2. Stick the Zip-It all the way down into the drain. I like to wiggle it around a little once it’s in there. You want those teeth to grab onto all the hair, soap scum, etc. that it can.
  3. Okay, here’s where things get gross. Slowly(!) pull the Zip-It out of the drain. It should be covered in chunks of nastiness. I use a paper towel to catch all the gross stuff that comes out, and then I dispose of it in the plastic bag. You’re not technically supposed to put the same Zip-It down the drain again, but sometimes I do.
  4. Once you’ve used the Zip-It 1-2 times, discard the Zip-It in the plastic bag.
  5. This process so far will undoubtedly have helped dredge up some drain crud. Now use the tweezers (if necessary) to grab onto any remaining hair or chunks that you see near the drain hole. Again, discard all chunks and paper towels into the plastic bag.

Next… it’s time to freshen that nasty drain!

Part 2: Freshening!

I learned this technique called “volcanoing” from UFYH (a horribly dirty-mouthed but brilliant website for people who are lazy about cleaning)

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Baking soda. (1 cup should be plenty for one drain)
  • Distilled white vinegar (1 cup should be plenty for one drain)
  • Small funnel (optional)
  • Kettle of hot water


  1. Stick the funnel into your drain and use it to pack as much baking soda down into there as you can.
  2. Next, pour a cup of the vinegar directly into the drain. This combination will bubble and fizz like crazy. Wait 5 minutes to let it do its work fully.
  3. Finish off the freshening by pouring a kettle of hot water down the drain. (If you’ve got PVC pipes or aren’t sure what type of pipes you have, use instead the hottest tap water your sink will produce – rather than boiling a kettle of water.)
  4. Voila! FRESHNESS!

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: Bathroom, Kitchen

Children and consumerism

- Author: Crystal

istock_000007655825xsmallSimple Mom wrote wonderful post called 9 Ways to Encourage Your Kids to Live Simply. I love the idea of our responsibility to pass on an attitude of simplicity to the next generation.

The author says this can be done by (1) Being hyper-selective about your toy selections, (2) Making your own toys, (3) Rotating those toys, (4) Letting your kids be involved in your shopping process, (5) Letting them purge with you, (6) Having them earn money for their treats, (7) Encouraging the right words, (8) Being selective about their friends, and (9) Sponsoring a child.

To this I would add a tenth: Consider limiting TV or doing away with it altogether. Some busy parents would argue that the television is a helpful tool, because it distracts and calms their unruly children for hours on end. However, television also succeeds in transferring marketing messages to children that lead to consumerism-centric behaviors, as evidenced by research published in 2006 in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The study showed a significant correlation between number of hours a child watches TV and the frequency with which they request toys and junk food.

Readers, what do you think? Is it practical to limit children’s TV viewing, or is this an unreality?

For further reading, check out the Marketing and Consumerism Awareness Network. The site includes this helpful guide and other resources to help parents deal with marketing and challenge their children to be savvy consumers.

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: People and pets

Guide to clutter-free gift giving

- Author: Crystal


Sparkleize encourages sensible, sustainable gift buying that won’t lead to bulging closets and clogged attics.

Some favorite clutter-free gift ideas:

  1. One-year gift membership to Consumer Reports or Angie’s List. Both are useful and promote responsible consumer choices – gifts which keep on giving!
  2. Donate to a charity in honor of someone. So many hard-working organizations need your money way more than your relatives and friends need more junk! You’ll feel good about it, and so will the recipient.
  3. Passes or a membership to a museum in the recipient’s home town. This is a great gift for children.
  4. Theater or concert tickets. Awesome!
  5. Shopping for a busy mom? Get her a spa or massage gift certificate.
  6. Lessons or classes. Give the gift of cooking or pottery classes, or salsa dance lessons! Even better: take the class with them!
  7. Photos. Most people, especially family members, love receiving current photos of you and your loved ones. Studios in shopping malls and department stores offer quick, inexpensive photo shoots with lots of photo ordering options. Pair it with a nice frame, and you’ve got a one-of-a-kind gift that is truly meaningful.

Clutter-free gift giving in a nutshell:

  • Steer clear of material gifts. Consider presents which are consumables, services, charitable contributions, memberships, or those which involve your time and friendship – rather than material stuff that folks don’t need.
  • Create memories, not junk! The greatest gift you can give someone is the time you spend with them. Generate lasting memories by doing things together. Making plans which include talking, eating and/or walking is always a good start.
  • Beware of gift cards. Giving a gift card to a chain retail store seems a bit better than a material gift; however, these are not the necessarily the best choice either. Think of it this way: often people feel obligated to pick something out at a store – not necessarily because they need it but because they have a gift card in their wallet which someone gave them. Unnecessary spending is a big factor in clutter! However, if you must give a gift card, choose one from a local, independent store so that the money stays in the community.
  • Buy local. If you must buy stuff, shop locally. (Here’s my Guide to Shopping Locally in Durham.) For example, one of the best place to find unique, handmade/homegrown gifts is your local farmer’s market!

