Chris Plantan on getting organized with paper products | Home Front

Jan 05, 2012

Chris Plantan, who founded the creative office supply company Russell + Hazel, joined Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza on the weekly Home Front chat. Together, they gave advice on interior decorating, home improvement and organizing an office space.

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Hi, everyone and Happy New Year. Welcome to the first Home Front chat of 2012. We're happy to have Chris Plantan of the cheery and colorful paper and office supply company Russell+Hazel joining us today to talk about keeping our lives organized - and stylish -  in the new year. Let's get started.

How do these systems compare with the Levenger Circa line? I've always thought that was the premier product. (I have loved stationery too ever since childhood when the choices were limited to ivory or white, maybe with a tasteful navy border.)

I've never used the Levenger Circa line, and from a quick look online, it looks like there are similarities to R+H's SmartDate system, but  ipesonally like the smart, clean look -  and colors -  of the SmartDate.

The system is similiar to the circa system in that you have flexibilty to make it your own. It takes the customization one step further in that you can also add other system components and choose your binder cover color

I have a small laundry room that is next to the entrance of our garage door, which is the door we use daily. I have three small school-age children, and I would like to place their coats, back packs, shoes, etc. in this area and maintain it neatly while I do nightly laundry. Any suggestions?

You could set up almost an open locker system with hooks and baskets and shelves. You have the right idea - containerize all their items and everything in its place.

I'm so glad that I can finally come out in the open and admit that I use a paper planner. It feels like such a vice in these digital days, but I really do better with one. I used Palm products for years (which were horrible because they dumped your information all the time) and I just did not have the same sense of organization that I get from using my paper planner. I use a DayRunner Academic calendar from the Watercolor line. Also, I have a toddler and I try to write down a couple things per week about him in my planner, so it's sort of a little record of his development.

Welcome fellow paper planner person! (see my column here about paper vs. tech). I own just about every Apple product available and have tried several times to keep my calendar on my computer, but it simply doesn't work for me, so I just committed to paper and never looked back. I also have a toddler and have recorded milestones in my planner, too. 

What have you found to be the best way to sync the paper planner with an online calendar? Thanks.

I actually don't keep any aspect of my calendar online; paper just works better for me all around.  Anyone else have any tips on using both computer and paper for personal calendar systems?  Share your method with us and why it works for you.

I'm on R&H Web site trying to order a day planner organizer. Does the smart date set include the 12 month tab?

The smartdate set is the best way to get started.

And yes, it does include the month tabs. Pick the binder color of your choice.

Happy New Year, everybody! We are trying to de-clutter and are considering buying some plastic tubs and getting a storage unit. Of course, we're also hoping that we are not simply moving the problem out of sight. Does anyone have recommendations for good facilities in the Northwest D.C. / Bethesda / Rockville area?

The only recommendation I have for you is to reconsider spending money on off-site storage unless you really, truly need it. Instead, take a good, hard look at the things you want to store there and ask yourself if you really need to keep it and if you are exhausting all of your storage  options in your home. Sometimes you just have to think creatively about storage solutions. If you can, hang tight, because I have a story coming up this month about getting organized in the new year with lots of helpful tips from a professional organizer. 

Hi, Terri. I have the same battle every year. For ages, I've used the Filofax system, and by ages, I mean before you could easily find components in the States. Then I went electronic, but when that crashed and I lost all of my information, I decided on a notebook system. Last year, I used a gorgeous orange Rhodia book, but it wasn't the right type, and so it didn't get much use. This year, I found a slightly smaller Cartesio in a stunning aqua leather binding. I am liking it a lot, and it has about 50 lined pages, an envelope for receipts and a week on two pages. Five days in, and I do find that I am using it. Happy New Year to you both, and to all your readers!

Hi, and thanks for sharing your search for a daily planner story. I find it fascinating that there are so many options on the market, yet so many people have a problem finding one that works for them. Just goes to show how specific and different everyone's needs and lives are. Glad you finally found one that works for you! It's such a great feeling, isn't it?

I've been struggling to find file boxes that will take 10 to 12 hanging files and aren't made of see-through plastic. Other than the Container Store which has some in the $20 range, I'm at a loss. These are going to provide structure as I collect info for a dissertation, so they'll need to be around for awhile as well :-)

The new russell+hazel storage collection is debuting Feb 1. There will be file boxes, similiar to the ones you mentioned in The Container Store but more durable. We will also be introducing sturdy white hanging files and file folders. All reinforced and ready for years of use.

I have an outdated backsplash in my kitchen. The countertop is granite and the appliances are up-to-date but the backsplash is white ceramic Florida Tile with hand painted design. Can ceramic tile be refinished or painted? If so, what would be used? Thanks for any help.

