Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kitchen Clutter Busters

They say the kitchen is the heart of the home. And ya know what? I think they're right.

It's where we entertain, gather for family dinners and grab snacks and drinks throughout the day. In most houses, it's the central hub of activity - yet many kitchens are neglected in the organization department. This doesn't make any sense to me.

Why wouln't everyone want to run their kitchen like a restaurant kitchen, with everything labeled, inventoried and in its correct place? We should all take a cue from our favorite eateries and get with the program. Everything should have a designated place, preferably inside of a labeled storage container, so there is no confusion as to where something's "home" is.

I'm still in the process of getting my kitchen up to par, because unlike a restaurant, I'm not making any kind of profit by whipping up my meals. So I'm taking it piece by piece, but I've come up with some pretty good (and cheap) solutions so far.

My freezer is my secret weapon. Here's a peek inside:


All I did was purchase eight of these baskets at the dollar store, and print out "labels" on the computer. It's just a Word document I printed out with all of my food categories, and I cut and taped them to each basket.

I can go two baskets deep on the middle shelves, and one deep on the top and bottom shelves, for a total of eight.

The categories I included are:
  • Smoothie packs (I make pre-made baggies of frozen fruit for smoothies)
  • Desserts (Ice cream, popsicles, etc.)
  • Snacks & meals (for Hot Pockets, TV dinners, etc.)
  • Veggies
  • Sides
  • Meat
  • And another "Meat"
  • I have an empty basket at the bottom for miscellaneous stuff

One tip when freezing things: Always freeze FLAT. See how nicely these Ziploc baggies of fruit fit into this basket? Even if you don't use baskets, you'll maximize your frozen real estate when you freeze ground meats, soups, sauces or anything else while laying flat. Then you can stack them, or slide them into a basket like so.
 
 
The main reason I did this freezer organization was to organize my frozen meats. We always buy in bulk and separate things into meal-sized portions, to pull out when we cook certain meals. It's so important to me to avoid wasting food as much as possible, so it's essential that I have a clear inventory of what we've got in stock! And it's really as easy as bundling all our meats into these two baskets, so I can easily pull them out and find what I need.
 
 
Now, onto some more clutter-busting organizational goodness around my kitchen:
 
 
Here's a look at how I organize my measuring cups and spoons. They were taking up too much room in the drawer, so I used these Command Hooks to hang them up nice and neat.
 
 
This really isn't that original, but an over-the-door spice rack is a must for every kitchen. I may venture into the magnetic spice tin zone at some point, but for now, this works just fine. Again, I used Command Hooks to hold this baby up. Using cabinet doors for storage is essential! Always look at your cabinet doors for possibilities, when your cabinets are getting a little too cluttered.
 
 
I love these stackable storage bins for our medicine cabinet! I bought four, and labeled them with four different categories:
  • Pain relief & cough/cold
  • Vitamins (I have a lot of prenatals!)
  • First Aid
  • Prescriptions/Misc.
This way, we can grab what we need, or pull out the bin we need and look through it. Before, it was a nightmare rifling through the mess of bottles and packets. Now it's so incredibly easy to find exactly what we need!

I hope to add more to this Kitchen Clutter Busters post, as soon as I finish more projects. My next goals are to get some nice containers for my pantry items and dry goods, to cut down on the store boxed items cluttering up my space.

Until next time!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

$60 Hall Closet Revamp

To put it nicely, our house is very cozy. (r.e. - small, at least downstairs).

I've already posted about my open floor plan, which I adore, but we do have some space constraints that force me to get creative when it comes to storage. We have one small coat closet downstairs and no pantry or storage closets, so I've had to use this closet to house all of our stuff that compiles and compounds over the years.

Not to mention, I'm bracing for much more stuff to pile up once the baby arrives (any day now!). The ugly, mis-matched state of affairs was pretty sad to look at so I needed to identify what purpose this space needs to serve.

Before I shock you with the ugly "before" picture, here is my pretty hall closet now:



But here it what it looked like before:


Pretty ugly, right?

