Category Archives: Organized Living

Cooking up Kitchen Organization

476631451 cutlery drawerYou may not believe it, but I actually love spending time working in my kitchen. Recently, I’ve found that making a delicious meal for my usually grateful family has become a huge stress reliever for me! Now, that may be partially due to the several glasses of wine that I end up having during the process… However, not many people feel this way about cooking, and that’s probably because your kitchen turns into a disorganized mess where you can’t find any of the tools or ingredients you have hidden in an unidentified cabinet. Meal time can be one of the easiest parts of your day when you settle into an organized routine and have everything you need prepared around you. Sound impossible? Well let’s just say, if I can get my crazy kitchen organized, anyone can! Here are some problems I ran into before I overhauled my cooking space:

Trash Bag Troubles
Although it’s great to recycle those plastic grocery bags from the store, they usually end up scattered under your sink or shoved into drawers never to be used again. Purchase an inexpensive cabinet-mounted or free standing bag holder to create space for more important kitchen items. When the holder gets filled up, recycle them or donate extra bags to a food bank. Better yet, invest in inexpensive fabric bags for grocery shopping. Many markets offer small cash discounts for using them and the environment will love you!

Creating Cabinet Space
Before I got organized, there was no rhyme or reason to the items in each cabinet, making it nearly impossible to get a meal on the table in a reasonable amount of time. Move special occasion dishes and other infrequently used pieces to a cabinet in the dining room or the highest shelf in your kitchen cabinets. If you have a lot of wine glasses like I do, optimize stemware space by placing every other glass upside down. Bowls, Tupperware, and casserole dishes can nest one inside the other. Finally, keep cups, plates and bowls you use most often toward the front of the cabinet, while that precious bone china passed down from your great aunt can be moved to the back or displayed behind glass.

Utensils, Utensils, Utensils
Knives and forks and pizza slicers–oh my! Those stray steak knives are a safety hazard—and searching for the right tool slows down meal prep time more than you know. If your utensil drawer is a disaster, one trip to your favorite home store will reveal a plethora of drawer organizers that can keep all of your utensils compartmentalized and clean–and speed up the stir fry and salad fixing.  

Refresh Your Refrigerator
Two-week old pot roast has no place in your refrigerator. But in this house, leftovers get buried in the back of the fridge and are soon forgotten. First, start fresh. I pulled everything out, checked all the expiration dates and get rid of foods that have gone bad, you’d be surprised how many old jars and expired condiments you have sitting around. Also a great time to give the shelves a quick facelift! Place items back inside, grouped together based on type and frequency of use, with more perishable items toward the front. When it comes time to put leftovers in the fridge, ask your family if they plan on eating any more in the next day or so. I try to keep Chet and the kids honest on this one…If they say yes, keep it. If they say no, throw it away right then and there. A quick inventory check every evening will keep your refrigerator clutter-free and fresh.

There are so many quick fixes for the kitchen that I never even thought about before. But now that everything is in its right place and I can actually find the previously elusive whisk in my drawers, I would never let my kitchen go back to its cluttered state! Short on time? It’s easy to find a few minutes here and there to de-clutter one drawer or cabinet at a time. Soon enough, your kitchen will be ready for an appearance in Better Homes and Gardens.

Never Untangle Necklace Chains Again

477878711 jewelryNow that the kids have gone back to school, I have really gone on an organizing kick. Shocking, I know! But sometimes, disorganization sneaks up on you when you least expect it.  For instance, last week the kids were all at sleepovers, so Chet and I had the rare dinner date opportunity, so I wanted to wear one of my favorite necklaces. I open up my jewelry box, and the thing is a complete tangled mess! So after borrowing one of  Ashley’s necklaces and enjoying a few glasses of wine at dinner, I came up with a few ideas to tame your overflowing jewelry collection:

Necklaces, chains and bracelets
A necklace rack is a great way to keep your favorites tangle free. You can find inexpensive ones or make your own and use all those craft supplies you just organized! A small corkboard and a set of T-pins works very well as does an old wooden coat hanger and loop screws. You can even repurpose a mug tree. For traveling, use a common plastic straw. Unclasp the necklace chain, take your straw and thread the chain through it then clasp it closed. You can use this trick for bracelets as well by cutting the straw down to size.

