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posted: 2/15/2013 6:00 AM

Super handyman: Home office out of control? Here's how to get organized

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If you have a home office, then you know how quickly it can get out of control. Incoming papers, books, projects and other things start piling up and, before you know it, it's become a dumping ground. It's pretty hard to get much work done in a messy office, even if it's not a dumping ground. Let us give you some of our favorite tips for getting and keeping your office clean and organized.

Like most major organizational projects, you have to get everything out so you can go through it. Have a box ready for items that you want to donate to charity and a trash bag ready for, hopefully, a lot of discards. As you sort through things, stack like items together.

Once this is done, you can determine what type of storage is best for each "pile" or stack of things. We suggest that hidden storage is better than piles on your desk or floor. The fun part of this for us is that you can find "DIY things" to use as storage. Look for things like old crates, mailboxes, paint cans and things like that for storage in your office.

Files are the best way to store papers. You can get a file cabinet or file boxes that are more portable, if that works better for you. File folders are also great and necessary to keeping a file cabinet organized. Try to file papers as they come into the office or at least once a week.

Books are best kept on a bookshelf. A small bookshelf might be all you need for your books, but consider that you also can store other items in this area as well. Decorative boxes and baskets can hold lots of other goodies neatly.

Try to employ the rule that states "Remove an item every time you bring in a new item," and see if this doesn't, at least, make you think about keeping things organized. Good luck!

Store more stuff using a stud wall

If you have exposed stud space in your garage, then you have space for shelves. Storing things on a stud wall also makes them easier to get to when you need them, and easier to find, too. Just install scrap wood between the studs, horizontally, to create simple shallow shelves. We also found out that you can use heavy-duty cardboard instead of scrap wood. It's also easy to install because you can just use a staple gun. It may not hold up bricks, but it sure can take care of a lot of things that are taking up space in a box or closet somewhere.

Be prepared for life's emergencies

You can control some things, but not the weather. You also don't have much control over flat tires, power outages and other emergencies. You DO, however, have some control over how you handle these incidents. You should have a few emergency supplies on hand in your car, in your home and in your office; things like a flashlight, batteries, a blanket, water and a snack. Keep these things in a watertight and easy-to-spot container. Put one in each car, in your bedroom, basement or garage. Leave a little extra room for those little things that you realize you need after you first put it together. You can't be prepared for everything, but it can help a scary situation seem a little less frightening.

Super hints

• Those lazy Susans that you use in the kitchen are perfect for keeping things organized on a busy workbench. Place containers for hand tools and hardware on it, and you'll have everything you need right at your fingertips.

• One of my friends asked me to suggest a backing material for a valance over a large window in her dining room. She wanted it to be large, but not heavy or hard to install. I suggested using a rigid foam insulation panel. They come in a variety of thicknesses and are easy to cut with a knife. They can be covered with fabric and don't weigh very much at all. They also are pretty inexpensive. I helped her put it all together, and it looks really neat.

• One super-simple cleaner for floor and bathtub grout is toilet-bowl cleaner with bleach. Just squeeze it out onto the grout and allow it an hour to work. Then, wash it off and you're done. Since it contains bleach, make sure not to get it on anything else.

Q. My car's radiator leaked all over my garage. I cleaned up the mess, but there is a very large rust spot on the floor now. How can I clean up the rust?

A. Check your hardware store for rust cleaners that contain oxalic acid. This is the ingredient that will do the best job. It's also available in some grocery-store cleaners, like Bar Keeper's Friend and Zud. Once you get it clean, apply a water seal to the floor to prevent rust and other stains from penetrating so easily. Good luck.

Q. Our dog spent some time in our garage this past fall. Our fence fell down, and we had to let him out there a few times while it was being replaced. Now we have bad pet smells that have soaked into the garage floor. What can we use to extract it or cover it up?

A. The first thing we suggest is the odor removers that you can buy at pet stores. These are enzymatic and are sprayed on the surface and allowed to work for a period of time. The longer they stay moist, the longer they work, so cover them with plastic for better results. You may have to repeat it several times but they usually work pretty well.

Q. I would like some advice on installing borders for my landscape. I want to design my own and just use concrete. What do you think? Please share some tips.

A. It sounds great. Set it up with bender board forms, staked into place. The boarders should be about 8 inches wide and 4 inches deep. You'll want to use a mix with aggregate in it and, once poured but not set, add expansion joints every three feet or so. They only have to be about an inch deep. After it has cured, apply a sealer to protect it. Consider adding colors to the concrete if you like, or embed stones, glass beads, shells, coins or other decorative items, if you like. Don't forget to sign your name to your new work of art!

Reader tips

• I've been working in the yard and decided to clean my air conditioner compressor while I was out there. I used the garden hose to spray it down, but it still looked really dirty. Plus I wanted to dry it, so I got my shop vacuum out to get the water off the coils. Not only did it dry the coils, but it did a much better job of cleaning them than the water did. In fact, the parts that I had just cleaned and were still wet were harder to clean with the vacuum than the dry areas that I had missed the first time. The vacuum is the way to go from now on for me!

• The wife bought us both new powered toothbrushes. She is now using the old powered toothbrushes as cleaning tools. She says they are great for scrubbing in the bathroom. We use rechargeable batteries, but they are easy to replace when they need to be, and they do seem to work pretty well. At least, she thinks so. I'm just glad I don't have to use them!

• I finally decided to finish my garage to make storage and work a little nicer. I installed pegboard over the studs in several places instead of the drywall. I LOVE the extra storage. You can hang just about anything on this stuff, and it leaves a lot more room on the floor for the cars! It was easy to do, too, and I painted them to match the rest of the walls.

• I painted the trim in my office. It looks so much better now. I made a slight mistake by leaving the masking tape on too long. I thought it would be OK to take it off later, but it wasn't coming off easily. I tried heating it up with my hair dryer, and this made it come right off. Thank goodness. I was afraid I would have to paint the walls again, too!

• Most of the appliances that I use in my kitchen have rubber feet under them, and they do a great job of making the appliances steady as well as quieter when they are working. My husband is always complaining about the noise from his compressor, so I had him install a rubber mat under it. It's steadier and much quieter now. Now he thinks I'm brilliant!


• For summer furniture, you can't beat PVC plastic pipe. It's lightweight, inexpensive, easy to work with and weather-resistant. You can build just about any piece of furniture once you have learned the basics. We have put together a sheet detailing the basics of working with the plastic pipe.

Another good summer project might be a wooden picnic table. We also have plans for a very simple, long-lasting family picnic table made from wood. We love these plans because the one-piece design is a lot safer and more convenient to use.

• If you are thinking of replacing your kitchen faucet, the MotionSense line from Moen is super. It allows you to turn your faucet off and on with just a wave of your hand. Sensors on top and on the front of the faucet keep you from spreading dirt and germs around your kitchen. It's a great way to save water, too. It's easy to install as well, and is the wave of the future! Check it out at or at your kitchen and bath store.

• We get a lot of questions about how to deal with cracked concrete surfaces. It's a common problem, but it needs to be dealt with ASAP, as it will only get worse. Quikcrete Polyurethane Concrete Crack Sealant is a non-sag, flexible sealant that stretches up to 700 percent without failing. It's colored and textured to match existing concrete, and is easy to use on horizontal and vertical surfaces. It is what you need to use when dealing with patios, sidewalks, driveways and other cracked concrete surfaces. Check it out at or your hardware or home center.

• Write to Al and Kelly Carrell in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006 or visit the Carrells' website at

2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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