One drawer at a time

One of my goals this summer was to reorganize the kitchen office area. DONE.

20140629_115436On Friday I got the ball rolling by sorting and filing (and a lot of recycling) the horrible pile of paper that had accumulated in the corner. On Saturday the Hub decided to push on and finish the job.


He pulled everything off the shelves (something I couldn’t do myself: heavy books and magazine files + recovering spine = NO) and wiped all the dust. We took a few minutes to sort through the cookbooks. We agreed on a couple to donate and loosely categorized the rest before putting them back on the shelves. Nearly all the cooking magazines got relocated to the basement. I spent a couple hours sorting through the kids’ school file boxes, mostly tossing stuff, but saving a few things for posterity. I dedicated one shelf to their summer schoolwork and one shelf for my files and some office supplies. I put away (or threw away) all the other bits and pieces that had piled up on my desk and shelves. I even cleaned off my memo board. Finally, I hung the new organizer that I got for my birthday.


Since that project took the better part of a day and a half, I’m not really motivated to take on another big thing right away. I’d like to reorganize and clean all the kitchen cabinets, but that sounds huge. Instead, I decided to clean out just one kitchen drawer. That much I can handle.


It doesn’t look that bad. But there are a bunch of lids without containers, and containers without lids. I also wanted to make room for some plastic mixing bowls in a spot where the kids can reach them without help when they’re cooking.


Everything out.


All the matching containers and lids put together. Anything without a mate got recycled.


Everything back in. There are a bunch of containers still in the refrigerator, but all those have their matching lids, and I’m certain they’ll all fit back into the drawer.

I only kept a few yogurt containers with lids, and put them in a bin in the pantry. I use these for freezing homemade chicken stock, but don’t need them every day.

Boring but satisfying. Kind of like cleaning out your purse or the trunk of your car. I think the utensil drawers will be next.


Closet clean sweep

In the spirit of Chinese New Year, I cleaned out my closet yesterday.

I tried to be ruthless–if I hadn’t worn something in the past year, into the donate bag it went. A few things went into the rag pile. I pulled all the summer clothes out and stashed them in a box under the bed so that I can actually open, close, and see what is inside my dresser drawers. Obviously, I should have done that in October, but since I won’t need them until May, better late than never. I refolded all my sweaters, and put my to-be-ironed clothes on hangers in the closet so that I don’t keep forgetting I own them. I even sorted through my shoes.

The donation truck is coming by next week, and I’m happy to have a few bags to contribute.

Today we have to trek out in the snow to sell band candy for a couple of hours. (We’ll be indoors, thankfully.) I’d rather be cleaning the house.

How often do you clean out your closet?

Cleaning out the refrigerator

Yeah, so I’ve been meaning to clean out the refrigerator for, like, MONTHS. Maybe a year. I really can’t remember. In my defense, there were no festering science experiments lurking in its depths (we are pretty good about rounding up the bits of food and lost containers every week or two). But we had company over the weekend, and the embarrassing state of the fridge finally sent me over the edge.

Then I saw this motivating video in my Facebook feed this week. How timely! A refrigerator makeover for under $100! I prefer free makeovers, so I didn’t buy any supplies–though I’m tempted to snag one more set of containers next time I’m at Ikea. I wouldn’t mind those dry erase labels that they talked about, either (Hey there, Santa!).

My fridge before looked pretty much like the one in the video: stuffed with stuff, in no particular order. I didn’t even snap a picture of it. I emptied the fridge of all its contents:

That’s where this story takes a wrong turn. You thought you were watching HGTV, but now you’re in a weird indie horror film, or maybe an episode of Dexter.
It took me nearly an hour of scrubbing to get rid of the evidence. I heated up the kettle and drizzled boiling water to loosen the sticky mystery spills–I really could have used some rubber gloves. Then I spent another hour reinstalling the shelves, sorting and repackaging food.
My big addition was a piece of shelf liner to help keep the wine bottles from rolling around. I even reorganized the condiments in the door.

From crime scene to clean, well-lighted place. A happy ending, don’t you think?

Revisiting my New Year’s Resolutions

End-of-year pile of artwork

End-of-year pile of artwork

Today is the last day of school for Miss Seven and Mr. Ten. It’s not even June! And it seems a very long time until August. (Though when I look at my calendar, it’s clear we won’t be sitting at home with nothing to do.) I thought it might be a good time to revisit my New Year’s Resolutions, see what we’ve accomplished, and make a plan for what I might tackle over the summer months.