Have additional thoughts or ideas to share? Leave a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: People and pets, Sustainable living

10 tips for organizing your closet

- Author: Crystal

Sparkleize recommends organizing your clothing closet twice yearly. Haven’t done it in a while? Set a date to organize your closet this month!

I’ve just narrowed down my own closet to only high quality pieces that serve me well on a regular basis. I use two criteria for knowing whether to keep something: (1) I wear it very often; and/or (2) I treasure it with all my heart. This has left me with 4 shirts, 5 blouses, 4 sweaters, 2 jeans, 2 slacks and 4 dresses: a sleeker, simpler wardrobe which I like so much more than my previous closet full of stuff that made me go “meh”.

If you’re stumped on where to begin or need some inspiration, here’s how I recommend getting started:

  1. Gather three boxes, bins or bags, and label them “Donate”, “Consign” and “Trash/repurpose”.
  2. Ready, set, go! You’re gonna have to make some tough decisions. Enlist a buddy if it would be helpful!
  3. Retire the old. Is anything stained or completely worn out? Remove these items from the closet.
  4. Be honest about what fits you. If it doesn’t fit you now, and it hasn’t fit you for the past calendar year, it probably never will. It’s time to let it go!
  5. Examine what you wear most frequently in terms of style, versatility, comfort and fit. After all, there’s a good reason that your favorite pair of pants are your favorites! The more you learn about your own likes and dislikes, the better you’ll become at shopping effectively for yourself next time. Be ruthless: If you haven’t worn something in the past calendar year, you’re NOT going to!
  6. Get seasonal. Box up wintertime clothing such as sweaters, fleece vests and warm pants. Clearly label those boxes, and store them in an accessible area of the attic, basement or garage so you can pull them out again next fall.
  7. Consign your nicer items to a consignment shop. Bring clean, seasonally appropriate pieces which are in good condition. (Call first to find out whether you need an appointment.) Consigning will leave you with a bit of extra cash, or store credit so you can add some new oomph to your wardrobe.
  8. Donate the rest of your gently worn (still wearable) clothes to your local donation center, thrift store or homeless shelter.
  9. Repurpose any items that are longer wearable. For example, old socks make great chew toys for dogs and t-shirts can become cleaning rags!
  10. Tidy up. Store properly the clothes you intend to keep! Neatly fold and stack your knit and casual wear. Dressier items like slacks and blouses should be ironed and hung up. Facing clothing the same way and hanging them on quality, matching hangers will create a sense of uniformity and order.

Celebrate your newly organized wardrobe!

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: Closets

Guide to Shopping Locally in Durham

- Author: Crystal


Why shop locally?

By choosing to shop at locally-owned, independent stores rather than chain stores and large national corporations, we are directly helping to grow our local economy and enrich our community. 

More great reasons to shop locally can be found in this article: “Why I Try Really Hard to Shop Locally”. You can also read up on the local independent shopping movement in Durham at Sustainabull.

How to shop locally in Durham, North Carolina

Durhamites can consider some of these local shopping alternatives, listed by category:


  • Host a clothing swap for your friends. It’s free, and everyone gets great stuff!
  • Shop at local thrift stores whenever possible. Proceeds usually benefit the local community, and thrift shopping does not encourage production of more new products. Pennies for Change is one of my favorites!
  • Fifi’s Fine Resale, a consignment store on Main St., is amazing and delightful.
  • Check out Durham’s lovely clothing boutique culture – particularly those on 9th St., Main St and in the Brightleaf Shopping Center (Some of Crystal’s favorites are Magpie, Vert & Vogue and Vaguely Reminiscent.)



Sporting Goods


Shipping and mailing

  • A-1 Stop Mail Shoppe (9th St.) Very quirky but super friendly little place. I support these guys 100% because I get personal service and lots of friendly conversation whenever I go.

Photocopies and printing services

  • Spee Dee Que Instant Printing (E. Chapel Hill St./Foster St.) This is a very “Durham” sort of place (i.e., messy, homegrown, old school..) but they care deeply about the work they do, and there’s a Chihuahua. Also it is a thousand times better than going to Kinko’s.

Auto supplies




Hardware and building materials


  • Thrift stores, yard sales and flea markets!
  • Craigslist
  • TROSA Furniture (Foster St.) We consistently find great stuff at TROSA Furniture. They deliver too!
  • Morgan Imports (Gregson St. near Brightleaf Square)


Pet supplies

Office supplies

  • Not Just Paper on Main St. This is another one of those very “Durham” sorts of place (i.e., messy, homegrown, old school…) but they care deeply about what they do, and it’s super fun to shop here. I discover new things every time.


