If you’ve ever accrued a late fee after losing a bill, thrown away spoiled peaches you forgot to eat, or bought yet another pair of sunglasses because you couldn’t find yours, then you know being disorganized can cost you money.
At best, clutter in the home causes mistakes, late fees, overdue payments, and missed deadlines. At worst, a house in chaos can eat away at your finances, mar your credit, and reduce your productivity. That’s a whopping price to pay for being disorganized.
According to an Ikea “Life at Home” survey, 43% of Americans admit to being disorganized, and the average American wastes 55 minutes per day looking for stuff they’ve lost or misplaced.
“Do you think organizing is just for appearances?” asks Lisa Gessert, president of Organizing.buzz, a professional organizing service in Staten Island, N.Y. “Organizing your home is financially beneficial.” Gessert stresses to clients the need to sort, purge, assign things a home, and containerize. “This process saves people tons of money.”
Related: The Link Between Clutter and Depression
Here’s why being organized saves you money, and how to get your home into shape:
Disorganization in the Home Office Costs You:
Lost papers = time spent looking for them, money wasted on duplicates
Misplaced bills = late fees, bad credit causes higher interest rates
Missed tax deadlines = penalties
Image: Cate St. Hill
If any of these sound familiar, you’ll need a home office system for dealing with important papers, bills, and personal correspondence. The Ikea survey found 23% of people pay bills late because they lost them. Wall-mounted bill organizers can help you stay organized. Look for ones with two or more compartments to categorize by due date.
“Having your papers organized will save time, help you pay bills on time, and allow you to be more productive,” says Alison Kero, owner of ACK Organizing, based in New York City.
Mount shelving and create a file system for important papers, such as insurance policies and tax receipts. Look for under-utilized space, such as converting a standard closet into built-in storage with shelves and cabinets for your papers, files, and office equipment. If you need to use stackable bins, don’t stack them around equipment that needs air ventilation, such as scanners and Wi-Fi receivers, since they could overheat and malfunction — costing you money.
Disorganization in Your Closets Costs You:
Missing clothes = money spent on duplicates
Hidden items = wasted time since you can’t see what you own
Accessory mess = wasted money on items you don’t wear, can’t find
“Organizing often reduces duplication of possessions,” says Lauren Williams, owner of Casual Uncluttering LLC, in Woodinville, Wash. “No more buying an item for a second, third, fourth time because someone can’t find it.”
If closets are crammed, paring down is a must. First, take everything out. Rid yourself of multiples, anything you no longer wear, and assess your shoe collection. Create piles: purge, throw out, or donate.
For what’s left, you’ll need a better closet system. You can choose a ready-made system that simply needs installation, or create your own. PVC pipe can be used to create additional hanging rods, and you may also want to add shelving to store folded clothes, hats, and bulky items. Look for wire mesh shelving, solid wood shelves, or an all-in-one closet shelving system depending on space. Large and small hooks can be wall-mounted to hold belts, accessories, and scarves. Disorganization in the Kitchen Costs You:
Expired food = wasted money
Overflowing pantry = can’t see what ingredients you have and duplicate them
Crammed cabinets = overspending on multiple dishes and gadgets
Since the kitchen is often the hub of the home, it has a tendency to clutter. No wonder the Ikea survey found 50% of the world’s kitchens have junk drawers. Categorize yours by adding small plastic or wooden drawer organizers for things like thumbtacks, rubber bands, scissors, and tape.
To avoid buying your third jar of oregano or second potato ricer, buy or build an organizational system for your pantry. Built-in lazy Susans work great. Use pull-out mini shelving to corral items like dressings, hot sauces, and vinegars. Tackle cabinets and counters by mounting behind-the-cabinet-door racks to hold items like pot lids or cutting boards.
Add pull-out drawers in your bottom cupboards to make everything easily accessible and easy to see. You’ll thank yourself when you get older, too.
Related: Smarter Ways to Use Your Kitchen Cabinets and Drawers
Disorganization in Your Living Areas Costs You:
Lost keys, missing wallet = late for work, lost productivity
Not being able to fully enjoy your home = you spend money elsewhere for fun
Blocked ventilation = utility costs rise
Your living space is where you want to get the most enjoyment out of your home. If you can’t relax and enjoy yourself there, you’ll constantly be seeking out other places to find solace and fun — and that can add up to a lot of money spent on entertainment and recreational venues.
And, meanwhile, you could be paying more than you should for the living space you’re not enjoying.
