Spring Cleaning: What Do I Do with This?

spring cleaning

Happy spring, readers! I hope you’ve been able to spend some time outdoors and are enjoying the warmer temperatures and beautiful blooming trees and flowers. Spring is a great time to get outside, but it’s also a great time to declutter and clean! Have you felt the urge to do some spring cleaning?

If you do a thorough job of decluttering, you’ll likely end up with a whole lot of things you don’t need. For most of these items, deciding what to do with them is relatively easy. Those that aren’t worthy of donating may need to be just thrown into the trash or recycling container. Of the items that are in good enough shape to donate, the majority can be taken to the local donation center of your choice. But there are quite a few items that are a little more problematic. You may not be able to simply drop these special items into the trash can or the recycling container. They may require some sort of preparation to properly dispose of them. Some items may not be accepted at donation centers for various reasons. This article provides pointers for these special cases. This list is by no means exhaustive. I couldn’t include every special case or every Tri-Cities location, but this will at least give you some options.

We are fortunate that two special cleanup events are just around the corner! For Kingsport City residents, April 1-12 is the annual spring clean-up service. During this time, you can place extra items on the curb for garbage crews to haul away. Items included in this free service include: appliances, tires (limit of 4, off the rim), furniture, small amounts of building materials, yard debris, mattresses, bagged grass, bagged or loose leaves, brush, and general junk.

For Sullivan County residents, the biannual Sullivan County Hazardous Waste Collection day is on Saturday, May 4th from 9am to 1pm at the Sullivan Central High School parking lot. The following items will be accepted: automotive and marine products (fuel, oil, solvents, fluids, antifreeze), home improvement products (strippers, thinners, adhesives, sealants, tar), lawn and garden products (pesticides, fertilizers) and miscellaneous products (pool chemicals, photo processing chemicals, mercury thermostats and thermometers, fluorescent tubes/bulbs, aerosols).

Paint is not accepted at the Hazardous Waste Collection, but it can be easily disposed of at home with this method: use cat litter or packets of paint hardener to solidify the paint, then simply place the paint cans into the trash. Other items that require special disposal include batteries (can be taken to Batteries Plus or Lowe’s), light bulbs (can be taken to Lowe’s), and plastic bags (can be recycled at Walmart, Food City, or Kroger). Medication (either prescription or over the counter) should not be thrown into the trash can, poured down the drain or flushed in the toilet. Drop boxes for proper disposal are located at the Justice Center in downtown Kingsport and at the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office in Blountville.

A few categories of items are more difficult because many donation centers don’t accept them. Baby items such as car seats, strollers, and bouncer seats have strict rules that prevent many organizations from accepting them. They can, however, be accepted at Hope House (maternity home and crisis pregnancy resource center) in Kingsport (call for specific requirements and available space). Household cleaners and personal care items are usually accepted at homeless shelters like Hope Haven Ministries in Kingsport or Oasis (a women’s ministry in Kingsport). Oasis also accepts laundry supplies and donations of pre-packaged snacks and individual microwave frozen meals. Some medical and dental equipment is accepted by Healing Hands Health Center in Bristol, Hope Community Church (multiple locations), and Shepherd Center in Kingsport. Unopened and unexpired medications are accepted at Friends in Need in Kingsport. For the medical supplies, it’s best to call beforehand to make sure they can be accepted. Pet supplies and food and old linens are accepted at animal shelters.

Used electronics are a rapidly increasing form of waste. Of One Accord Ministry accepts donations of working electronics for their thrift store. Goodwill has a program called E-cycle which is dedicated to reusing or recycling computer and other electronic components instead of discarding them. You can also drop off old electronics at the Kingsport Transfer Station.

There are a few items that are accepted at donation centers, but you may want to choose a different destination to benefit a specific group of people. Used working cell phones can be donated to Cell Phones for Soldiers. There are local drop-off locations, or they can be mailed. Prom dresses can be donated to the YWCA in Bristol or Becca’s Closet; these dresses are given to young women who might not be able to afford them. Eyeglasses can be dropped off at many vision centers, including Walmart, LensCrafters in the Fort Henry Mall, and others. They are picked up by Lions Club International, which repairs and cleans them to donate to the needy. New or gently used shoes can be taken to Fleet Feet (given to organizations that benefit the needy locally) or mailed to Soles4Souls (benefit the needy in developing countries). Toy donations can be given to Marine Corps Toys for Tots for distribution (see website for specifics). Old vehicles can be donated to the Make-A-Wish East Tennessee, which benefits children who are facing critical illnesses or to the National Kidney Foundation, which benefits patients with kidney disease.

What if an item is too large for you to deliver for donation, such as appliances, building materials, or furniture? Many organizations will schedule donation pickups, including Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill, Good Samaritan Ministries. If you have a trash item too large to put in your trash container, you can call to schedule pickup through the Kingsport Sanitation department. If you have a large amount of items that are mostly junk, there are even companies such as JDog Junk Removal and Hauling that can pick it up, dispose of it properly with minimal distribution to the landfill, and clean up afterwards.