If everything else is new, have you considered just replacing the tile?  I think that's your best bet in the long run.

I have recently seen a print on a fabric lampshade (available at that I think would be great for a chair. I know this sounds odd, but do you have any suggestions on tracking down the fabric? I had thought it to be a pretty popular pattern, as I am pretty sure I have also seen it on pillows, too.

I'd have to see the pattern to help you here. But you could also try calling customer service for the lighting website and see if they can provide any info.

A sturdy 2-inch binder, with dividers and page protectors galore. Have a section for each family member with school calendars, carpool contact list, work contact info, a biz card slotted page with drs, dds, etc. biz cards....the list goes on. A master calendar is page 1, with room to write with pencil as things change.

Thanks for sharing these ideas. Over the weekend, I actually bought a Russell + Hazel binder at the Container Store. It was a mini-three-ring binder and I bought clear sheet protectors so I could store the handmade cards that my cartoonist son draws for us for all holidays. I noticed that binder comes with many inserts for organizing it in many different ways for planning, calendar, dates, storage and a mini home office away from home. The flexibility of this product is terrific and I look forward to buying more of them (they come in great prints and colors) to organize more things in my life.

Last week a questionner mentioned the need to hang coats in a foyer. One option might be to use attractive hardware. My hair salon hangs coats on a series of crystal doorknobs installed just under a shelf that holds hats, handbags and other ephemera clients carry in. The row of mismatched crystal is decorative in the summer and useful in the winter. A more contemporary solution, like large painted wooden buttons, could also suffice.

Love the idea of the crystal doorknobs. What fun ideas you have.

I am looking for a fairly traditional dining table and chair set. I have looked along the 14th/U Street corridor, King Street in Alexandria, and Cady's Alley. Any suggestions as to where else to look? For reference, I'm at a Room and Board/Crate and Barrel sort of price point. Thanks!

You might try DelRay or Leesburg or Kensington stores for a nice Saturday stroll. Have you thought of Ethan Allen or Arhaus?

Forget stylish, I'm buried in clutter! I think I would benefit most from a support group, where we could inspire and encourage each other to dig ourselves out. Do you know of any in the Northern Virginia area?

Try browsing the website for the National Association of Professional Organizers ( for organizing tips and ways to go about finding an organizer that can help you. Decluttering is a great way to begin the new year.

I keep a paper planner (Payne Time Master) for all of my personal notes/appointments/reminders, and my husband and I keep a calendar on the Cloud - Google Docs (free) so we can each access it at all times. (They also have a calendar, but we write a lot of text, so we use docs.) We keep our kids' appointments there, as well as any joint items. We use Google docs to keep track of house projects, goals for that year and for long term, a list of food our kids will eat, etc. I strongly recommend it! Unfortunately, the only way to sync is the old-fashioned wa. I enter in all items on both my calendar and the Google document.

Exactly! Even with all the systems and tech options available it still is best to have a master family calendar with everyones schedule visible. This helps kid's understand time management. Not just their own, but everyone that depends on them or who they depend on. Plus it can make a fun dinner night....really! Bring out the treats and the big calendar and plan the week.

Hi. This question is for the hosts, guest or other chatters. Lately I have been wanting to throw out almost everything I don't regularly use or truly need. Old books, old unworn clothes, most tchotchkes, all that type of clutter. I am on the verge of doing this. My question is: Has anyone out there done a radical purge of their belongings? If so, why did you do it, how did it work out for you and where are you now? Thanks.

I am SOOOOO with you. I just have to convince my husband and son. There are blogs that follow people who have pared their possessions down to a tiny number. This does not work for most people, but just about everyone is living with too too much stuff. Start with one drawer or shelf at a time and be ruthless. Donate coats you don't use to shelters who are in desperate need of them this time of year. Donate your books to local libraries who either install them in their collections or sell them to make money for programs. Liquidate things to other family members who can use them. Has anyone out there done a drastic purge? Please share your tips.

Do you paper planner people also keep your contacts in a paper format? I live in fear that I will lose my data if I don't have a hard copy but I don't carry the address book everywhere.

My contacts are one thing I actually do keep electronically. I also keep a printed version (I print out an updated version every new year) and back everything up on a cloud.

So, not quite every year, but often, I too find myself in the planner search. However, no matter how cute, orderly, perfect, whatever about three months in at the latest, I stop using it. Will this ever "click" when I finally find the perfect system? Or is it just time to admit that despite my best efforts, I'm just not an organizer girl? This could also easily pertain to the rest of my house/life.