So I broke things down into several main storage needs that must be filled:
  • My husband's work accessories (he's got a lot of gear, and always comes home with paperwork and notebooks that I cannot throw away! Argghhhh!)
  • My hudband's hockey stuff (same idea here - just a bunch of crap I can't throw away, and must be at the ready when he takes off for a game)
  • Games (these include board games, party games and accessories for our PS3, xBox, and that motion-sensor game thingey, including all cords and cables. Obviously I'm not a huge gamer.)
  • Batteries/Camera/Camera accessories. (no more searching through the house for the USB cable to upload pics, or for those AAA batteries you need in a pinch)
  • Toys! (we hardly have any yet, but I know we'll need a place to stash them downstairs when I want to do a quick tidy-up without running upstairs to the baby's room)
A quick trip to Target and a peek through the clearance, and I came up with this:

Now, think back to kindergarten when everyone had their own little cubby. That wasn't such a bad idea!

I bought nine of these canvas storage cubes for $6 each, and simply filled them up with our stuff.


To brighten things up a little more, I found these vibrant cards in the clearance end-cap of the greeting card section:


Then I just wrote with Sharpie on some sticky labels, slapped them on these cards (which I glued shut with a gluestick), and hot-glued the finished product to the front of my bins, like this:


Of course, I measured the width and depth of my shelves before buying these cubes. They happened to be 10x10, which fit my 30-inch shevles perfectly! And I love how the bright colors make this a much more cheerful space.

I needed bigger storage on the bottom shelf, so I re-used some old plastic bins we had and slapped some labels on those too.



I just love that everything has it's own little place!

My next goal is to remove the hanging DVD rack on the door, get some media file bins from The Container Store, and trash the bulky containers altogether. Once we start building up a movie collection for the little one, we will keep those in their cases so she can pick and choose what she wants to watch. But for our DVD collection, it's just too bulky and taking up valuable real estate on the inside of the closet door.

Down the road, I'm thinking we'll use another kind of over-the-door storage rack to corral kid stuff or other odds and ends. Oh, and I have a shoe rack and coat/purse hooks in the entry way, making the need for coats in my "coat closet" obsolete. Here's a pic:



And here's one more look at my cheap, quick and easy, $60 hall closet revamp:



Now it's on to the next project!



Thursday, February 23, 2012

This unforgettable moment

It’s not often that I stop to marvel at this surreal, emotional, amazing journey called pregnancy.

In fact, I’m already in my ninth month and finally made the time to pull my thoughts together into something that sort of makes sense. I’ve been keeping a journal and updating it weekly with our little milestones for my daughter to read when she’s older, but those fragmented entries do little to explain the whole story. That’s what I want to do now.

First off, pregnancy is the exact opposite of what I expected it to be.

Not once did I have morning sickness, crave weird foods or suffer from wild mood swings. I never had that feeling of “butterflies” where I knew there was magic inside me, and I never even felt pregnant until my second trimester when I felt movement.

My lack of symptoms was highly unnerving for about the first 20 weeks, when I had little proof – other than hearing that tiny little heartbeat – that there was actually a baby in there. It’s amazing how you can still be in disbelief, even with concrete proof in front of you.

My eagerness to start “showing” turned into an exercise in patience. Any first-time mom who proudly boasts her 12-week or even 14-week “bump” is severely delusional and needs to lay off the cupcakes, because that is most definitely not a baby bump.

Thinking back to the very beginning, it’s a wonder that I even bought a pregnancy test on that July afternoon. If the fine folks at the Dollar Tree didn’t place them right at the cash register, I might have ended up with the rest of the ding-a-lings on “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.”

The only reason I bought the test was out of habit, because we had been trying to conceive for nine months. Just for good measure, I took a test every month no matter what. Every time, I would anxiously watch the results develop on the stick before tossing the negative results into the trash. It was a routine.

I got so good at the routine after a while, that I decided to multi-task this time. I dutifully did my part, then did the dishes, some laundry, got ready to go out to dinner, sent a few texts and quickly glanced at the test before tossing it out.

As soon as I saw the double lines, I told myself it couldn’t be true. I told myself not to get excited because it was probably wrong. You would think my first instinct would be to jump for joy, but surprisingly, I just felt skeptical and unworthy.

First of all, I’m obviously going to second-guess a Dollar Tree test. That’s just a given.

And second of all, how could it be this easy? Aren’t things supposed to be harder, like for all of the 30 and 40-something couples who try desperately and never get pregnant?

I can’t explain why, because I still don’t understand it myself, but I will never forget the extreme feeling of guilt I had at the beginning. It’s totally unfounded because my husband and I are young, healthy, happy newlyweds who planned this baby and 100 percent deserve her.

The guilt came completely out of left field. I just felt undeserving of this baby because not everyone who wants one gets one, and it’s just not fair. My heart was bursting with happiness for me and my husband, but breaking for everyone who will never know how it feels.