With all of these resources at your disposal, I hope you’re feeling motivated and ready to do some spring cleaning. Feel free to email me with questions or if you would like my help. Decluttering is my specialty!

Happy organizing!


I Love NAPO!


From Thursday, April 4 to Sunday, April 7, Laurie and I were thrilled to meet with hundreds of professional organizers from around the country (and around the world) for the annual convention of NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) in Fort Worth, Texas. What an amazing weekend! I attended presentations on topics as diverse as “From IDEA to Death Cleaning: Swedish Concepts in Organizing”, “Let’s Make a Shidduch” (I bet you’re curious about that one!), “Tech Tools for Writing”, “Branding and Monetizing Your Business”, and “Helping Clients Identify the Value in their Objects” and many more. We discussed tips that work well for our businesses and how to best meet all of our clients’ needs. We ate a lot, laughed at our obsessive tendencies, and enjoyed being with likeminded people. We even danced to 80’s music together! Although organizers tend to be a very serious and focused group that is  passionate about order, we also love to have fun!

NAPO has been invaluable from before I even launched Shipshape Solutions. I have learned so much from not only the conferences, but also the online classes, the daily email and Facebook discussions, online classes, and consulting with other NAPO organizers. NAPO gives me a standard of quality and exemplary ethics in all aspects of my business and gives me all of the tools and encouragement I need to deliver excellent organizing services. I can’t wait to share the ideas I learned at the NAPO conference with my clients.

*By the way, in case you can’t read it, our matching shirts say, “Fill your life with adventures. Have stories to show, not stuff to show.” Laurie and I are passionate about this concept. We have seen our clients enjoy the freedom that can come from living clutter-free, and we want to help more people achieve that goal.

The Myth of Making Money from Collectibles


Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

You can learn a lot about someone by looking at their stuff. While I have always found that to be true of my clients, I am realizing it is also true for my own family. My husband Eric and I are preparing to downsize. We’re closely scrutinizing every item we own. We won’t have nearly as much space (we consider this a positive, not a negative), so we have very strict criteria for deciding what items will survive the move.

In going through our belongings, we have become reacquainted with a few collections. We have decided to let go of most of these collections, either through donating them or selling them. Examples of collections we aren’t keeping include baseball and football cards, trophies, ceramic figurines, coins, yearbooks, and stuffed animals. Each collection represents a stage of our lives, something that brought us joy at the time. None of these items were originally collected for the purpose of earning money. And the few that we did sell definitely didn’t earn much.

In working with clients and talking with people about their belongings, I encounter many people with a large amount of collectibles. Often, they have collected things because they think that at some point, they will be able to make a lot of money from them. But like the stock market, you almost never know the precise time to sell a collectible for a big profit. So you keep them a little longer, thinking they will be “worth something” soon. The reality is that windfall almost never happens.

There are two very different measures of an item’s value. One measure of value is the amount the owner thinks the item is worth This value is influenced by both the amount the owner originally paid for it and their emotional attachment to it. The second measure of value, and the most important one financially, is market value. The market value of an item is the amount someone is willing to pay you for it. Rarely does someone else think your collectible is worth as much as you do. That is partially due to the fact that our emotional attachment causes us to inflate its value. Throw in a lack of research on the item’s real value and a bit of wishful thinking, and you’ve got a recipe for disappointment.

To put it bluntly, no matter how much you think your Beanie Baby collection (with tags!) is worth, any item is worth only what you can get for it. So if you’re counting on selling your collectibles to fund your retirement, I’ve got bad news for you. Those collections probably aren’t worth what you think they are worth. And their value is likely only going to decrease with more time. Not to mention the fact that they are cluttering up your home. Your best choice is probably to go ahead and get rid of them now.

How do you find out how much someone will pay for an item? One simple way is to look at online selling venues like eBay. But don’t just check the regular eBay listings. You need to look at only the average of the sold items (on the left hand side of the screen, scroll down to “Show Only” and check the box next to “Sold Items”). This will show you how much someone actually paid for the item. When I searched eBay to see how much an antique water pitcher and basin is worth, the listed prices ranged from $20 to $750. But when I checked for sold items only, the prices ranged from $3.75 to $99. That’s a big difference! You also need to factor in the amount of time, effort, and expense needed to list and ship the item. In addition to online selling venues like eBay, Craigslist, and Etsy, there are local options like Facebook Marketplace.

What I find so often is that people have every intention of selling items, but they have never taken the time to research their value or to list them. Or they don’t need to try to recoup any money from them and are willing to donate them, but they haven’t done it. So the items continue to clutter up their homes year after year.