Rings and earrings
If I had a dollar for every earring I’ve lost because of how disorganized I was, I could buy myself some fancy new earrings! Keeping these smaller items together is easy when you think in compartments. One of the cheapest ways to store these items is in small organizer boxes found at the hardware store for nails and screws. You can find ones a bit more elegant at the craft store or purchase acrylic ones and line with velvet material. When traveling, a daily pill box works great. Buttons can be used too. Simply put post through button opening and push earring back on the other side.

An elegant solution to storing and organizing for home or travel is to purchase an organizer bag. They are designed to keep your jewelry neat and have special compartments to hold your items separately. Many of them roll up or can hang in your closet from a swivel hook. A cheaper alternative but effective solution for traveling is to use Glad Press and Seal wrap. Simply pull out a large sheet of wrap and lay your items on one side of it. Fold over the other side and press all the edges and in between the items to seal. It can then be rolled up and put in your suitcase or travel bag. This works well for headphones and other accessories, too.

Sometimes disorganization is the mother of invention and the solution is easier than you think.

Turn Household Objects into Useful Craft Storage

boxesWhether you’re a seasoned DIYer or just a beginner, exploring your creative side through seasonal or regular crafting can be pretty therapeutic. More than once, I’ve volunteered to make favors or created hand-made Christmas ornaments based on ideas I discovered on Pinterest. With countless sources of inspiration available, the whole family can get involved (and it’s a great excuse for some ME time)! Ashley and Noah have even invaded our craft drawer a number of times.

However, all those supplies can get cluttered and disorganized fairly easily and leave you with a messy craft drawer and a fierce headache even a glass of pinot noir can’t fix. If you find your craft area overflowing with supplies, like I did, it’s time to buckle down and get organized.

Below are a few of my favorite ways to use common household items to keep your supplies ready when you are:

  • Hanging sweater shelf – scrapbook paper / card stock
  • Recycled soup can– craft brushes and pencils
  • Hanging file folder or slacks hanger – fabric storage
  • Over-the-door shoe organizer – sewing notions, paints
  • Tension rods or small dowel rods – ribbon and/or string
  • Little drawer storage units, cupcake or muffin tin – beads, smaller items,
  • Clear caddies – tape (of all kinds)
  • Recycled coffee containers – kids craft supplies
  • Funnels (mounted) – twine and/or yarn
  • Spice racks – glitter, gems, sewing notions
  • Magnetic strip – scissors
  • CD/DVD rack – ink pad storage
  • Café curtain rods – craft/paper punches
  • Magazine holder/sleeve – cardstock and paper books
  • 3-ring binder with page protectors – clear cling stamps (slide sets into pages)
  • Mason Jars – pens, pencils, markers or lid can be mounted under a shelf so jar can be unscrewed open
  • Clear storage container with clear lid – rubber stamps (place bottom layer with rubber facing up, top layer with rubber facing down)

Once you’ve finished crafting, you can clean up bits of scrap paper, pencil shavings, googly eyes, and any other messes with a central vacuum system that’s more powerful than a traditional push model. With a variety of quick clean accessories, workshops and craft rooms can stay cleaner than ever with very little effort.

 

Bring Back Happy Hour with Outdoor Cleaning Plan

Patio FurnitureWhat’s better than sitting out on the porch on a beautiful summer evening with good eats and a happy hour libation (especially if the kids are out)? If you’re fortunate enough to have an outdoor living area, keeping it clean can be a significant challenge because you’re much more susceptible to the full wrath of mother nature. Prepping our outside living areas for summer-ready entertaining doesn’t need to be a big chore. With just a few simple items and a game plan, you’ll be relaxing with your feet up and a nice cold beverage in no time.

First, gather your supplies. This may include rags, a bucket, mild soap and water, glass cleaner, a broom and a vacuum. Every porch/deck/patio is different so you may need additional supplies, but this list is a great start.

Using a broom, clean beginning with the highest point first. Brush down the siding making certain to grab any dirt and cobwebs. Sweep all the debris and remove. Then, using soapy water, wipe down the siding as well as window sills and thresholds. Use glass cleaner to clean the door and any windows. Vacuum any carpet areas and thoroughly shake out any light rugs and toss into the washer. That’s the easy stuff. Next up, the furniture.