2013 Resolutions

  • Paint and paper the kids’ bathroom; replace the shoe moulding; add floating shelves (bonus points: raise the light fixture and frame the mirror)
  • Organize the tools in the garage
  • Clean out the laundry room
  • Replace the computer armoire with a simple desk in the living room (maybe a DIY with an old door and some IKEA table legs)
  • Continue the landscaping project–at the very least, the vegetable garden and compost pile
  • Spackle and touch up/finish paint all over the house
  • Figure out two comfortable reading chairs and lighting in the living room
  • Refinish or paint the extra kitchen barstools
  • Cut down the rest of the old shrubs around the driveway (just one left by the lamp post)
  • Patch the concrete under the garage door
  • Organize basement sewing area and kids’ craft area
  • Paint, refinish dresser and redecorate Miss Seven’s room
Our growing veggie plot! I am now addicted to freshly picked lettuce.

Our growing veggie plot! I am now addicted to freshly picked lettuce.

After five months, I guess that’s not too bad. Add the powder room makeover, which wasn’t even on the list, and I feel pretty good about our progress. I have all the supplies for the computer desk project–now I just need to DO it.

As I look at the list, I realize those extra kitchen barstools aren’t really a priority. Since I found a place for them in the pantry, I don’t have to look at them when we’re not using them. In my mind, I’ve added Mr. Ten’s room to the list. After seeing the redecorating plans for Miss Seven’s room, he decided he is also ready for a new look. We’re going to repaint, get him a tall bookcase and maybe a reading chair, rearrange the furniture, and generally declutter. He’s picked out a cool gray-blue color called “Ozone” for the walls, which should take him into the teen years without needing another big change.

Here's hoping that if we move it away from the wall, it might be easier to make the bed.

Here’s hoping that if we move it away from the wall, it might be easier to make the bed.

So what’s at the top of my summer list?

  1. Assemble the new computer desk already! (And probably add some wall shelving above it.)
  2. Paint both kids’ rooms.
  3. Landscaping: repair and replant grass in the front yard, and add some new plants in front of the porch.
  4. Organize tools in the garage.
  5. Patch the concrete under the garage door.
This grass needs help.

This grass needs help.

That feels plenty ambitious for one summer! My goal for today is to strip the paint off the door that will serve as the top of the computer desk. This weekend, weather permitting, we hope to work on the yard a little.

What summer projects are on your list this year?

The Donation Pile

Remember Project Simplify? This week’s theme is “piles.”  (Last week’s theme was closets, but I didn’t manage to post anything about it. The Hub attacked the hall closet with extreme prejudice last week and now it’s looking–and functioning–much better. Winter gear purged and stored in the basement, and all the other bits that had accumulated were returned to their proper places.) Today I’ve got more than one pile of stuff that needs to be dealt with, including dishes in the sink, papers to be recycled, and more stuff lurking on and around my desk. I’m fairly certain I won’t get to much of it today.

But on Sunday I did tackle one pile that has been sitting in the basement for months: the donation pile. It was a combination of outgrown kids’ clothes, toys and games, as well as some adult clothing and housewares slated for donation.

Did I take a “before” picture? I did not. Let’s just all imagine that it was a big pile at the foot of the basement stairs: half a dozen overflowing boxes and bins, with more bags and bundles teetering precariously on top.

The St. Vincent de Paul truck was in our church parking lot on Sunday, so I dropped one large bag of clothing there. I sorted out a small bag of hand-me-downs to give to some friends with younger children, and set aside the box of clothes destined for a niece. Another pile of toys, games and tricycle is awaiting pick up for another friend’s toddler. I made an itemized list of everything else, and then posted the list to my local Freecycle group. By the end of the day Tuesday, all but one item had been claimed and picked up from my porch. All that remains is a trip to the post office to send the box to the niece before she outgrows everything in it, and arrange a time to deliver the toddler toys.

As always, clearing away one pile motivates me to tackle another one. Next: the family room. It’s all one big pile of toys, Wii games and accessories, newspapers and dirty socks, but I’m confident that it will only take 15 minutes to whip it back into shape.

Decluttering with Project Simplify

One of those tasks that never ends is decluttering, and the longer days of spring seem to illuminate the dirt and clutter that have accumulated throughout the winter. To motivate myself to tackle some of these problem areas, I’m linking up with Project Simplify 2013 at Simple Mom. Sure, I can see what areas in my home need work, but it’s awfully nice to have someone else map out a timetable and a plan of attack.

This week’s project is about decluttering flat surfaces. Shelves, drawers, tables…you know the ones. In our house, the usual suspects are the family room coffee table, the hall table, the mail center cupboard, and my desk in the kitchen. At the moment, my desk is the problem. It regularly gets so stacked with stuff–much of which is NOT MINE, that I just lift up my computer and go elsewhere to work.