Here are just a few common collections that you should consider eliminating from your home:

  1. Beanie Babies and Cabbage Patch dolls: With very rare exceptions, these are practically worthless now.
  2. Any items from Franklin Mint: Whether it’s coins, dolls, china, or toys, most anything that is produced as a collectible isn’t rare enough to be a true collectible.  
  3. Hummel and Precious Moments figurines: So many are available now, and the younger generations just aren’t interested in them.
  4. Comic books: Unless they’re really early Superman, Batman, or Marvel comics, they probably aren’t worth much.
  5. Barbie dolls: While there are always exceptions, the vast majority of the Barbie dolls that people have kept are not worth keeping.
  6. Collectible plates like Norman Rockwell aren’t worth much more than $5, and that’s only if they’re pre-1980.
  7. Longaberger baskets: These were hot collectibles in the 1990’s, but since then, the resale market has declined significantly.

*References: “It’s Time to Get Rid of these Worthless Collectibles” on, “10 Collectibles NOT Worth Collecting Anymore” on, and “30 Collectibles that are Now Worthless” on

What if you have items that you believe might bring some cash value, but you don’t have the time or expertise to sell them? You might consider hiring someone. One local resource is Nancy Morrell of A to Z Craigslist Shopping and Sales. Nancy writes, “When I started this business, I had no idea what type items people would bring me to sell. Many items do not bring the kind of money that was even paid for them. When items are brought to me for sale, I take your price and add my fee on top of your price. I take the photos, measurements, and details of your items and list them on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Tri Cities Yard Sales, and Buy, Sell, and Trade. I take the calls and schedule the appointments to show your items. Once sold, I mail you a check.”

Is it time to face the facts about some collections in your home? Yes, it’s disappointing to find out that an item you highly valued isn’t going to bring the return you expected. But I can promise you that finally coming to terms with your clutter reaps huge dividends. Contact me if you need some help bringing more order to your home.

Happy organizing!


4 Reasons You Should Watch Tidying Up with Marie Kondo


I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love finding a new show for a good Netflix binge. So when a friend recently asked me if I had seen the new Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, I was thrilled! Not only would organizing be more in the spotlight in general and hopefully encourage more people to make changes, but I would have a reference point with more people to discuss how the process of decluttering and organizing works. I am well into watching the series now, having watched five of the eight episodes. I can honestly say that I have been very pleased with the quality of the show and with the way professional organizers and the effects of their work have been portrayed.

I have been a fan of Japanese organizer and author Marie Kondo and her work for several years now. I have read both of her books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy. I have used her organizing techniques (which she calls KonMari) in my own home and occasionally with clients. So naturally, I eagerly anticipated the chance to see Kondo in action. After all, reading a description of someone’s organizing philosophy in their book is a completely different experience from seeing the person actively organizing with clients.

Several months ago, my newspaper article described Kondo’s books, her organizing methods, and my opinion of her work extensively (you can view that article at But for those who haven’t heard of her, here’s a brief description. Kondo’s basic organizing method, which she calls tidying, involves a big one time process of going through all of your belongings in a very particular order. While most people organize a small area at a time, the KonMari method goes by category of items, beginning with clothing. When tidying up clothing, you gather up each article of clothing from every area of the home, including closets, drawers, and other rooms. Put every piece of clothing in one pile (perhaps on a bed). Once it’s all in one pile, only then can you see how much clothing you own. Then you begin the process of choosing what items to keep by picking up each one and deciding whether the item “sparks joy”. Defining what sparks joy is a very personal decision, but the way I would describe it for clothing is that the item fits now, it feels good, it is flattering, and you look forward to wearing it. Anything that doesn’t spark joy should be removed from the home after thanking it for its service. Complete the same process with the same method (gathering every item in the category and going through them one at a time) with the other categories. After clothing, tidy up books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and then mementos (items with sentimental value) in that order.

Here are four reasons I think you should watch Tidying Up with Marie Kondo:

  1. This show clearly demonstrates the benefits of decluttering. This is far and away the number one benefit of watching this show, and of decluttering in general. When we come face to face with the volume of our possessions and take steps to decrease that volume, the results can be truly transformative. The benefits go far beyond making our home look better. In the show, Kondo’s clients report these results and more: improved relationship with spouse, sense of calm, more time as a family, more creativity, viewing possessions differently, finding valuable things they hadn’t seen in years, changing the atmosphere of the house, changing daily habits, decreased stress, change in family dynamic, working together better, looking forward to the future, and motivation to never accumulate that way again. And those are only from the first five episodes!
  2. It just might give you the motivation you need. Each of the eight episodes features a different demographic, so it is likely that at least one of the episodes will resonate with you. The eight episodes include a family with toddlers, a married couple in the empty nest stage, a family who has recently downsized, a widow, students, a family with a mountain of clutter, expectant parents, and newlyweds blending two households. There will be at least one client (or several) that you can relate to, and seeing their success may help motivate you to do some organizing of your own and to envision your own success.
  3. You can learn some practical organizing tips. In addition to the vignettes with clients, each episode contains demonstrations of practical organizing tips for specific items, such as Christmas decorations, purses/totes, sentimental items, or sheets. One of my favorite Marie Kondo techniques is the way she recommends folding and storing t-shirts and linens. Let’s face it – who doesn’t need help with neatly folding a fitted sheet? That skill continues to elude me!
  4. You get a pretty good idea of what it’s like to work with a professional organizer. Aside from a few cultural differences (such as greeting the home by quietly kneeling on the floor and literally thanking an item for its service before discarding it), Kondo’s practice of working with clients is very similar to that of most organizers. Organizers begin by getting to know a little bit about their clients, finding out their specific needs, their motivation, and their goals so that we can tailor our efforts to our client’s individual preferences and needs. We work side by side with our clients, teaching organizing principles as we go. We may assign homework to complete between sessions. Because the process can sometimes be difficult, especially if we are working with sentimental items, we are always sensitive to our client’s emotional needs. We work together as a team and celebrate the victories together.