Of course, the initial test was followed up with more expensive name-brand tests and visits to the doctor to get on track with prenatal care. We weren’t supposed to hear the heartbeat until my 18-week appointment, but we cheated with a home Doppler and heard it around 12 weeks or so. I still felt like I was in disbelief about the pregnancy, but this brought me a little closer to reality.

As far as my husband’s reaction to becoming a daddy, all I can say is that men are a peculiar species. He has been completely supportive and is over the moon about having a little girl, but it’s just not the same for men. I think it will become real for him when he holds her in his arms, but right now, the idea a little hard for him to grasp. Even for me, the baby seems like an abstract, faraway concept – although we know she will become very real very soon.

After what seemed like ages, we found out her gender at 18 weeks. I was ecstatic to find out that we were having a girl, and I’ve never seen my husband smile so big. This was a huge turning point for us, as we could finally stop calling her “it” and start imagining the future with our daughter in it.

The rest of my second trimester and most of my third trimester have been a snooze-fest. Aside from monthly checkups, shopping for nursery furniture and decorating the room, nothing too exciting happened for a while.

I started feeling some movement probably around 20 weeks, kind of like popcorn kernels popping, but the really strong kicks didn’t start until about 32 weeks. At that point, I could feel her and see my tummy move at the same time. This experience is almost impossible to describe, and probably for good reason, because it’s a special connection that only a mother and her baby can share.

We got our first good look at baby Addison during a 3D ultrasound at 28 weeks. This, too, was indescribable because she’s just so beautiful and perfect. It was completely surreal to see this fully-functioning little human on the screen, knowing that she’s inside of me. I have my favorite photo of her as the background on my phone, and I find myself hitting the “home” button when I’m bored, just to stare at her.

The bulk of my third trimester flew by as I shopped, washed baby clothes, put things away and was showered with more gifts from loved ones. It’s exhausting to take inventory on what we have, determine what we need, clip coupons and shop around for deals. The amount of stuff you need for a newborn baby is pretty ridiculous, if you ask me.

I always thought I’d be annoyed by people touching my tummy, but it actually hasn’t been so bad. The only annoying part of my third trimester has been persistent back pain and difficulty breathing when I move around too much – or at all, sometimes.

The aches and pains really aren’t that bad though. They just remind me that we’re getting closer to the end of this chapter, and closer to starting the most important chapter of our lives.

I could write a whole separate essay on marriage. But for now, I’ll just say that I cannot wait to see how our relationship will grow and change as we become parents. Imagining my husband as a daddy is almost as exciting as imagining myself as a mommy. Neither of us know what the heck we’re doing, but we both have so much to give and teach her. I can’t wait to see things all over again through her eyes, and make new memories as a family.

I’m just weeks away from my due date now, and there is little left to do but think. I’ve been thinking about a lot of things, but most of them center on labor and delivery. Beyond that, I figure we’ll just learn as we go.

It’s not often that I stop to marvel at the crazy, challenging, unpredictable journey called parenthood that lies ahead of us.

But in this moment, I feel infinitely blessed to start the ride.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

$40 Laundry Closet Makeover

In my last post about my laundry room, I showed you how I transformed my blank slate into a functional and cute space. I wasn't ready to show you the closet though ... until now!

Here are the "before" pictures. It's a sliding closet door, so I have to take pictures one at a time.

Pretty sad, and a pretty bad use of space. I had this dumb little hanging wrapping paper organizer, which hardly held any wrapping paper rolls and bows, and leaned forward with the weight of the rolls, which always bothered me. I just stuffed all of my bags and bows into the plastic storage container on the right, making it very difficult to find what I needed!

A quick trip to the hardware store and the Dollar Tree and just $40 later, I wound up with this:



Much better, right?!

 
I spent $30 on these two 36-inch wire shelves to make use of the vertical space I was losing out on, since I don't hang anything from the closet rod anyway. Here's a side-by-side look:




 
This is just a much better use of the space. And please ignore the gross cat litter box in the bottom right, but it's got to go somewhere! To explain all the bottles, they're what's left of our five-year supply of household cleaners that came with our water softener unit. They're pretty much a waste of space because I buy the nicer stuff in stores anyway, but it's good to have back-up in case we need it.

For my gift wrapping station, I just sorted my bags into categories, and labeled baskets for each category, as well as tissue and tags, ribbons and bows. I can stash my gift boxes off to the side, as there is some room between the baskets and the wall.