Hard to say, but could be a little of both. In my experience, I do find that when I like something I have I use it more. There have been years that I carried my planner around, but didn't use it much and other years that I used it and wrote in it all the time. The ones I liked better got the most use. So, it could be that you just haven't found the right fit for your personality and lifestyle yet.

Trying to order Fine Note Card Set and clicking on "color" but the only choices are not colors, but rather it just says "blank" Any ideas?

The pink notecards are blank cards...underneath the main image you can view more options and it will show you what phrase coorresponds with what color. I hope that helps!

Try Belfort on Rt 28 in VA and the Solid Oak and Cherry gallery on Edsall Rd. They are behind Marlo off I395.


So what is NOT included in the smartdate set that I might want in a planner? Do you have any extras?

I always suggest the to-do post-its in either pink or olive. They are a life saver for everything! The other piece I love is the smart date paper, plain sheets to add each day if needed.

Hi, ladies. I just wanted to let you know that 2012 is the year that my apartment will become a real home, not just the place where I sleep and eat, and I know I can do it with the great ideas I get from your columns and these chats. I've already sold some furniture on craigslist this week, and it feels so great to have more open space to work with. One question I have is about lighting and lamps. I have no overhead lighting in my rooms. How do you go about choosing lamps? I want them to look nice, but I also want them to give off enough light. And this may seem like a dumb question, but do wall sconces have cords? They always look so nice in House Calls, but I never see cords shown. How do they get their electricity?

Congratulations on turning your apartment into a home!

How fun! And you are correct, some wall sconces have cords and some are hardwired into the wall. Of course the sconces with cords offer you the flexibility of being able to hang them anywhere but you have to be comfortable seeing the cords or hiding them.


The R&H product line looks wonderful, but I'm wondering whether you have planner tips for those of us that don't have money to spend on this type of product. With no money, it seems I'm stuck with writing numerous lists on the back of envelopes.

Mine cost about $73, but that was only because I bought some cute extras I could have done without (the pink post-its, the pockets, the filler paper). If you just get the binder ($16), the calendar ($18) you can keep your own pad of paper inside and call it an organized day. 

A friend has a very sturdy branch fixed horizontally to her wall with small stubs from branches that have been removed. She uses this for her kids' coats, and it's hung at their level.


I work out of a home office and desperately need a filing cabinet but haven't been able to find a good used one just yet. In the meantime, are there any good portable filing solutions available that would work for hanging files until I can get to the next surplus equipment auction at the local university?

How about something like this?

What would you suggest for a family calendar, with a husband who carries no planner, and ALWAYS manages to not see notes/reminders I leave him, no matter where I leave them? We have a toddler and I can see this only getting worse in the future.

You are not alone! I have found that the best way is to have a large format calendar that you can write everything on and layer it with notes and reminders. Even though my husband and kids had thier calendars, we had a MASTER calendar that fit on our kitchen counter. While it took up room, it couldn't be missed and there was no excuse. There is one on the russellandhazel website that is the exact size of a bread board and has 36 sheets.

I had to purge when my marriage ended and we sold the family home, which had an attic and a basement completely full of stuff. After a short time in an apartment, I moved into a townhouse with limited storage options. I kept one box of momentos each for my two daughters and me, and two boxes of American Girls dolls, clothes and accessories; and one box of Christmas decorations (which has since expended to two). Other than that, everything I kept was in use. Now I am remarried and back in a house but we find that we prefer living without a lot of stuff. It just feels lighter and freer, and it's easier to keep the house clean, too.

That's a great lesson and very smart. Sounds like a nice way to live. Thanks for sharing.

My cousin and her husband did a massive purge of almost all their belongings two years ago. They had multiple garage sales, listed items on craigslist, and donated the remainder to Goodwill. They donated almost their entire library (over 2,000 books) to their local library. My cousin said it was the most freeing thing she's ever done.

Sounds amazing. I may have to put this idea on my family's to-do list this year.

Hi, Chris! Love r+h endlessly! I was just wondering what you think the best way to organize paperwork from our busy daily lives (bills, invoices, faxes, etc.) so that they're hidden from view at my desk but also easily accessible. Thanks!

Oh...where do I begin! You can use file folders, I love pure white folders! and put them in an acyrlic collator so it always looks clean and uncluttered. OR you can have a binder, and put in dividers and pockets to keep everything at arms reach. We are also introducing the desk top expanding file which is the biggest cutest ! yes, cute! expanding file. Look for it the end of Jan.

When I moved to the UK a few years ago, I literally got rid of EVERYTHING I owned, save for two boxes of books, photos and silver. And I kept a 6-foot freestanding steel kitchen counter. It was hard at first, because I had to make a decision about every single thing. But after a while, I realized that stuff is stuff and it weighs you down. When I suddenly had to move back to the States for family reasons, I had to do the same thing with my UK possessions.