This was mostly paper, so I sorted out everything that could be recycled, and then filed the rest appropriately. I put away all the bits of toys and hair accessories. I assessed the notes on the memo board and culled anything outdated. Then I dumped out the entire container of pencils and pens. Though I love the oatmeal tin, it’s just too tall to use as a pencil cup–things get lost in the bottom. I threw away all the dried up pens, sharpened all the pencils, and resurrected this cute flower pot that I bought in Spain to hold them all. After a good dusting, I can once again work at my desk!

If you’d like to join Project Simplify, click on the graphic at the top of this post to get all the details. It’s a great way to get a handle on Spring Cleaning!

The Dinner Swap

You may have noticed in my Monday Menu posts lately that I’ve been swapping meals with my friend, Jen E. (not to be confused with my friend Jen V., my personal gardening expert and all-around partner in crime). Jen E. introduced me to the idea of the dinner swap, and we’ve been talking about it for months, but finally made it happen. Three weeks in, I’m calling it an unqualified success. The Plan: We each cook a double batch of one of the week’s dinners, and then exchange the extra meal. One less meal to plan each week! One night of home cooked take out! More variety in our menu!

Since it’s just the two of us, we don’t have any complicated rules or monthly calendars. We both plan our week’s menu in advance, then email each other what we’ve planned to swap and decide which day to make the exchange. We’re not exactly neighbors, but Jen’s kids have skating lessons near my house, and I can make it to Jen’s porch and back in 30 minutes (assuming I don’t stop at the T.J. Maxx on the way).

Obviously, you can’t swap meals with just anyone. You’ve got to have similar tastes and expectations. Our families like a little bit of everything, with an emphasis on fresh, unprocessed ingredients. We all try to cook and eat healthily, but we’re not going to be militant about it. It might be difficult to swap with a family that requires a special diet because of allergies or other health concerns. Your families should probably be a similar size. The E.’s have two preschoolers to our 10, 7 and 5-yr-old, but I just double what I make for our table, and if they get more leftovers out of the deal, lucky them!

I’ve read about larger meal swap groups, and some of them exchange freezer meals instead of fresh (for example, five families each prepare five batches of two freezer meals, and then everyone goes home with 10 different meals to stock their freezers). I don’t know whether we will try a version of that in the future, but so far, things are going swimmingly.

Family room storage

I inherited a little oak washstand from my grandparents, mostly because nobody else wanted it. It had lived for years in the upstairs bathroom of their house, storing towels and toiletries and serving as a resting place for generations of dripping toothbrushes. When it came to me, the top was covered in water rings and was lifting away from the base. I nailed it back together, sanded and filled the holes, and gave it fresh coats of stain and wax. I love having it as a side table in our family room. I doubt that it has much value, but it holds good memories for me.

You like the things hanging out of the overstuffed drawers?

But in the couple of years that I’ve had the washstand, the drawers have filled up with all sorts of nonsense. Framed pictures that we took off the wall, yarn from the kids’ experiments in finger weaving, Bibles and workbooks from when Mr. Ten was studying for his First Communion two years ago. I found odd game pieces and toys, broken crayons, and a bunch of candles.

I cleaned it out. I sorted, threw away the garbage, put away all the other stuff where it really belongs. It took all of 10 minutes (I’ve now spent more time writing about it than actually doing it.) But now what?

I never had a plan for what to store there. I still don’t really have a plan. Instead, I have a list of possibilities jotted on a Post-It note. I have designated one drawer just for candles, and I moved the box of tapers and bag of tea lights so they’re all consolidated in one place. I found a basket to hold my knitting projects and some mending supplies (pin cushion, scissors, seam ripper, needle and thread), because when someone needs a button sewn on, I like to do it in front of the television (preferably while listening to The West Wing on Netflix). Anyway, the front runner on my list seems to be “extra office supplies,” which is mostly reams of paper for the printer and maybe a box of neatly labeled charging cords (the bowl they’re currently in is overflowing). Unless I come up with a better idea. If I leave the drawers empty, they’re just going to fill up with junk again. I speak from experience.

In other decluttering news, I’ve been slowly working on the piles and bags that always seem to accumulate around my desk. I believe it’s what they call a “clutter hotspot.” It’s more like a black hole with its own gravitational pull. The whole family leaves stuff there, which explains the hairbrush and the thank-you note that have landed here this morning. I still have one big bag of stuff to sort and a file box that needs to be organized. But I treated myself to a two-pocket hanging file for the kids’ homework-in-progress (their spelling lists, reading logs, and weekly homework packets). I used to have homework clipped to my memo board, but I was annoyed by the space it took up, and sometimes things got too heavy for their magnets and slid down onto the desk.