If you watch the show and decide that you would like to work with an organizer, I would love to talk with you more about it! I can help you declutter your entire home in multiple sessions over time as Marie Kondo does on the show. Or I can help you with one small area of your home that needs to be in better order. Whatever your needs, contact me today, and let’s get started!


Organizando en Mexico

For the past 13 years, my husband Eric and I and our family have had the pleasure of working with Ciudad de Ángeles (City of Angels) in Cozumel, Mexico. Ciudad de Ángeles provides a home for orphaned, abandoned, abused, and needy children living in Mexico. It gives these children a safe & healthy environment based on Christian principles. Watching the girl we sponsor (Chanti) grow from a 7-year old just rescued from a dire family situation into a confident, beautiful young lady who is attending college and working part-time has been such a joy for our family. We visit Ciudad every year to spend time with her and to help at the campus.


Front Entrance to Ciudad

I was thrilled to be able to use my organizing skills at Ciudad again this year. Last year, I organized a small storage room for tools. This year, I worked in the storage room for clothing and linens. With a rapidly-changing population of growing children in 6 houses, the need to keep extra supplies and to stay organized is essential. I was very fortunate in that the room was in pretty good shape already. There was an abundance of metal shelving and storage containers in some degree of order. My challenge was to remove any stained or worn-out items and to make sure remaining items were organized for easy access. The fact that all of the current labels were in Spanish presented an additional challenge. I certainly learned a lot of new Spanish words! For example, calcetina=sock, sabana=sheet, toalla=towel. The other challenge was that I needed to use the materials they had on hand and couldn’t go and buy labels or more bins.





I realize now that I didn’t get pictures of my helpers! Eric and Chanti helped, as well as a few other construction team members from Canada who were there that week to help on campus. I was so thankful for their help and would not have been able to do all of the work myself!



During this project, I was reminded of several principles:

  • Basic organizing principles and steps are the same, no matter what or where you organize.
  • It is a joy to use your skills and passion to benefit others.
  • Any job is more enjoyable with friends, music, and snacks. 🙂

Organizing Gift Wrapping Supplies



Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

The holidays are officially here, bringing with them the accompanying merriment and good tidings as well as the decorating, baking, visiting friends and family, card sending, gift buying, and etc. Most of us are extra busy during the holidays. Even typing this list of activities stresses me out, much less doing them! I am always looking for ways to simplify my life and to be more organized, especially when it comes to the Christmas season. With that in mind, here are a few ideas to simplify your gift wrapping and to organize all of the supplies.

If you’ve read my columns in the past, you know that I am constantly preaching the fact that decreasing the amount of things you own helps tremendously with organization. This principle is also true with gift wrapping supplies. I have always kept a small variety of wrapping paper rolls, gift bags, ribbons, and bows, just as most people do. I just use a tall trash can to store the rolls of paper, a large clear bin for gift bags and another for the ribbons, bows, and other embellishments. I have always felt that the amount I have is pretty reasonable and doesn’t take up too much space, and it’s organized, so I was ok with it.

About a year ago, I was organizing with a client and came across her gift wrapping supplies. She had quite a bit of beautiful, good quality paper, gift bags, ribbons, and bows. She informed me that she didn’t plan to keep any of it because she was planning to start using the same gift wrap and bow for every single gift from here on out. I’m pretty sure I did a double take and said something like, “Did you really just say you are going to use the same thing for every gift including Christmas, birthdays, weddings, Mother’s Day, etc.?” She explained that she was going to pick something neutral that she could use for everything, perhaps champagne color gift wrap and black bows.

Ever since that day, I can’t stop thinking about that conversation. But I never took action on it until now. It only took a few minutes on Pinterest a few days ago (seriously, what did we do before Pinterest?) for me to realize that this was not only possible, but it was exactly what I wanted to do. Remember the line from the song “My Favorite Things” in the movie The Sound of Music about “brown paper packages tied up with string”? That’s my plan from here on out. I will use brown paper gift wrap and gift bags. I can change the color of the string, use ribbon instead of string, write on the paper, or add all manner of embellishments to make it fit the occasion. I will probably end up with with one small bin of embellishments and one roll of paper. And I am so excited to get started with this year’s Christmas presents!