  • Atomic Empire (3400 Westgate Rd off 15/501) Board games, role playing games, comic books and much more. They will special order you anything you can’t find in their store.

Arts and craft supplies

Garden supplies

  • Stone Bros. on corner of Geer/Washington St. These are the friendliest people who are incredibly helpful with gardening tips! They have full service customer service, including the standard practice of carrying/wheeling all your purchases out to your car for you.
  • Barnes Supply Co. on 9th St.


If you know of any other great local business alternatives you think Durham should know about, please drop Crystal a line!!


1 Comment - Categories: Sustainable living

Easy jewelry organization

- Author: Crystal














I ordered an inexpensive hand-crafted wooden jewelry rack from Etsy. It was easy to mount on the wall, and in 10 minutes I went from a tangly jewelry mess to a neat display.

Have additional thoughts or ideas to share? Leave a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!







No Comments - Categories: Closets

What to do before the dinner guests arrive

- Author: Crystal

You’ve put off cleaning, and the dinner guests will be here in less than an hour! Don’t panic. Here’s what to do to give your house an instant face lift:

  1. Clear the clutter (10 minutes). Grab hold of a laundry basket and “swoop” energetically around the house for 5 minutes, picking up everything that doesn’t belong. Now recirculate around the house one more time (5 additional minutes), delivering all the items in the hamper where they’re supposed to go. The key is not to stop to ponder things and/or get sidetracked!
  2. Wipe down all surfaces (10 minutes). With a soft damp rag, quickly wipe down any non-wood surfaces like counters and tables. Got grime? Use a spray bottle filled with 1/2 water, 1/2 distilled white vinegar. For wood surfaces, use a feather duster or a soft rag and a wood-friendly cleaner such as Pledge.
  3. Make the bathroom mirrors and toilets sparkle (10 minutes). A spray bottle filled with 1/2 water, 1/2 vinegar and some paper towels will work wonders on the mirrors. Use full strength vinegar and a toilet brush to make your bowls shine. Lastly, wipe down the lid and rims with paper towels and half vinegar solution. Don’t worry – once the surfaces are dry, the vinegar smell will disappear and be replaced with a fresh, clean scent!
  4. Give the floors a quick sweep and/or run the vacuum (5-7 minutes). Pay attention only to the dirtiest areas! Don’t bother with the rooms they’re not likely to see. Dimming the lights is going to help hide the dirt anyway.
  5. Use flowers to your advantage! (5-7 minutes). Guests are less likely to notice clutter if you’ve got flowers to distract them. One bouquet of flowers goes a long way to make the place feel fresh and classy. Place one or two stems in each bud vase (or whatever you’ve got) in bathrooms, dining room, living room and kitchen. Tip: A single type of flower makes the biggest impact.
  6. Finally, dim the lights, light the candles, and flip on the music (2 minutes). Scented candles are fine for the bathroom and living room, but keep them out of the kitchen and dining room. The perfume-y aroma can ruin your guests’ appetites.

Now don’t worry too much. If your friends really love you, they won’t care about mess or dust anyway. Good luck, and happy holidays!

Have more ideas to share? Post a comment or write to Crystal and let her know!

1 Comment - Categories: People and pets

Slides from “Organizing Your Home” talk

- Author: Crystal

Huge thanks go to Duke University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) for giving me the opportunity to present today as part of the OLLI Conscious Aging Series!

Click HERE to see slides from this talk, called “Organizing Your Home”.

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: Organizing 101

Keeping cool for less

- Author: Crystal

Refreshing Iced TeaSummer is upon us down here in North Carolina – 90 degrees in the shade of the oak tree and the air as sticky as a pecan pie! If you’re like us, it’s awfully tempting to crank that thermostat down and feel the icy air of modern technology. Problem is, this can get expensive. I’ve put together a few of our secrets for staying cool without spending a lot of cash:

  • Go barefoot. We vent a great deal of heat through our feet.
  • Turn off the lights. Overhead lights actually do generate a bit of heat, while darkness gives you the perception of coolness.
  • Use a handfan. Buy it cheap or make one yourself. Don’t underestimate the power of moving air across your sweaty self. As you know, sweat cools us down when it evaporates!
  • Spend time at the public library. They have air conditioning you already pay taxes for, and you can share the cool air with your community while reading a book!
  • Sit on the porch sippin’ iced tea. Be sure you’re sitting on the side of the house that doesn’t get the sun at that time of day. Add some crushed mint leaves to your brew for extra coolness.
  • Take a quick cold shower right before you go to bed. This can temporarily lower your body temperature a degree or two.
  • Use Gold Bond Medicated Powder. I learned this from a buddy of mine in the Peace Corps when we were all living on the equator in Africa. When all else fails, strip down to your underwear, sprinkle on some Gold Bond in all your hot places, and lie down in front of an electric fan. The icy tingle of the powder combined with the breeze will make you think you’re getting air conditioned!

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: People and pets