“I run into people whose homes are unorganized to the point of papers, boxes and ‘stuff’ blocking air vents that supply heat and air conditioning to their homes,” says Gessert. This costs a fortune in utility bills. Likewise, a jumble of electrical wires around TVs and home entertainment systems can be sucking energy from always being plugged in. Connect them all to smart power strips that can turn everything off with one switch.
Once you’re living with organization, you’ll start to see the benefits everywhere. No more dealing with late fees on bills, having to buy replacement earrings or bread knives when items go missing, and — perhaps best of all — no more having to leave your home in order to find relaxation and entertainment. After all, saving on bills can be a big boost to your monthly budget, but there’s no greater value than getting more enjoyment out of your home.
Restored or renovated ranch houses can be just stunning, but don’t expect to buy a rundown ranch and create magic with a sledgehammer and a vision—there is an art to updating them.
The trick is for the renovator to “respect the positive qualities of a ranch, so as to add to, not just alter them,” says architect and architectural historian Alan Hess, author of “Ranch House.”
Easier said than done? Read on for expert tips on how to renovate a ranch house right.
Open your kitchen, inside and out
In most ranches, the kitchen was built in the front of the house, often close to, but shut off from, the formal dining room. Katherine Ann Samon, author of “Ranch House Style,” suggests replacing a kitchen window with french doors that open to a front patio.
“It makes the room feel bigger, and you don’t have to go through the living or dining room to get to the outside,” she says. If it’s in your budget, she says, take down the separating walls and add an island.
One good thing about ranch kitchens: They were made in the era when the kitchen was starting to get larger.
“The kitchen became equal parts food prep and entertaining,” says Louis Wasserman, an architect and author of “Updating Classic America Ranches.” This means small updates are simple. “It’s pretty easy to swap out appliances and expand.”
A modernized Mamie pink bathroom
Katherine Ann Samon
Add to the original beauty of the bathroom
While we know pastel bathrooms are not for everyone, and some folks would rather gut than go through a painstaking restoration, it’s not so hard to modernize what might look dated to some.
In Samon’s own “Mamie pink” bathroom, she swapped out the homely old pedestal sink with metal legs for a Martha Stewart vanity, bought at Home Depot; added a modern light fixture; and put up wallpaper from Anthropologie. It was thousands of dollars cheaper than replacing the tile and, she says, “I got so many compliments on it.”
Take original details that may seem at first like a deficit, she says, and “make them a beautiful accessory to what you’re adding.”
A cathedral ceiling in an original Cliff May ranch house
Raise the ceiling to new heights
The great bulk of ranch houses were built with 8-foot ceilings, which can feel low. One solution: Add windows. Samon also suggests pushing past the drop ceiling in whatever rooms you can, especially when the result is an arched ceiling.
“That low pitch of the roof becomes an architectural focal point,” she says. She advises renovators to expose the beams and add ceiling fans.
Add out, not up
“Because ranches were low and horizontal, it meant that they could easily be added onto,” says Hess. But he has seen some slapdash second stories that look awkward and out of context.
“A lot of ranches were built without a carport or a garage; those can be turned into additional bedrooms or living spaces,” says Wasserman. “We recommend expansion horizontally rather than vertically.”
There’s a practical reason for that, too: Expanding out instead of up maintains a ranch house’s aging-in-place potential. “Usually they have one or two steps to the front door, which you can turn into a ramp,” says Wasserman. “Once you’ve done that, the house is accessible.”
Get clear on your windows
While ranches were the embodiment of indoor-outdoor living, many came with small windows that, says Samon, “can make it look like a barracks.”
First, Samon suggests replacing windows with french doors in the living room, and even the bedroom, for private openings into yards or patios. “Not only does it look elegant, it breaks up the monotony of long horizontal architecture,” she says.
If your ranch came with a bow-front or bay window, especially if it looks out to the backyard, “that’s where you want to put your money,” she says.
A touch of Frank Lloyd Wright red in Saint Charles, IL
Elevate your entryway
A quick hit for updating your ranch house is to focus on the entryway. Many have narrow steps and a tiny landing not big enough for a chair. One of the first things Samon did was widen her front steps. “The minute you do that you’ve extended the entire feeling of the house,” she says.
The front door, she says, is the place to set the tone for your house. You might opt for Arts and Crafts oak or Frank Lloyd Wright red, depending on your plan for your home’s overall look.
Respect the context
“Ranch houses were built as entire neighborhoods,” says Hess. “We’re not just talking about an individual building.” That’s one reason he cautions against changing the fundamental shape of the ranch house. “Oftentimes I see adding big blocky second stories that harm the nature of the entire neighborhood and the unity and the attractiveness of the home.”