I know what many of you are thinking: “I can’t possibly do that!” or “I love decorative wrapping paper, and I would never want to use the same kind for all occasions”. It’s all entirely your decision. We each have our own style, and this may not be for you. Understanding that most readers will prefer more variety, here are some practical suggestions for organizing your gift wrapping supplies.

  1. Gather all of the supplies, including wrapping paper, gift bags, tissue paper, bows, ribbons, gift tags, and other embellishments.
  2. Get rid of anything you don’t need. It’s very likely there are rolls of gift wrap that you really don’t like, and gift bags that have been used one too many times. No one needs mountains of gift bags. Besides, you’ll soon be replenishing them as you receive gifts. A good goal would be to keep one container of bags in a variety of sizes and patterns and a few rolls of gift wrap. Donate or recycle the rest, depending on what condition they are in.
  3. Choose the best location for your gift wrapping supplies. Very few of us have a big space available for a Pinterest-worthy wrapping station. We may be lucky to find one empty corner of a closet or some space under a bed. You don’t even have to keep the supplies near where you will wrap the gifts.
  4. Choose the best storage solution based on your chosen location. Specialty products for organizing gift wrapping supplies abound, and they just might be perfect for your needs. But if you want to get by with something you already have or use something less expensive, here are a few clever ideas. For pictures and more details, check out these 2 websites: and
  5. Ideas for storing wrapping paper rolls:
    1. Repurpose a garment bag and hang in the closet.
    2. Repurpose a hanging shoe organizer by cutting out the bottom of the middle pockets.
    3. Use an extra piece of closet shelving turned sideways or a simple tension curtain rod to keep the rolls standing up at the end of a closet floor. With the curtain rod, gift bags could also be hung on the same rod.
    4. Repurpose a pretty frame, teacup hooks, and cafe curtain rods (or wooden dowels) to hang up paper rolls. This can also be used for rolls of ribbon.
    5. Store the rolls in a folding chair bag, which can then be hung up on a hook or rod.
    6. Install rods inside a shelving unit to hold rolls horizontally. This can also be used for rolls of ribbon.
    7. Repurpose a tall laundry basket or trash can.
    8. Using dowel rods for support, store between ceiling joists in an unfinished basement.
  6. Ideas for storing rolls of ribbon:
    1. Use a plastic bin with holes on the sides. Hang the rolls from dowel rods hung in the middle of the bin, and thread the ends of the ribbon through individual holes. No more tangled ribbon!
    2. Use a pants hanger designed to hold several pairs of pants.
  7. Ideas for storing gift bags:
    1. Use magazine holders labeled with “Birthday”, “Holidays”, “New Baby”, etc.
    2. Hang bags from hooks on the wall that stick out several inches.
    3. Hook gift bags onto hangers.
  8. Idea for a quick gift wrapping station during the holidays: Keep all of your wrapping supplies, including scissors and tape, in a decorative basket that can be kept out during the holidays. I like to keep mine near the TV so that I can wrap presents while watching movies or binging on Netflix.

Happy holidays, and happy organizing!


Choosing Where to Donate


Happy New Year, readers! Whether or not you made New Year’s resolutions, you may have a goal to get more organized. I heartily endorse this goal! But I also firmly believe that for most of us, what we really need most is to declutter. If you’re ready to take a serious look at all of your belongings and shed the clutter, you will likely have many items to donate. This requires making a decision about where to take them. In order to help readers make a decision about where to donate their clutter, I sent the same questions to Goodwill Industries, Habitat for Humanity, and The Salvation Army. I have summarized their responses below.

Goodwill Industries  

  • What is your organization’s mission?

Our mission is to provide employment services for those in need.

  • What donations do you accept or not accept?  

We accept clothing of all sizes, household items, furniture, books, CDs, jewelry, linens, musical instruments, pictures, tools, small appliances, toys, office/school supplies, and vehicles. We cannot accept hazardous materials, large appliances, used carpeting, construction materials, wet/torn mattresses, water heaters, TVs, computers, monitors, auto parts/tires, car seats/baby beds/strollers/walkers, and pianos.

  • Are there ways that people donate that are problematic for you?

We ask that people drop off donations only during open hours.  If you have furniture or large items you wish to donate, please call to make sure we can accept your donation or to schedule a pickup.

  • If items are sold, how is the money distributed?

Donated items are inspected, sorted, and priced by our employees and then sold in our stores.  Ninety-three cents of every dollar supports training programs for people with disabilities or people with disadvantaged circumstances.  Program graduates gain new skills to become competitive, find jobs, and live independent, fulfilling lives.

  • What do you wish people knew about your organization?  Any common misconceptions?

Goodwill is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Charity Watch, an organization that evaluates philanthropic organizations, gives Goodwill an “A” rating. Occasional internet rumors sometimes surface with false information.  Goodwill Tenneva is an autonomous locally controlled non-profit overseen by a volunteer community board of directors. “Goodwill Tenneva is committed to operating with integrity and providing excellent stewardship,” said Wally Boyd, board chairman.  “Our local Goodwill dedicates itself to providing employment and support services to local people who need help, and always in an ethical and forthright manner.”