Depending on which type of outdoor furniture you have, clean furniture and decorations as described below and allow them to completely air dry before placing any guests in them.

Wood and Wicker – Brush or vacuum trapped dirt and dust. Using a cloth dampened with water and a mild soap, wipe down thoroughly.

Vinyl and Resin – Brush or vacuum any dirt and dust. Clean with a sponge or soft cloth dampened with water and a mild soap. Rinse by hosing down. Using oxygen bleach or vinegar mixed with water (2 TBSP per 1 gallon water) will help to remove any mildew stains. To prevent future stains, repel dirt and make the furniture easier to clean, rub car wax on the surface once it is cleaned.

Wrought Iron – Remove any algae with a brush and disinfectant. Clean thoroughly with a cloth dampened with water and a mild soap.

Outdoor cushions – Clean with a sponge, water and mild soap. Prop them in the sun to dry.

Umbrellas – Use warm water and a safe cleaner to rinse away mildew and then leave open to dry.

Going toe-to-toe with mother nature is never easy, but with a plan and the right tools, there’s no reason your outdoor living space can’t gleam like the inside of your house. Plus, with many newquick clean vacuuming products available for tackling outdoor messes, the great outdoors just got a little greater.

 

Playroom and Toy Organization

Toy RoomIt happens in spite of our best intentions. A birthday party here, a doting grandparent there, a neighborhood garage sale with deals too good to pass up, and you’ve got a story titled something like Toys Take Over.

Looking for a happy ending? Try these strategies to keep your kids’ play stuff under control:

  • BE MORE SELECTIVE.
    Ever notice how your kids can have a room stuffed with toys and end up playing for hours with the box your refrigerator came in? Sometimes the simplest things give more pleasure and fire the imagination, as well. Make toy selections with this thought in mind: Is this an impulse buy? How long will my child play with this in relation to its cost—not to mention the space it takes up in my home?
  • RESERVE AND ROTATE.
    Too many toys at one time can actually overwhelm a child. Store a third of them away at any given time—chances are unless you’ve mistakenly picked a current favorite, they won’t even notice their absence. Every month or so, bring back the stored toys and stow away some more. Your child will feel like it’s Christmas all over again, and the house stays neater.
  • CHOOSE A STORAGE SYSTEM THAT SETS EVERYONE UP FOR SUCCESS.
    Resist the urge to aspire to a play area that resembles a stylish catalog photo, with a few lovely toys displayed for visual effect and the others stowed in neatly stacked, aesthetically pleasing containers, especially if you have toddlers. You’ll drive yourself, not to mention your kids, batty. Rather, be practical and set up reasonable expectations. Choose clear tubs or large baskets without cumbersome lids, so items inside are easily visible.
  • Sort smaller items separately from larger toys; otherwise the small things just sink to the bottom and the whole tub will get overturned in searches for Mr. Potato Head’s hat. Some parents tape a picture of the toy category on the front of a bin to help their tots stay organized.
  • If it’s difficult to keep toys confined to just one room of the house, you can hang a pretty gift bag on a door handle or stand one up in the corner to temporarily store playthings that wander in.
  • THINK SAFETY.
    Don’t stack bins more than two deep, and use low shelves. Avoid storage units with sharp edges, or add small adhesive cushions to their corners. Tall units are too tempting for little ones to climb in search of out-of-reach toys, with results that can be tragic. If you must use a tall unit, bolt it securely to the wall and keep items attractive to children only on the low shelves. Also, while your grandmother’s toy chest might be sentimentally valuable to you, it may not be practical. Heavy lids can smash fingers and heads, and if it’s painted, there may be a lead hazard.
  • CHOOSE CLEANUP SESSIONS THAT WORK FOR YOU.
    Depending on your personal tolerance for mess, you can schedule mini-cleanup sessions a few times a day, or wait until bedtime for one clean swoop. Either way, expect your child to participate. Just make cleanup sessions age appropriate in length, and try to insert a measure of fun, like straightening up to the tune of their ABC’s or a favorite song.
  • THIN THE RANKS.
    While it’s unfair to force your child to part with a favorite toy, there’s also something to be said for reassessing their treasures every so often. Some parents sneak out bags of old toys like thieves in the night, convinced their children never notice, but you can engage them in the process by offering some incentive for letting go of things they no longer really want or need. Have a garage sale and let them keep the money for the items they sell, for example. You can also introduce them to the idea that rather than letting unused objects collect dust in a closet, they can be passed along for some other child to enjoy. Again, keep the process age appropriate, and don’t think that just because Timmy won’t let go of his old blue race car that you are raising a selfish child; these things are best learned in small, easy-to-digest bites.