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make your ranch stand out, of course, or that you can’t change the siding, or the size. But, suggests Hess, try to personalize it without disrupting the entire character of the neighborhood.
A knotty pine ranch kitchen in Elkhorn, WI
Give that knotty pine—and other midcentury materials—a second chance
In this age of white subway tile and bespoke wallpaper, knotty pine is hardly the wall covering of choice. But Pam Kueber, author of the blogs Retro Renovation and knotty is nice, estimates that 40% of midcentury homes, and many ranches, used knotty pine (see Betty Draper’s kitchen).
Before you rip it out, think hard. “The craftsmen do not exist today who can do that kind of work,” says Hess.
Avoid what Hess has seen all too often, “where the architect did not understand the character of the original buildings and made an awkward hybrid of new and old.”
Kitchens and bathrooms can be updated, of course, but the approach is key, says Hess.
“It needs to be done in sympathy with the original character.”
With the exception of hardened DIY-types (you know who you are!), just about all homeowners will hire painters at some point—whether to prepare their home for moving in, or for a sale, or perhaps to kick off a remodel with a new color scheme.
But homeowners tend to get nervous around painters. What if they spatter the new carpeting or shatter the china cabinet window? What if the colors you’ve painstakingly selected don’t work out?
Take a deep breath. You’ve hired a professional. Here’s how to help them do their best job.
1. Painting is art—let the pros do it
Think of painting as not just a skill, but also an art: You wouldn’t hover behindMichelangelo as he completed the Sistine Chapel, fretting the whole time, would you?
Yes, it’s true that your bathroom wall will never be one of the world’s premiere masterpieces, no matter how skilled your painter, but that doesn’t make back-seat painters any less annoying.
“Painting is something that’s more subjective than objective,” says Kevin Palmer, a painter in Simsbury, CT. “A good paint job involves a lot of artistry—besides product knowledge and great prep work, you’ve got to get a guy who seriously knows what he’s doing.”
And once you’ve found that, trust means letting painters do their job.
“People need to chill out a bit,” says Ryan Benson of Benson Painting Services inApple Valley, MN. When customers hound, it’s “almost insulting,” he says. “Let me work.”
2. Prep can take a long time
According to Benson, at least 30% of a good-quality paint job will be prep time.
“That’s where less-qualified painters lower their bids. That’s where problems come with paint getting on things it shouldn’t be,” he says.
The differences between a rushed paint job and one done properly are enormous: paint on the walls and everything else; uncleaned walls leading to a splotchy paint job; your favorite couch ruined by a misguided spatter.
“It’s easy to not put a dropcloth down. All that stuff takes time,” Benson says.
Keep an eye out for the painters that skimp on prep—the best way to find detail-oriented contractors is to ask previous customers for a reference.
3. Make sure your home is ready to paint
Don’t leave all the prep work to the painters, though—they’ve got their hands full. Things will go much smoother if you make sure your home is truly painter-ready, and Benson estimates that this could save you up to 10% of the cost.
For interior jobs, make sure you’ve cleaned all of the awkward spots, including behind the toilet, and picked up any knickknacks that might get in the way (e.g., soap containers, loofahs, and kitchen organizers). Removing the switch plates and outlet covers from the walls also goes a long way toward speeding up painting time—and painters’ time is (your) money.
For exterior jobs, Palmer recommends trimming bushes and shrubs away from the house, leaving at least 18 inches of clearance. Making sure your gutters and downspouts are in “tiptop condition” can also speed up the painting process, he says.
4. Ask for touch-ups right away
After the paint job is finished, ask for a walk-through. Most painters should offer this regardless.
“Take all the time you want,” says Benson. “Pick us apart. We want to get it all done while we’re there. Don’t be afraid to have a list of touch-ups.”
That doesn’t mean most painters are willing to provide endless touch-ups, though—especially if it’s not a result of poor workmanship. Feel free to call back about something you noticed only when the light hit the wall in just the right spot—but if you scratched the wall while moving in your heavy dresser, be prepared to pay for a touch-up.
5. Sit on the toilet
Yup, after getting your bathroom painted, sit your butt down on the toilet and stare. This is something Benson says he does after every job, because it’s a great way to catch tiny, missed spots you wouldn’t see otherwise.
“What you see in a bathroom when you’re painting it isn’t what you see when you’re sitting down,” he says. “Look around in the areas where you’re going to notice stuff.”
6. Compare the specifics of the bids
It’s tough to over-emphasize the importance of hiring painters who provide detailed bids. Deciding between two or three contractors is hard enough; it’s more so if you’re relying on pure guesswork. A bid that is “scribbled down on a napkin” is “not even comparable,” says Benson.