  • Why should people donate to your organization?

Goodwill believes that work enhances the dignity and quality of life, and that the power of work instills hope.  Donating to Goodwill will help local people in need of training and employment. Goodwill strives to handle all donations with respect, in an ethical and efficient manner.


Holston Habitat for Humanity

  • What is your organization’s mission?

Our vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. OUr mission is to put God’s love into action. Holston Habitat for Humanity (Habitat) brings people together to build houses, communities, and hope. Habitat will serve our 300th family in 2019. Since organizing in 1985, Habitat has built, refurbished or repaired 272 homes in Carter, Sullivan and Washington Co, TN and Bristol, VA, providing 400+ adults and 600+ children the opportunity to live in a safe affordable home. With the financial support generated by the ReStores, Holston Habitat will build 6 new Habitat homes and offer up to 6 external home repairs in 2019.

  • What donations do you accept or not accept?

The Habitat ReStores in Johnson City and Kingsport accept household items (working appliances, furniture, home decor), building materials (cabinets, lighting, flooring, hardware, windows, plumbing) and tools. The ReStores do not accept clothing.

  • Are there ways that people donate that are problematic for you?

We request that people drop off donations only when the ReStores are open.

  • If items are sold, how is the money distributed?

All money generated by donations to the ReStores in Johnson City and Kingsport stays in Carter, Sullivan and Washington Counties, and Bristol, Virginia to underwrite construction costs.

  • What do you wish people knew about your organization?  Any common misconceptions?

Habitat homeowners buy their homes through our 0% interest mortgage. Habitat does not give away homes. A common misconception is that only Habitat homeowners can shop at the ReStores but ReStores are open to everyone who wants to shop, donate or volunteer.

  • Why should people donate to your organization?

The donations provided to the ReStores provide over 30% of the funding needed to build 6-9 new, energy-efficient homes each year. Each donation provides a hand up, not a hand out, that helps local homebuyers build a home for their family.

The Salvation Army

  • What is your organization’s mission?

The Salvation Army is part of the universal Christian church. Its message is based on the Bible and motivated by the love of God. Our mission is to preach the gospel and to meet human needs in Jesus’ name without discrimination.

  • What donations do you accept or not accept?  

We accept just about anything, including the kitchen sink. We accept jewelry, stereos, lighting, car items, baby items, diapers, home health items, and vehicles. We cannot accept expired car seats, older cribs, or recalled items.

  • Are there ways that people donate that are problematic for you?

All items should be in working condition. If refrigerators and freezers barely run, tell us so we can price accordingly. Vehicles must be in running condition. We simply do not have room for large items like pianos and pool tables. We do not accept old televisions or hazardous products.

  • If items are sold, how is the money distributed?

We serve Sullivan and Hawkins County, TN and Scott County, VA. After overhead costs, we apply funds to social services. Last year, we provided 6,711 nights of emergency shelter.

  • What do you wish people knew about your organization?  Any common misconceptions?

When someone donates here, they are helping one of their neighbors who is hungry, homeless, in need of clothing, assistance with rent, mortgage, or utilities, or a child who needs help building character. Call for pick-ups in advance, especially during summer. Donations are generous gifts, but there is a cost to make those items available. We do our best to keep prices favorable.

  • Why should people donate to your organization?

We care for both soul and physical needs. We provide for the needy of every stripe. Everything we sell comes from donations. Our motto, “Doing The Most Good” means all our resources, money and time where they will be most effective. We also take donations in time from our helpful volunteers!



More Peace, Less Pressure

white christmas

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

It’s Tuesday December 11, 2018. Is it just me, or are you already feeling the pressure of the holiday season as well?

Every year I imagine a blissfully peaceful Christmas filled with days of sipping cocoa by the fire with my family gathered around telling stories, playing games, listening to soft music, and basking in the joy of togetherness. Like the above photo, I am sure my home will be the epitome of style and serenity. It will be decorated like a Martha Stewart magazine. Friends will come caroling, and I will have homemade baked goods and small gifts at the ready to share with them.

Are you laughing yet? Needless to say, this scenario has never happened, nor do I ever expect it to happen. Even though the above description is completely unrealistic, you’ve got to admit that we still sometimes expect way too much from ourselves during this “most wonderful” but also most stressful time of the year.

We’ve probably all read articles about being less stressed during the holidays. The recommendations are usually spot on. I’ve tried many of them with varied amounts of success. I’m not going to repeat those lists. I just want to emphasize one that I believe has the potential for a big impact.