Down below, I came up with this idea for storing my wrapping paper rolls:


I had some elastic from the craft store, and simply staple-gunned it to the walls to create a little cozy spot to hold my rolls up. Here is a close-up:


And here's what I did to sort our laundry and keep it tucked away inside the closet:

 

Pretty ingenius if I do say so myself ... for a whopping $4. I used three Dollar Tree bins and a pack of Dollar Tree knock-off Command Hooks to hang them, which are surprisingly durable! Well, I can say that I've had each of these bins full of laundry overnight and they didn't fall down, so I'm thinking we're good to go. As for the labels, I'm still relying on handwritten tags to do the trick. They're not very fancy, but I'm trying to keep things as cheap and easy as possible!

So that's my $40 makeover! Just like the washer and dryer space on the opposite side of the room, everything has its perfect little place. Now, wrapping gifts and sorting laundry will be as enjoyable as possible :)

Here's one last look at my little creation:


 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Puff Pastry Chicken & Cauliflower Gratin

I tried two Pinterest recipes last night, and they were so yummy :) It was puff pastry wrapped chicken and cauliflower gratin - they went together really well!


Cauliflower Gratin:

Ingredients:
1 head cauliflower, cut into large florets
Salt & pepper

4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup shredded mozzarella

1 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup bread crumbs


Directions:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the cauliflower florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain.


Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened.

Off the heat, add salt, pepper, nutmeg, mozzarella and 1/2 cup parmesan.

Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of an 8 by 11 by 2-inch baking dish. Place the drained cauliflower on top and then spread the rest of the sauce evenly on top.

Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining parmesean and sprinkle on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gratin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned.

Puff Pastry Wrapped Chicken:

Ingredients:
2 chicken breasts
1 frozen puff pastry sheets, cut in half
4 oz cream cheese
few rashes of bacon, cooked
1/2 bunch of chives
Salt & pepper

Chili powder
Garlic salt
1 large egg

Directions:
Preheat the over to 400 degrees.


Mix the bacon bits, cream cheese, chopped chives, chili powder and garlic salt.

Make a deep cut in each chicken breast and fill the mixture inside. Season with salt and pepper. Place each breast on top of the pastry dough, and wrap up like a little pocket. Place onto a baking sheet.

Beat the egg, and brush over the top of each one. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.


Easy and delicious!






Thursday, February 16, 2012

Laundry Room Love

Ironically, my laundry room is one of my favorite spaces in my house, despite my hatred for the actual task of doing laundry.


I say this because it's one of the few rooms where everything has a perfect little place, and I know exactly where to find just what I need. The rest of the house is still obsessively organized - don't get me wrong - but I'm still in the process of beautifying my organization systems so they are visually pleasing and blend with my d├ęcor.


So without further ado, here's a peek into the method behind my madness:




This room is right at the top of our stairs, so it has to look nice because it's the first thing people see when they go upstairs. You can't really tell in the picture, but the walls are a very soft blue. We also have a closet behind the door, which is being used to store extra bed linens, gift wrapping supplies, and Space Bags filled with extra pillows and things. I am not showing you yet, because it's a mess and on my to-do list of organizing!


My goal here was to eliminate "dead space." So, we installed these cabinets purchased on sale from Home Depot, and I screwed in some cute door pulls. Then, I found these black canvas storage bins on clearance at Target, perfect for extra storage above the cabinets! Finally, I pushed the washer and dryer apart so I could store our laundry detergent, dryer sheets, wastebasket and a mini step-stool in the storage cart between them.




Here is the best part: the organization! I just corralled everything into these little bins and made labels for each one. The blue ones were from the Dollar Tree, the white ones were from Save Mart and the wicker ones were from Target on clearance!


The left cabinet holds bins labeled "cleaning products" and "pet odor & carpet care." I don't have a label maker yet, or any fancy crafty stuff to make the labels look cuter, but I did have some leftover place cards from the Dollar Tree from a previous project. So I just used a silver Sharpie and labeled away.




I used the same idea here, and just used double-sided tape to label which towels go where. I'm kind of against folding towels all perfectly, when you're just going to use them anyway, so these baskets are just perfect to toss my small towels and rags into very easily.




The right cabinet has bins for "ironing & uniform care" (for my husband) and "swiffer pads & wipes." I like to keep things like starch, shoe shining stuff, safety pins, iron-on hem tape (my favorite!) and other ironing-related things together.