Look at the material costs. You don’t need to go with the painter who buys the most expensive caulk, but don’t go with the cheapest, either. Since painting is an art, materials are its medium—and cheap paint shows.
“People confuse price with value,” says Palmer. If you have to repaint your house twice as often than you would with a good job, “that’s not really a great value.”
7. Don’t be scared to ask for a discount
If you’re comparing two bids and you really love the more expensive painter—but your budget just won’t allow it—don’t hesitate to ask for a discount.
Sure, if the difference is astronomical, you and your painter might not be able to find a comfortable middle ground. But it never hurts to try.
“I try as best as I can to come to a meeting of the mind,” says Palmer.
Benson agrees, and recommends that homeowners get at least three bids—or more, if they haven’t found a good fit yet.
“Always call the guy you like the best, no matter where the pricing came in at, and give him a last look,” he says. “As long as the other contractor is legitimate and using good products, I’ll work with the customer. A lot of people think I’ll get insulted, but I don’t. It’s business.”
And when business is also art, it’s worth taking the time to find a contractor you love.
As the West gets drier and hotter, the past few years have been some of the most destructive on record for wildfires. Homeowners who previously thought their property was safe from the embers might find themselves too close to the inferno’s edge—with no idea how to protect their house and belongings in the case of an emergency.
Fireproofing your home begins long before the fire spreads: Start well before the beginning of fire season and continue throughout (roughly late spring to early fall). Use a two-pronged approach: Address your home and its surrounding vegetation to create a 100-foot barrier of defensible space around your property, advises Steve Quarles, the senior scientist for fire protection at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. Here’s how, according to Quarles:
Prepare your noncombustible zone
Make sure there’s nothing combustible in the 5-foot zone surrounding your house. Remember, you’re trying to avoid flames as well as the windblown sparks and firebrands that a raging wildfire emits.
Swap decorative bushes and piles of firewood immediately adjoining the home with a “nonwoody kind of plant.” Think low-growing flowers, or consider swapping the plants for sidewalk or rock mulch (never a combustible mulch like bark or pine, which are “easily ignited by windblown embers,” Quarles says).
Clearing trees might keep the fire itself off your property, but the wind has other ideas. The goal of a noncombustible zone is to remove any materials that might catch fire by ember alone.
Take a walk around your house and eliminate any visible debris—but also take a good look at your siding. If it comes within 6 inches of the ground, Quarles recommends trimming it to provide separation, which is an “effective way to resist ember exposure.”
Keep your trees in check
“You cannot expect the house to survive if you don’t have a good defensible space,” Quarles says. And fire protection doesn’t stop at the end of your 5-foot noncombustible zone—for the next 25 feet, guidelines indicate tree branches should always be at least 10 feet from other trees.
Separate trees and shrubs from each other and other yard items that might catch fire (such as a play set) in order to prevent a crown fire, defined as flames erupting at or near the top of a tree. This “burns longer and hotter and causes radiant heat exposure, which can cause problems with windows and siding,” says Quarles.
Limb up your trees (translation: prune their lowest branches) in order to prevent this outcome, and ensure shrubbery is maintained and regularly watered.
Select materials with fire in mind
If your home lies in prime wildfire territory, now might be the time to remodel. And we’re not talking about putting in a new designer kitchen. “It’s really important that a house be able to resist ember exposures,” says Quarles. Before selecting any materials for renovating or adding to your home, make sure they’ll be a help—not a hindrance—if a wildfire occurs.
Replace any wood shake roofs with a Class A fire–rated roof covering, which is incredibly fire-resistant and comes in a number of styles. Quarles says that is his No. 1 priority. Surround it with a metal drip edge, which “adds an added measure of protection,” he says.
True, no material is fully fireproof, but you can decrease your risk by beginning every construction project with fire protection in mind: Choose noncombustible decking for your porch, dual-pane glass windows, and brick.
Fireproof your exterior
Reality check: Not everyone can afford to renovate their entire house, no matter how dire the wildfire risk. In that case, Quarles has a few recommendations that require only sweat equity.
Clear your gutters regularly and remove debris such as leaves and pine needles from the roof and under decks.
Speaking of those decks—don’t store anything under them, not even a broom, and especially not a gas can or firewood. “Once the deck ignites, you have a flaming exposure to many things,” says Quarles. Like your glass doors: “If the glass breaks on the door, the fire can easily enter the house.”