Cabinet Organization

Kitchen CabinetWant to maximize the space you have in your kitchen and bathroom? Stop digging around and dropping things on your foot as you struggle to pull out the one item you need? Follow these simple tips:
KITCHEN CABINETS
If cabinet space is really at a premium (mine is) and you don’t want to clutter up your countertops, consider an extra freestanding cupboard or cabinet that goes in another room to hold big, bulky items, appliances and platters, etc that you use infrequently. Even a set of open shelves in the basement or garage can take on these cabinet hogs and free up a great deal of space for the things you use daily.

Thin the ranks. Do you have duplicates, odd kitchen gadgets or containers that you really never use? Give them away or sell them at a garage sale.

Shop for options. Creative kitchen storage units are widely available and they come in all price ranges. Consider, for example, easily installed vertical racks that mount inside your cabinets for storing cookies sheets, griddles, cooling racks and lids for pots and pans. They make everything easy to see and pull out.

Try to store canned goods in lines, with duplicates stored behind each other, stacking when possible. That way you know what you have at a glance and avoid moving cans around every time you open the door. If you don’t stock up on several cans of each item, another option is a stepped up unit you can place inside a cupboard, which takes up space but also reveals the contents of your cabinet at a glance.

Two-tiered lazy Susans do take up extra room, but they are worth it for avoiding the search for seasoning bottles. For super efficiency, take five minutes one day to alphabetize your herb and spice bottles. You only have to do it once, and you’ll be amazed at how much time you save.

Keep infrequently used pots or specialty items, i.e. fondue set, extra crock pot, and holiday serving dishes, in that hard-to-access deep cupboard above the refrigerator.

Use plastic dividers for drawers that hold utensils or small objects. If you have a junk drawer, use recycled plastic tubs or lids to hold the tiny items like paper clips, batteries and other miscellaneous stuff that collects there.

BATHROOM CABINETS
Most bathrooms are short on storage. If several people are sharing a bathroom, consider giving each of them a small plastic carryall with a handle that they can use to store their toiletries and tote back and forth from their bedrooms.

Sometimes just cleaning out everything you have in the bathroom cabinets is a good start. Throw away expired medicines, bottles with a tiny amount of unused product that’s been sitting there for months, and things no one ever uses at all.

Buy plastic bins for keeping together like items: first aid items, shampoos and conditioners, brushes and combs, deodorants and soaps.

Consider an over-the-toilet unit for towels and pretty baskets that can store toiletries without looking like clutter.

Over-the-door hanging units with clear pockets are handy for storing the cosmetics and necessities of several members of the household.

Keep duplicates of products you stock up on in a different room, like the basement.

Buy a pretty vertical toilet paper rod that can sit discreetly in a corner by the toilet and hold several rolls of toilet paper.

Tips for Keeping Your Resolutions

make things happenSo, it’s the end of January. Most readers by now have shed those extra nagging pounds, quit smoking and/or drinking, started an ambitious exercise routine to which they have adhered religiously, finished the novel languishing in their desk drawer, made peace with irascible bosses or found exciting new jobs, cleaned out their closets, basement and garage and redecorated that sad-looking bathroom with the wallpaper that looked fabulous in 1985.

No?