I believe that our efforts to make the holidays as meaningful and enjoyable as humanly possible wind up having the opposite result. We try to include every possible holiday activity we’ve ever done because we want to make everyone in our family to happy, but then we’re too exhausted to enjoy them and we might be in a bad mood to boot. Several articles on decreasing holiday stress include this ideal recommendation: Hold a family meeting early in the holiday season. Ask each person to write down (or tell you) 1-3 holiday traditions that they definitely want to include. What traditions or activities are so special to them that it wouldn’t feel like Christmas if the family didn’t participate in them? Then ask which ones they would be ok leaving out. Prioritize your schedule accordingly. It could be that you’ve been expending a lot of effort unnecessarily. For example, maybe what your family really wants is just relaxed time watching a Christmas movie, not waiting in the long lines for the Speedway in Lights.

I hope this suggestion is helpful for you and your family and that it’s your best holiday season ever.

Merry Christmas!

Comparing Cloud Photo Services


My last article described the basic steps for organizing digital photos. I recommended using cloud photo services for storage but didn’t go into much detail. In this article, my husband Eric and I share our experiences using the 3 biggest cloud photo services to complete 3 commonly performed tasks, and we make recommendations for choosing the service that would best meet your needs.

Creating A Shared Photo Album

The first task we compared was creating a shared photo album. Eric and I recently spent the month of September in Oregon. We both took pictures on our phones, but we wanted to upload the best of our individual pictures to the shared album. We wanted our family and friends to be able to see the pictures and our comments about them as we uploaded them.

Using iCloud Photos, we found adding photos a bit clunky. The photos were always shown in the order they were uploaded and not by the date they were taken, which was a big disadvantage. Adding captions was easy, but sharing the album with friends and family proved a little difficult. However, once people successfully joined, they generally had a good experience. They could view the photos either using the iOS Photos app or through their browser. The photo presentation was very slick, and the user could view the photos in collage form or one at a time. Also, they could turn the viewing of photo comments on or off as they pleased.

With Google Photos, you can add photos to a shared album via the iOS app, Android app, their browser interface, or upload-only Mac and Windows apps. Comments can be added from any device and viewed from any device as well. We found adding people to the shared album a bit easier than on iCloud. Photos in the collection are always sorted by the date the photo was taken. One big advantage of Google Photos is the automatic suggestion of albums to create. Once you have several pictures of your vacation already taken, Google Photos will automatically suggest that you might want to create an album, and with one click, you can start that album.

With Amazon Photos, we found that their advantage was in how they managed groups of people. Most of us usually share our photos with pretty much the same set of people. With Amazon Photos, once you define a group, you can share multiple albums with them, which is a big timesaver. Amazon Photos has an iOS app, an Android app, a browser interface, and upload-only Windows and Mac apps. One disadvantage of Amazon Photos is comments – they could be added from the iOS and Android apps, but not from the browser interface. Also, viewing the comments from any device was more difficult than iCloud or Google.

For the task of creating a shared album, we give iCloud a C+, Google an A, and Amazon a B+.

Making A Slideshow

The second task we compared was making a slideshow from a set of photos. These are often used at events like weddings, funerals, and parties. For this comparison, we created a slideshow from our Oregon shared album. Creating a slideshow with iCloud Photos was extremely easy – you right-click on the album, choose one of seven different themes, optionally choose some music, and click Play Slideshow. You can create a slideshow from either the Photos iOS app or the Photos app on your Mac (but you can’t from the iCloud browser interface). Google Photos has the ability to create a slideshow, but only from the browser interface and not the iOS or Android apps. Also, the slideshow is very basic – one full-screen photo at a time with no music. You can’t customize either the speed of the slides or the layout of the photos. Amazon Photos currently does not support showing slideshows from your photos.

For the task of creating a slideshow, we give iCloud an A+, Google a C, and Amazon an F.

Making A Printed Photo Book

The third task we compared was creating a printed photo book from a set of photos. With iCloud Photos, you can only create a photo book from within the Mac Photos app. There is no support for photo books in the iCloud browser interface. Within the Mac Photos app, Apple enables multiple third-party vendors by installing an app extension. With the vendors we tried, we found this process complicated and slow. Of course, the experience may be better with other vendors.

With Google Photos, creating, editing, and ordering are all done from the web interface, and the whole process is extremely easy. Google automatically makes suggestions and groups photos into albums. Examples would be photos from a location (Trip to Italy) or a time of the year (Best of Summer 2018). Google chooses a layout, but you can easily change it to multiple other layouts. A caption can be added to each page but not to multiple photos on the same page. As far as ease of use, Google is much easier than iCloud.

Creating a printed photo book on Amazon Photos is also very easy but not quite as easy as Google. Photos can be autofilled into pages or placed manually. The real strength of Amazon Photos is the abundance of features. As far as captions, you can add text not only to each page but anywhere within the album. There are themes with embellishments that look like a scrapbook. Background colors and textures can be changed. For the creative sort who wants to personalize the album for a specific look, Amazon Photos gives you that capability in spades.

For the task of creating a printed photo book, we give iCloud a C, Google a B, and Amazon an A-.