Check out the vents to your attic or crawl space, which should be covered by a metal screen with a mesh of an eighth of an inch or less—any larger and you risk embers slipping into your home. You’ll want this to be clean and in good condition, so examine it at least once a year to make sure it’s still free of dirt and grime.
They’re those much-discussed, much sought-after, in some corners much drooled-over striking, iconic wood-and-glass structures with open floor plans, seamless integrations with their natural surroundings, and pedigrees from world-class architects whose very names—Eichler! Neutra! Wright!—send spasms of envy into the hearts of many home seekers.
Owning an architecturally significant home from what’s become a visually fetishized era, the middle of the past century, can be the culmination of a lifelong dream—or a total rehab nightmare.
For home buyers considering a Mid-Century Modern residence, it’s important to go in with your eyes open, and that means asking the right questions. We checked with some experts on the top things to ask before taking the mid-century plunge.
1. Is minimalism for you?
A typical home in an Eichler development, for example, is usually well under 3,000 square feet. There could be some built-in cabinet and closet storage. But with no basement or attic, there’s not a lot of room for tons of extra stuff.
So if you’re someone with a collection of every Playboy ever printed, or you like to display your troll collection, this may not be the best home choice for you.
“There’s nothing worse than a great Mid-Century Modern home cluttered with tchotchkes,” says Brian Linder of The Value of Architecture website. “It can get a little busy.”
2. Is it possible to add on?
If you plan to enlarge the small footprint of your home, check if there are building restrictions. Some Eichler developments in Northern California don’t allow second-floor builds.
“There may be design review guidelines,” San Francisco–based architect John Klopf says. Another point to keep in mind: “Some neighborhoods can be considered historic landmarks.”
Those communities may limit your dreams of a mid-century McMansion.
3. What’s the history of the home?
When you close, you’re not just getting a home, you’re investing in a work of art, notes Linder: “It’s an asset that maintains value and maybe appreciates.”
So if you plan to do any kind of renovation or restore the place to its original look, it’s helpful to see the initial plans for the home, and find out if the original architect is still alive to do the work. Or else you can hire a “building biographer” who will do this research for a fee.
It could be worth it.
“There is an idea of stewardship. Owners like to pass the baton to the next person who’s going to care about the place as lovingly as they have,” Linder adds. Plus, “it’s neat to know the history.”
4. Is all that glass safe?
Indoor-outdoor living, especially on the West Coast, is a signature feature of Mid-Century Modern homes. That means walls, windows, and doors of floor-to-ceiling glass. The look is inspiring. It can also be deadly. When they were built, many of these big windows and doors were made of plate glass—and they still may be. If so, an earthquake, falling tree, or even wild party antics can result in dangerous shards and exposure of your home to the elements.
“Today, codes are different,” Klopf says.
So be sure to ask, “Has the glass been replaced with tempered glass?” For energy efficiency and safety, double-pane glass replacements are typically the way to go. Otherwise, opt for a cheaper fix: safety film over the window.
5. Do we really need to renovate?
A home that’s 50 or 60 years old may be ready for some renovations. But be careful not to fall into a “remuddle” of a remodel. One mistake is to make updates that lose the details that make the property special.
“The architecture is what brings everybody in. It’s got all the right lines and angles,” explains Drew Marye, a Realtor® in Austin, TX. “So if your house has amazing original features, you’ll want to make sure you keep those because they have architectural value.”
He notes that when choosing architects or contractors, pick one who speaks Mid-Century Modern.
“I’ve seen horror stories,” he says, recalling Home Depot finishes and cabinets that don’t match.
Buyers of these homes, he adds, still “want the modern amenities. They want the high-efficiency HVAC; they want the dishwasher. You have to make sure you’re putting together those pieces in the right way.”
Former Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is unloading his large three-bedroom townhome in Chesterton, IN, located near his childhood home of Gary.
The Mariners hired the former Pittsburgh Pirates skipper to lead their team back to respectability. Fired after a disappointing 2015 season, the feisty manager lasted only two seasons in the Northwest.
McClendon’s open-layout home—listed for $324,500, with a recent price drop after five months on the market—offers “lots of natural light,” says listing agent Katie Phillips of McColly Real Estate. In the spacious great room, a wall of windows stretching from the floor to the vaulted ceiling brings in the sun and overlooks the natural wetlands behind the home.
Sunny great room
Step into the master suite, with a built-in entertainment center and en-suite bathroom, and you’ll never guess you’re in a townhome.
And while the home may look small from the outside, the exterior of the 3,183-square-foot residence is deceptive. “From the front, you don’t have any idea it opens up as beautifully as it does,” says Phillips.