When it comes to goals, most of us have a tendency towards expectations that are, shall we say, a tad unrealistic. We want change, and we want it now. And this is the year we are finally, finally going to—you can fill in the blanks.
Motivational experts tell us that vowing to make wholesale and immediate changes in our lives is merely setting ourselves up for failure, which only serves to spur some of us to tuck our tails between our legs and head right back to the couch and the carton of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia (my personal favorite).
The secret to success lies in small, purposeful increments of change that, added together, offer big results.
Let’s say you have things you really want to change about your home: its organization, its clean factor, its health, its homey and inviting quality, the level of its maintenance, or its beauty. Maybe all of the above, but hold on—let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Slow and steady wins the race, as the hare learned in his challenge against the tortoise.
Try adopting these strategies as you set about making your home the most comfortable, well-cared for, beautiful abode it can be:

  • Be specific in your goals, and be realistic. If the clutter in your home has become unmanageable, for example, take it on in small bites that set you up for real progress without unreasonable frustration. If you’re overwhelmed, ask for help.
  • Prioritize. What project is bugging you the most? Start there, even if it is some small task like researching the possibilities, or spending 15 minutes a day going through clutter and tossing at least one item.
  • Visualize. Cut out magazine photos that embody the look you are going for, and stick them on your refrigerator or tack them to a bulletin board that you pass by often. The images will inspire you to bring that beauty and order into your life.
  • Focus on safety and repairs first. It’s frustrating to invest money into areas that aren’t visible to the naked eye, like roofs and insulation and wiring, but these must be priorities in order to protect the safety and long term value of your investment. To compensate, indulge in a manageable improvement that is purely aesthetic—one that gives you immediate effect and pleasure: a fresh coat of paint, a new chair, a print for over the mantel.
  • Buy a pretty calendar or notebook just for tracking your progress. Each week, or each month, depending on your available time and energy, focus on a different room, or a different task: sorting through clothes closets one month, cleaning the basement another, reorganizing your office yet another. If you have to, give two months to one big project. If you can, match the task to the weather so, for example, you aren’t chafing against cleaning a musty basement in May while everyone else is at the park.
  • Work backwards from a deadline. Let’s say your son is graduating from high school this year, and you want to throw a party for him in June. Suddenly, you’re casting a critical eye on the whole house and landscape, right? Nothing like company to motivate. Before you panic, make a list of priorities that will be most visible for the party: kitchen, common living areas, porch or deck, bathrooms, entryway. Start early and make a list of what needs to be done to put those areas in their best light, whether it’s a coat of paint, or simply a thorough cleaning. Delegate wherever possible. If you can afford to hire out projects, even paying a student (your son?) to weed the garden and trim the hedges a few days before the party, do it. Setting up a preparation schedule that includes invitations, food considerations, and house readiness will keep you on track and help you accomplish things you might not have done otherwise. Most important, remember that the purpose of the party is to celebrate a milestone, not put your home on display. Stay focused on what matters and relax about the rest.
  • Set up a small reward system for yourself. If you finally, finally get that basement cleaned out, treat yourself to a new sweater, a day to curl on the couch and read, lunch with a friend, a day trip somewhere interesting. It’s especially gratifying to organize a garage sale and then do something fun with the proceeds. One family financed a good portion of their trip to Disney World with a series of garage sales they held over a year’s time.
  • Exchange labor with a friend. Set up an arrangement whereby you help each other tame an unruly garden, go through unwanted clothes, reorganize a pantry, strip wallpaper or paint a room. The time will be more pleasurable, the work will go faster, and you’ll share the memories and gratification of a job well done together. As the saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”
  • Scale back your expectations if necessary. You might not be able to afford a kitchen makeover this year, but you can paint your cupboards, or the walls, or even just buy new dish towels and throw rugs. The small perks can go a long way to freshening a look, and your outlook.
  • Take a tip from the DIY shows. You can give your house a total facelift just by rearranging the things you already own. Walk around your home and try envisioning this chair and that rug, this picture and that vase, in another room. Cost? A little elbow grease. Doing this with a friend is even more fun—they’ll offer you ideas you’d have never come up with on your own.

Post-Holiday Home: Regroup and Restore

boxesIs the holiday aftermath overwhelming you? Why is it the tree that looked so festive begins to loom larger than life after New Year’s Day? And that darling collection of glass snowmen glares accusingly from their place on the mantel?
Take a deep breath and a few easy steps to restoring order to your post-holiday home.

