Cleaning out the pantry

Saturday morning, while the Hub got the oil changed in his car and the kids played Just Dance 4 in their pajamas, I cleaned out the pantry. The Hub did it about a year ago, and I know we cleaned it out at least a couple of times before that (when we renovated the kitchen we went from two pantries to one and did a major overhaul then). So honestly, this time it wasn’t that bad. I forgot to take a picture of the worst part, which was the floor. Ew. Crumbs, dust, lost craft supplies, onion skins….It had also become the catch-all for empty plastic containers and anything that didn’t have a place in the kitchen proper.

The rest of the pantry just needed a good maintenance clean. The general organizational system has been working well for us over the past year, but things had gotten messy.

I removed every bin, rinsed out the crumbs, and threw away expired or empty containers. Everything that didn’t belong (gift bags, grill accessories) got put away elsewhere. Then I used my label maker to label the bins. I’m thinking about labeling the shelves, too.

The biggest change was that I removed the kids’ craft cart from under the lowest shelf and moved it to the basement. They have two tables and plenty of space to make a big mess create down there. I sorted through all the aprons and the giant bag of lunch bags that hang from hooks on the left side (just outside the picture), narrowing down the selection to those we actually use daily. The rest went to the basement with the picnic supplies. Suddenly there was so much space, I was able to slide in the extra set of counter stools that we use in the kitchen. Convenient, but out of sight. (I’d love to paint those stools a fun color. Suggestions?)

With that chore completed, the kitchen is in pretty good shape. The cupboards and drawers are staying organized, and there is a place for everything. Of course, now I really notice how much everything needs a good scrubbing. And I really ought to finish painting the trim inside the door frame.

Another day.

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Reorganizing board games

Yesterday I boxed up all the Christmas decorations and returned them to the basement. I stopped there, not returning any pictures or other decorative stuff to their previous places. I figured it would be a good time to rethink what I want to display, and besides, everything needs a good dusting. Since we concentrated most of our holiday decor in the family room (the fireplace and tree were there), it looks the most bare at this point. I can imagine all sorts of things if I could have a clean slate and start over with paint, new furniture, built-in bookcases and a fireplace renovation. But since that’s all just in the thinking phase, I decided to finally sort out the mess of board games in the corner cupboard that I don’t like.

We bought this cupboard from the previous owners because it fit the space, and we knew we needed storage. It’s designed as a media cabinet for a small television and components, but ours is too big for it, so we’ve always used it to store toys and games. Unfortunately, the triangular shape is less than ideal and the oak finish is dated. We paid too much for it at the time, and I regret it. We’ve lived with it for five years, but maybe in the next couple of years we can replace it.

Before Christmas, I cleaned out the toy shelves, but gave up before tackling the games. Despite the dusting I still haven’t done, the four half-built Lego sets and mess of stuff on the coffee table, the crumbs on the kitchen counter and floor, I feel incredibly productive now that I’ve sorted through that game cupboard.

 

I filled two boxes with games and puzzles that we don’t play with anymore. I set aside one stack of games for Miss Seven to decide their fate. I sorted all the scattered playing cards (miraculously, there are several complete decks) and returned stray pieces to their boxes. I culled the duplicates–how many versions of Memory do we need? I even branched out and sorted through the puzzle cupboard under the tv, where wooden toddler puzzles and bead stringing sets have gathered dust for many months.

 

Even though I am eager to demolish those dinky little concrete shelves above the fireplace, and fill the niches on either side with shelving, at least things are tidy for now. I want to take plenty of time and thought (and save some money) before making those big changes. And now I’m off to see if I have some volunteers to dust and sweep.

New Year’s Resolutions

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. A list of things I ought to improve about myself that will mock me when I find it balled up in the back of a drawer in November? No, thank you. But today, as I caught up with the hundreds of posts in my Google Reader, I discovered that several bloggers had made lists of resolutions for their home. That seems nice and concrete to me, a list of things that, once achieved, I can cross off and pat myself on the back.

So here, in no particular order, are my 12 resolutions for our home in the new year. Sure, there are plenty of other projects bouncing around in my brain (oh disorganized pantry and sticky cabinet doors), but I think committing to crossing one off the list each month is enough for me. As they say, anything else is gravy.