I love this. A&E should do a show called "Purgers" as a nice balance to "Hoarders." I think it would be very inspiring!

You mentioned that there will be a new russell+hazel collection debuting on Feb. 1. Will there be anything else besides the storage? Any exciting new products or binder colors to look forward to?

Yes and Yes! We are introducing some old familiar favorites, new leather accessories that take function and fashion to a new level, and my personal favorite, the white collection. I am going to outfit my office, like my wardrobe with a clean slate. And then layer color on top. The white collection has durable hanging files, file folders, large file/project folders, expanding files and a limited edition 1-10 binder set.

For the chatter who asked about wall sconces, it is easy to find cord covers. Just Google "wall cord cover" or something like that. We have some white ones purchased at Home Depot for less than $10. They give a much neater look than just a hanging cord. In one room, we even painted the cord cover when we painted the rest of the wall, and it blends right in.

Great tip and ideas. thanks!

Will there be any Russell+Hazel stores opening elsewhere in the USA so those of us who don't live in Minneapolis can shop the full R+H experience?

I am so glad you asked! I am looking at retail space in both NYC and LA this month so we can open up east and west coast outposts. Look for expansion in 2012. If you have any additional suggestions please let us know.

I use an Erin Condren Planner that I adore. I like the bulk of it (I know that is a turn off for some) but it can be personalized, has monthly tabs, pockets and plastic envelope. The calendar also is big enough for me to write in which is a huge deal for me.

I also know people who love their Erin Condren planners, but I found them to be way too bulky for me. I did like the size of the calendar boxes, too, though.

Believe it or not, there are some beautiful battery powered wall sconces out there too! Best of both worlds in my book.


This chat is so inspiring. I didn't take time off at the holidays because of work (freelancer here -- have to work when the projects come), but I'm taking next week off to rescue my office from the domestic chaos into which it has fallen. I'm getting lots of good ideas here.

Great to hear and good for you! Taking a week off to get organized sounds heavenly.

Hi, Chris. I have three busy kids (ages 7, 13 and 16) and I'm trying to find an easy but comprehensive way to keep them all organized with their many activities. Any ideas? Maybe something for me (a binder system) and something they can participate in too, like a big wall calendar? Thanks so much!

Oh My! I completely understand! And yes, you are on the right track with the larger calendar format for them to participate in. It was a great teaching tool for time management. Not just about their schedules, but also the people they depend on. It is easy to see if someone in the family is over booked and where the conflicts are. We had Sunday family meeting nights...popcorn and calendars!

I've done a drastic purge, but it happened over a series of months. Start with a moderate purge, then go through a few weeks or months later, and purge again. It really gets easier as you go along. But I need to organize papers and folders and watercolor/calligraphy art supplies in a stylish way. Storage is a low, whire bookcase. Any suggestions?

Buy notebooks for your papers and beautiful folders you can put in small file boxes. Art supplies should be put into nice looking mugs or jars or plastic boxes.

I found my cherry Queen Anne style dining table, chairs, buffet and china cabinet on CraigsList for only $1800. You have to watch that you get something in good condition. Ours was almost perfect, but I love it!

Also Sloans & Kenyon and Weschler's auction houses have great deals on dining tables. Check out their schedule of weekly and monthly auctions.

My husband has a fairly large collection of history books that take up four plain IKEA bookshelves in our family room. I don't want to/can't get rid of them since they mean so much to him but I'd like to display them in a way that makes our family room look less like a drab library and more like a bright and happy space for a family with two toddlers. Any advice?

You could mix in historical mementos or small artworks along with the books to break it up.

My husband and I are both self-employed and have home offices across a little landing from each other. We use a dry erase board for our calendar which hangs between the offices. EVERYTHING goes on the board. We each have our own magic marker color, including our toddler (he just has doctor's appointments and such). We each keep our own paper calendars as well. We've been doing this for several years and it seems to be working well, with only a few disputes when one of us forgets to put something on it.

That is a great solution and satisfies the coordination of scheduling....even across a landing! Congratulations.

That's all the time we have today, folks. Thanks for joining us and a special thanks to Chris Plantan for her organizing solutions. Chat with you next week.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Terri Sapienza
Terri Sapienza is a staff writer for The Washington Post's Local Living section.
Chris Plantan
Chris Plantan is the founder and creative director of russell+hazel, a lifestyle brand known for its functional work tools, including notebooks, binders, desk accessories and time management systems. Her philosophy is that good design is both pleasing and functional. Launched in 2003, russell+hazel brough fresh colors into the office during a time when folders were manilla and post-it notes were canary yellow.
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