• One thing at a time. Unless you have a sudden burst of energy and a space of several hours, work on one section of the house at a time. Clear one tabletop at a time. Then concentrate on the tree. Family members can be responsible for removing their gifts from under the tree and putting them away. Clean the leftovers out of your refrigerator, freezing what you can and discarding small bits of this and that. If you live in a cold climate, take advantage of any break in the weather to remove outdoor lights. By breaking holiday cleanup into smaller, manageable pieces taken on one at a time, you will see steady progress and not end up with an even more overwhelming chaos of cartons and boxes all over the house.
• Motivate yourself with some fresh organizational helps. Replace a jumble of cardboard boxes with a few sturdy plastic tubs to store Christmas ornaments and decor. Wrap fragile pieces in pretty tissue saved from gifts. Label clearly for easier access next year. Wreaths can be covered with labeled garbage bags with the hook poking through the top so they can be hung in a basement or attic. If you buy a new comforter, save the plastic bag it came in. It will store and protect a large wreath easily and visibly.
• Lights can be less annoying. Want to avoid the choice words over tangled strands of lights next year? Save cardboard wrapping paper tubes or buy plastic pipe, then wrap your lights around them, securing them at both ends. Next year, you can unwind them by circling the tube around the tree.
• Bundle up Christmas cards and store. Next Christmas, you can revisit them to keep your own card list current. Use the fronts of last year’s cards as pretty gift tags.
• Transfer dates onto your new calendar. Save last year’s calendar and use it to mark important dates like annual medical checkups, birthdays and anniversaries in the coming year. If you have a space for them, old calendars are worth keeping; they can be useful records of family history.

Post-Holiday Deals for Shoppers with Stamina

sale bagsIf you’ve got the energy, the money or the desire to go back out into the shopping arena right after Christmas, you could be rewarded with some excellent deals.
• Holiday Décor. Deep discounts make this the best time to purchase ornaments, decorations, lighting, wrapping paper, greeting cards, artificial trees and anything holiday-themed. Stock up and save time and money for next year.
• Gadgets. Kitchen gadgets, home electronics, and GPS products take up a lot of shelf space that must be cleared for new merchandise. Shop now for great deals, even on big-screen TV’s up until Super Bowl time.
• January Travel. After the big rush of holiday travel comes a slow season that opens up deals for savvy shoppers. Last-minute getaways can be booked at good discount prices.
• E-Bay Specials. Look for merchants clearing inventory and people selling off gifts that didn’t suit them.
• Dishes and Glassware. Stores stock up for shoppers looking to dress up their tables for holiday guests, then need to move the merchandise quickly after the holiday.
• Sparkling Wines and Champagnes. Competition is fierce for New Year’s revelers, so now might be a good time to splurge on a favorite high-end bottle.
• Gift Cards. Because of deep discounts and post-holiday sales, the value of your gift card might buy as much as 25% to 50% more than it would in summer months. Consider spending those gift cards you received while sales last.

Wrapping Can Be a Gift

WrappingCreative gift-wrapping doesn’t necessarily mean mounds of bows and curlicue ribbons. With a bit of forethought, it can also be part of the gift itself.
For a fun departure from tradition, think beyond the box and bag, and try these ideas:
• A pretty throw makes a beautiful wrap for larger gifts. Simply gather it at the corners and tie a bow around the top. Perfect for pillows or any gift with a theme of comfort and relaxation. One imaginative gift giver wrapped up a 12-pack of her husband’s favorite micro-beer in a fleece throw.
• Kitchen related gifts can be wrapped in pretty dish towels, cloth napkins or a tablecloth, depending on the size. Or use a pretty platter or bowl to hold the gift, and wrap it all up in clear cellophane.
• Bath related products can be wrapped in fluffy towels or even a plush robe.
• Try wrapping gifts in a pretty scarf.
• Garden tools and accessories or gifts that will be used outdoors can come wrapped in a bucket, burlap bag, crate, wheelbarrow, wagon or plastic storage bin—even a tarp, thus extending the usefulness of the gift. Small garden gifts can peek out of a watering can or decorative pot.
• A handsome hat box or leather box doubles the pleasure of a wearable gift.
• Office-related gifts can come in small storage containers that are handsome enough to display on a desk or shelf.