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
  • Patch the concrete under the garage door
  • Organize basement sewing area and kids’ craft area
  • Paint, refinish dresser and redecorate Miss Seven’s room

 

Do you have any home-related New Year’s resolutions?

Pre-Christmas toy purge

Every year as Christmas approaches, knowing the deluge to come, I get the urge to sort through the kids’ toys. We have sorted through toys several times already this year, and as the kids get older (and their toys get smaller), they slowly occupy less space in the house. Now that they all can play independently in their rooms or in the basement, we are gradually reclaiming the family room as a space for ALL of us, not just toy storage. Little Four (who will turn five next week) is the only one who clocks a lot of time playing there, and these days it’s mostly building with Legos or writing cryptic messages in his assortment of notebooks.

Still, we had baskets of toys shoved in every corner, and they were all mixed up–dominoes in the Legos, barrettes in the marble run, Nerf darts everywhere. Stir in some broken crayons, candy wrappers, broken junk from Chuck E. Cheese/birthday party goodie bags/Happy Meals, and a handful of stray puzzle pieces, and you get the kind of stew that festered in each basket.

While the kids were at school yesterday, I dumped every basket out on the floor, vacuumed out the baskets, and sorted all the stuff. I boxed up a few things to donate, hauled lots to the basement play area, and reorganized toys into more appropriately sized containers. A few things went straight to the trash.

It was cathartic. Little Four came home from school, played nicely with several different toys, and put them all away when asked. The Hub and I were able to stretch out in front of the tv after the kids were in bed without first having to clear a space among the wreckage and fish for the remotes under the cushions.

I know it will devolve into chaos again. And again. But I hold out hope, especially since I only found a single item belonging to Mr. Nine in all the mess, and aside from a large handful of hair accessories, only a small bag full of things belonging to Miss Seven. I know, pretty soon they will all hunker down in their bedrooms and never come out. I should enjoy this time when they still want to play nearby. I do. I just enjoy it more when it’s tidy.

So that was Step One in the family room. Step Two is the game and puzzle cupboard. Maybe today? Step Three involves decor decisions that I don’t want to think about, and probably won’t until after Christmas. At least now there is room for a Christmas tree.

Organizing the freezer

Cleaning out the freezer has been on my mental list of things to do for months. No, years. It must have been on my husband’s list, too, because one morning he just started pulling everything out and stacking it on the counter. (You never know when he’s going to snap like that.) We said goodbye to unidentifiable leftovers and tiny containers of mysterious sauces. The lack of labeling was a serious problem. We tossed everything that had excessive freezer burn. To be fair, our freezer is not that big, and we didn’t have some kind of stockpile going to waste. Mostly, it housed bits of things we felt bad about throwing away, so we stashed them in the freezer for another day. Too bad another day never came.

Once the freezer was empty, I vacuumed up the crumbs and scrubbed all the sticky spilled somethings out of the drawer. I don’t have a before picture–just use your imagination. I grouped like items together, consolidating the packaging if possible, and labeled everything. I designated the upper basket as the lunch supply area, and corralled the smaller ice packs in a bowl. The coffee is up there, too, because when you need coffee, you shouldn’t have to dig for it.

As I put everything back into the freezer, my husband wrote each item down on a list. A few days later I googled “freezer inventory sheet” and was rewarded with a huge selection of choices to print. Some were broken into categories, some were not. I decided to go category-free (I’m a rebel like that) because the categories didn’t seem to fit our items, which mostly fall under “Other.” Sure, I could have made my own inventory, but why? Excel is not one of my strong points, and there wasn’t a good reason to reinvent the freezer inventory. I bookmarked the one I printed so that I can print another when this one is used up.

I have a few rules for maintaining this freezer nirvana.

  1. Always label everything. Always. Everything.
  2. Freeze leftovers in single-serve containers, easy to pull out for lunches.
  3. Cook and freeze extra meals more often.

Maybe next week we’ll inventory the pantry. But I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. The pantry is a lot bigger than the freezer.

Getting organized for homework and music practice

This is a project I should have tackled a month ago, but better late than never, right? Mr. Nine and Miss Seven, in fourth and second grades, have daily homework this year. Miss Seven and Little Four take piano lessons, and Mr. Nine is starting the clarinet in band. Now that the dust has settled on the first few weeks of school and lessons, we need to get organized.