I also finished one little project whose materials have been stacked–you guessed it–next to my desk for the past several weeks. I took this cute Coca-Cola crate that I bought at a garage sale and attached some casters to it. I intended it for Little Five’s room, but he still doesn’t spend much time in there during the day and doesn’t keep toys in his room. I debated using it for Lego storage in the family room, but it really isn’t big enough, and the containers we’re using now are working well. But a rolling cart for reading material (usually a couple weeks’ worth of the New York Times and a few magazines)–that’s what we need! When it starts to overflow, it will be time to recycle.


Eventually it might find it’s way back to Little Five’s room, but I like putting it to use right now. Here’s hoping that by next week, I’ll have finished sorting through the rest of the desk mess and can move on to more exciting projects.

Computer desk plans

Little Five lost his television and Wii privileges this week, and so there have been long afternoons when he has NOTHING to do and NO ONE to play with. Oh, and EVERYONE IS SO MEAN. On the plus side, he has spent some quality time with his matchbox cars and his Tag reader, and I haven’t listened to the Caillou theme song in four whole days.

So it’s been a tricky week for getting anything done. I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit that I can’t get anything done when my kid isn’t entertained by a screen of some kind, but there it is. Just Dance 4 has been my babysitter lately. He’s getting exercise, and I can attack a project or write an entire paragraph without interruption.

Did I accomplish anything this week, beyond emptying the dishwasher and folding clothes? I cleaned out the computer armoire, which is Step 1 toward the goal of replacing it with a simple desk. Step 2 is to measure and cut down one of our old closet doors into a desk top, then a trip to Ikea for some table legs (that’s on the calendar for next week). Just writing this post motivated me to find a home for the things I removed from the armoire (one bag of computer games to Freecycle, several reams of paper, a box of CDs and cords, and a stack of old photos).

Except for the photos, the contents of an entire cubby went straight into the recycling. This is why I want a desk without storage–fewer places for junk to hide. This is the computer the kids use, and the only desk accessory they really need is a waste basket. I envision an uncluttered desk with only a small tray containing a pencil cup, note pad, and a little box to store a few flash drives. We might keep a small memo board to post frequently used usernames and passwords, and maybe some hooks to hang their headphones.

With an open desk, I’m going to have to wrangle some cords and decide how to disguise the modem and router, but I’m not there yet. Baby steps, no?

Garage, girl’s room, and plenty of recycling

Clearing one area in the house makes me long for a magic wand to zap away all the other messes, visible and invisible. Very soon–maybe today!–I’m going to clean out the computer armoire in the living room. It’s full of old Christmas cards, empty printer ink cartridges and defunct computer games that won’t play on our computer.

Over the weekend, back when it was 47 degrees (and before the thermometer plummeted to 3–have I mentioned how climate change is beginning to feel so immediate and scary?), we did the garage cleaning we should have done in the fall. Hanging the bikes, collecting the outdoor toys, putting garden tools away in the shed, and sorting the pile of recycling that had accumulated since Christmas. Now the second car fits in the garage, making the Hub’s mornings slightly less chilly.

I also dealt with the large pile of Christmas boxes and gift wrap in the basement. All the boxes and packaging to recycle went on the curb, all the reusable wrapping got folded and put away in the proper place. Yesterday I even took a trunk full of plastic grocery bags to the recycling bin at the grocery store. For people who usually use reusable grocery bags, I don’t know why we had so many. Usually isn’t the same as always, apparently.

The Hub also dragged the 8′ x 10′ rag rug (possibly originally from Pottery Barn) I bought on Craigslist for Miss Seven’s room to the laundromat. He brought it home, clean but wet, and we hauled it to the basement and draped it over every spare chair and stool to dry. Three days later, I took it up two flights of stairs (dry, it was much lighter), rearranged all Miss Seven’s furniture, and installed the clean rug. Now I’m getting motivated to get the brown dresser down to the basement so I can begin the process of stripping and restaining it. (Hot pink! I mean, “Sangria.”)

What else? I got out my tube of epoxy and glued the casters back on the Hub’s reject Ikea office chair. It still doesn’t roll very well, but the casters don’t fall out and it works well at my kitchen desk where I have no need to roll, anyhow. It has lumbar support! My back approves.

It all felt so productive, so I looked at my New Year’s resolutions. Surely I could cross something off the list. January is nearly over! Alas. We did make progress on Miss Seven’s room, but that’s not going to be finished quickly. I have seven more days. Which project should I choose?