Our Recommendations

So how do you choose which service to use? Our rules of thumb would be the following. If you live entirely in the Apple ecosystem (your whole family has only iPhones and Macs), then iCloud is your clear choice. On the other hand, if your family has a mix of iPhones, Androids, Macs, and Windows, then Google and Amazon are both good choices. How to choose between them? It probably comes down to how much you are willing to pay for pristine image quality. Google Photos has unlimited photo storage, but only if you are willing to let them limit the resolution of your uploaded photos to 16 megapixels. On the other hand, if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, then you get unlimited photo storage at full resolution.

Organizing Your Digital Photos


It’s amazing to consider all of the changes over the years in the way we take and view photos. Although the ability to create photos has only existed for around 200 years, the evolution of the devices to take them and the processes by which they are created is truly astounding. Photography has progressed from a laborious process involving clunky impractical gadgets and corrosive chemicals to a simple process using a device that fits in our palm and instantly creates a photo that can be shared across the globe. These remarkable changes have made taking and viewing photos remarkably easier, and as a result, we are taking more pictures than ever.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, that depends upon your perspective. Today’s smartphones take great quality pictures, and the convenience of not having to carry a camera around is no doubt a plus. It’s certainly wonderful to be able to easily share our pictures with friends and family. But there are also added challenges. Our printed photos take up physical space in our home, reminding us that we need to organize them. Digital photos don’t take up any literal space, so we may not see a need to get them in order (unless we’re running out of storage space for them on our devices). We snap pictures freely, often with no thought as to where they are being stored or what we will do with them long term. I have heard many people lament that this generation of children is the most photographed one ever, but that those photos may not ever be seen by future generations.

Do you know where your digital photos are stored? Are they in multiple locations on multiple devices? Do you know how to find a specific picture when you need it? Do you have a plan for organizing your photos? Read on for some practical ideas and inspiration. Some of these ideas were gleaned from the APPO (Association of Personal Photo Organizers) 2018 Summit, and some are from my own experience. Warning: this is a complicated topic, and these articles will only touch the surface.    

We can use some of the same steps for organizing digital photos as we do for printed photos. The first thing you need to do is to gather all of your photos into one place. Photo organizers call this “place” the Digital Photo Hub (DPH). It’s the home location for all of your digital photos and videos. APPO preaches the necessity of a 3-2-1 backup system, meaning that you have 3 copies of your photo  (1 primary and 2 backups) in 2 different media formats, with 1 being stored offsite (outside your home or business). A sample APPO recommendation of 3-2-1 would be using your computer hard drive as your primary storage, two external hard drives with different manufacturers as your backups, one of them stored in an alternate location, and a cloud-based service as a bonus.

After doing my own research and consulting my tech-savvy husband Eric, I have a different opinion. External hard drives are wonderful and necessary for general computer backups. When it comes to photo storage, however, we are both completely comfortable using a cloud service as our only photo storage. I realize this is contrary to APPO recommendations. When it comes to reliability, cloud storage is infinitely more reliable than a computer hard drive or an external hard drive. Cloud services utilize multiple servers in multiple locations around the world. As long as you have internet service, you can access all of your photos. In addition, many of these services are free, which is an added bonus!

If you are comfortable using a cloud service for photo storage (either as primary storage or backup), how do you choose one? The 3 biggest players in this game for basic photo storage needs are iCloud Photos (Apple), Google Photos, and Amazon Prime Photos. All 3 are great options, but each has its own strengths and weaknesses. If you are completely in the Apple ecosystem (you have an iPhone, iPad, and a Mac), then iCloud Photos makes the most sense for you. If you are an Amazon Prime member and probably always will be but use other devices besides Apple products, then Amazon Prime Photos is your best choice. If neither of these situations applies to you, Google probably makes the most sense for you. Google offers free unlimited photo storage, but only for a compressed version of your photos. You’ll want to do more research on your own before choosing. My next article will go into more detail about cloud-based photo services and will walk you through a few common photo tasks using the features these services offer.  

Many people approach organizing their digital photos the same way as their printed photos. They like to create albums arranged chronologically, by person, or by event. That technique certainly works, but depending on how you want to use your photos, it may not be necessary. One of the best features of digital photos is that they are embedded with information (metadata) that make searching incredibly easy. You can search by date, facial recognition, geographical location, keywords, etc. It’s truly amazing and sometimes a little spooky. I can search my photos using the keyword “bridge”, and iCloud will pull up pictures from all over the world with a bridge in them. I can type “California” to see any pictures I have taken in that state. If I want to find a picture of my younger daughter in 3rd grade, I simply need to figure out what year that is because iCloud (all of the cloud photo services) sorts the pictures by date. No more digging through boxes of photos the night before a school project is due.  

You may have more ambitious organizing goals in mind. You may want to create digital albums, printed photo books, or video montages that you can enjoy yourself and share with family and friends. Figure out what you want and what you have time to accomplish. You might choose to complete that first step (getting all of your photos into your DPH) now so that you can easily find what you need, and then think about other possible projects later. Regardless of your ultimate goal, the time spent organizing your photos is worth it. Your efforts will not only benefit you now, but can also help your family preserve and pass along your photos for generations to come.

Happy organizing!