I’ve been keeping the kitchen desk fairly clear, but today things seem to have piled up. I cleared off the desk–sorting, recycling, filing–and then moved on to the file boxes I have for each child. They were overflowing with papers from last year, most of it obsolete now. I kept the nicest artwork and a couple writing samples to keep in their files in the basement, and recycled all the old spelling lists, classroom newsletters and old book order forms. I even organized my own file box with labeled folders.

  

My last step was to clear the memo board and reorganize the important information so that we can see it and reach it. The kids each have a clip with their current week’s homework and any logs they need to fill out (reading log, math facts log, karate practice log). Finally, I found a basket to contain their math fact practice workbooks and flash cards. We use them every day, so they need to be accessible.

I added one last touch: a jar of candy kisses. I just read The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills, by Daniel Coyle. I’ve used several of the tips this week to help with piano practice, and the difference has been amazing. Tip #41 advises, “End on a positive note.” That is, give a small reward at the end of a successful practice. For Miss Seven, one candy kiss to put in her lunch box at the end of her morning practice has transformed her attitude. Instead of racing through her assigned songs, oblivious to the quality of her performance, she has willingly repeated sticky passages and improved her technique. (By the way, other tips have been equally effective and easy to implement. I highly recommend the book to anyone who needs some help learning or coaching a skill. Thanks to the folks at Dinner: A Love Story for recommending it!)

Musical chairs and hidden treasure

We had a recliner in our family room that we bought just after we got married and moved into our first house. Twelve years and three kids later, the springs had detached from the frame and the padding was worn down to the wood on the arms. Everyone avoided sitting in it; the only protest when I gave it away was from Mr. Nine, who asked what he would climb on to reach his fishbowl on the mantel each morning.

We moved the chair from the living room into the family room so there is enough seating for family movie nights. But that left no chairs in the living room, and that’s the spot where we most often entertain. So we moved the chair from our bedroom into the living room.

We liked the chair in the living room, and have been thinking about getting a second one to make it a pair. In the meantime, we’ve been searching for something else to put in the now chairless bedroom. The Hub likes to lounge in the bedroom, away from the Legos, Tinker Toys, trains and Wii remotes that litter the family room. He wants a place to stretch out and read or watch tv. He suggested that if we moved my dresser from the corner of the bedroom, we’d have more room for comfy seating. He offered to move his things to the closet and empty his dresser for me to use. My dresser can be passed on to Miss Seven.

And so we did. I whittled my stuff from five drawers down to two (with a few things stored under the bed–painting clothes and out of season stuff), gave one drawer back to my husband, and kept one last drawer to store my jewelry box and a few accessories. But before I moved the jewelry box, I decided it was finally time to clean it out.

What treasures did I find in the jewelry box that my husband gave me on our very first Christmas? Thirteen plastic sandwich bags, each containing a single baby tooth. A large handful of loose change (helpfully corralled in a coffee filter, usually dipped into by the Tooth Fairy). Countless buttons, pins, nails, screws, and hair elastics. Two pairs of old sunglasses. Several luggage locks and keys. One pacifier. Four positive pregnancy tests. A stack of blank thank you notes. A tiny screwdriver. Oh, and some jewelry.

The story of my life in one wooden box.

I took everything out of the box and lifted the dust from the velvet lining with a piece of masking tape. I tightened the loose screws in the hinges. And then I returned only jewelry to the box. I put away or tossed everything else. Nobody’s using a pacifier anymore, and the excitement of finding out I was pregnant has been eclipsed by the real personalities those children have become. The Tooth Fairy still has a lot of teeth to collect at our house, so I found another convenient receptacle for the change.

We’re still looking for a chair, and haven’t rearranged Miss Seven’s room yet to accommodate the empty dresser. Time marches on, and every project begets another.

Empty drawers…so much possibility…

A big party doesn’t have to be a big headache

We hosted a potluck party over the weekend for about 40 people from the community chorus that I sing with. Though we intended to have the festivities in the back yard, it rained steadily all day long. Despite the deluge, everyone enjoyed catching up with friends and sharing good food, and the preparations were not that difficult or expensive. If you have the space at home, don’t be afraid to invite a crowd the next time you feel like celebrating!

Here are my top six tips for hosting a fuss-free party at home:

  • Keep it casual! If your budget won’t allow for a huge spread for 50+ people, plan a potluck. You can either assign groups of guests a category (side dish/appetizer/dessert), or just take your chances that you’ll have a good mix of dishes.
  • Borrow supplies from your friends and neighbors. We borrowed a tent and tables from a friend of the chorus, more tables and chairs from a neighbor, two beverage coolers from another neighbor, and buffet plates and flatware from yet another friend. My parents loaned us their slow cooker and chafing dish.
  • You don’t need to spend money or time on decorations (unless you really enjoy it!). We cut flowers and greenery from the garden and put them in glass jars for centerpieces. We used our regular, mismatched tablecloths to cover the folding tables–it looks homier than color-coordinated plastic table covers.
  • Choose a main dish that you can prepare ahead. Some people like to grill, but I think it’s difficult to coordinate for a large crowd. I made pulled pork a couple days ahead of time and kept it warm in several slow cookers during the party. Buns, cole slaw, pickles, and some homemade macaroni and cheese were my contributions. The slaw and mac-n-cheese were also easy to make ahead of time, so the day of the party I could focus on setting out all the supplies, and guests didn’t need to wait long for the food to be served.
  • Have separate stations for plates and utensils, food, and drinks. Don’t try to fit everything on one table–you’ll have a traffic jam when people try to serve themselves.
  • Designate areas for dirty dishes. Clearly label garbage and recycling containers, or bins for dishes and glasses. If you invite the right people, they may even load the dishwasher for you!

Have you hosted a large party at your house? What was the occasion?

Empty the basket!

Home decor articles are forever recommending baskets to contain the inevitable clutter of life. The trouble with baskets, however, is that eventually they fill up, the clutter escapes, and you’re pretty much right back where you started. Sure, clutter in a basket looks better than clutter drifting over tabletops and skittering off into corners.

But when I can’t stand the overflow for another second, I empty the basket.

Lip balm, sewing supplies, cough drops. Earphones, charging cords, hair accessories. Coupons, pens, Post-Its. Legos, checkers, bouncy balls. Not pictured: candy wrappers, junk mail, assorted trash.

Oh, and that’s where all the Christmas cards went!

I put everything away. I recycled the junk mail and tossed the garbage. I shelved the books and returned the Nerf gun to its rightful owner, repeating for the 73rd time that weapons don’t belong on the hall table.

It’s not much of a tablescape (who invented that word, anyway?), but at least it’s clean.

Rotating seasonal clothing

For such a dull sounding project, this one was fraught with all sorts of angst and self doubt. Being at home with the kids is a messy job, and I hate to invest in clothing that will inevitably suffer multiple stains and abuse. On the other hand, I don’t want to wear stretched out yoga pants and a t-shirt all the time (I save those for painting clothes!). I love wardrobe makeover shows, but too often they show outfits that are just not practical for working at home (the original British What Not to Wear was the exception–they chose clothing appropriate for how people actually spent their day, rather than artificially dressing them up). On a style scale between “Frumpy” and “Trendy,” I aspire to fall somewhere in the middle on “Classic.” I’m not ashamed to admit that Lands’ End is my favorite clothing retailer, and the phrase “statement jewelry” makes me shudder.

Just before school let out, I swept through the kids’ closets, pulling out all the outgrown clothing and winter wear. It probably took me an hour, total, to complete all three kids’ wardrobes. I flew through the decisions: if it was too small, too stained, or an item the child didn’t like and wouldn’t wear–out it went. Easy.

But when faced with my own overflowing dresser drawers, winter and summer wear jumbled together, I could only look on the pile of clothes with dismay. If I pulled out everything that was too small, too stained, or that I didn’t like, what would be left? But I sorted them anyway.

Before

All the winter clothes went to the top shelf of the closet or the storage box under the bed. I sorted what was left, and did pull out half a dozen items to donate or put in the rag bag. Then I made a stack of “stuff to wear around the house” and “stuff to wear in public,” and put it neatly back into the drawers.

In any case, I’m nowhere near solving my style dilemmas, but at least my dresser drawers are tidy. I’ll keep reading style blogs like Ain’t No Mom Jeans (sometimes too trendy for me, but at least they’re practical!) and try not to succumb to $4 t-shirts at Target that look pilly after two washes.

After