I also labeled these baskets for all of our extra stuff. We keep our cat food and litter box in the laundry room, so we have a bunch of cat stuff in one basket, and then we've got baskets for our vacuum stuff and other miscellaneous cleaning supplies like sponges, scrubbies, extra spray bottles, etc.




Behind the door, I used an over-the-door coat hanger for my Swiffers and my ironing board. The giant baby bottle is actually a piggy bank that I got at my baby shower a couple of weeks ago. It was filled with Hershey's Kisses which are now mysteriously gone, but that's neither here nor there :) My point is, I plan to use it for coins I pull out of pockets when I'm doing laundry. I just threw it on the laundry cart so it's handy when I need it!


Well, that's pretty much it for now. My next project will be tackling the closet on the other side of the room, so hopefully I'll be posting about that soon. And I want to get a few hampers for whites, darks and colors, because we currently just sort them into piles from our closet hamper. But with the baby coming, I know laundry will start piling up faster!


But for now, thanks for stopping my and not laughing at how much I love my laundry room!


Thursday, February 9, 2012

My Perfect Master Suite

I wouldn't consider myself a feng shui master, but I think there's something to be said for a balanced bedroom. Or a balanced room in general.

 
It's hard to get completely comfortable and fall asleep blissfully when you have ugly, mismatched furniture glaring at you or piles of clothes encroaching on your comfort zone. That's why there are a few key components to a obtaining the perfect bedroom: storage, function and simplicity.

 

Storage: For most people, the bedroom is an extension of the closet. This means, that frantic morning routine where you try on - and rip off - several articles of clothing before settling on a suitable outfit, can wreak havoc on your zen den. It's pretty unreasonable to expect yourself to neatly hang up each item before running out the door to work, so it's important to have easily accessible baskets, bins or "clean clothes" hampers at the ready. Case in point: my perfectly functional closet:




Here, I have a few baskets right underneath where we hang our clothes in the closet. I have labeled them "Hang Up," "Fold," and "Hand Wash." The first basket is where I throw my "reject" clothes in the morning, before I hang them up that night. The "Fold" basket is for miscellaneous clothes that need to be folded, including items I've tried on in the morning. The "Hand Wash" basket is self-explanatory. You can label whatever works for you, but the point is that labeling will encourage you to keep things up, because everything has a nice little place.


You'll also notice my handy plastic storage drawers from Target. They provide just enough extra stroage for our closet, for things we can't fit in our dressers. I don't have a fancy label maker, so I just typed up and printed out some "labels" on the computer and used some good old scotch tape to ID the contents of each drawer.



This was a cheap and lazy take on a Pinterest idea. The example was painted and cuter, but this is just inside our closet so I didn't put that much effort into making it look pretty. I just got some peg board and hooks from the hardware store, and screwed the board onto the wall behind our closet door. I hang my necklaces, headbands and scarves on here, and it works great! Plus, I'm more likely to wear stuff when it's visually displayed for me, and easy to grab and throw on.

 
Function: Keep your daily essentials where you can easily grab them, and be realistic about putting them back. For example, you'll be more likely to put your often-used hoodies and jackets away if "away" is a convenient hook behind your door. And you'll be more likely to put your toothbrush away if "away" is a designated shelf inside your medicine cabinet where it can easily be tucked away.


























Simplicity: No matter if you've got a small space or a large space, less is always more when it comes to decorating a master bedroom. You want this to be the most serene, calm place in your entire house, so why junk it up with too much stuff on the walls? Pick neutral, organic colors and keep your nightstands and dresser tops free of clutter. This can be achieved by using baskets and bins to corral your odds and ends into a central location. When the bins are full, carry them around and put all of the contents where they belong.




This is our master bedroom. The headboard was made out of a footboard we found on clearance, elevated about 2 1/2 feet by being attached to some 2x4s. (My mom did this for us, so you'll need someone with knowledge and experience in woodworking). Then, she painted the whole thing a glossy black. We secured it to the wall with a few strips of heavy duty Velcro, of all things, and it just stands alone.


Our bedroom set is from Target, purchased several years ago. It wasn't exactly dirt cheap, but obviously very affordable compared to designer stores, as it came from Target. My philosophy with bedroom sets is: look for deals, but don't settle for mismatched pieces that you don't love. A matching set will not only give the room an instant "designer" look, but create a feeling of continuity that will be pleasing to look at, and therefore relaxing to your tired eyes. (r.e.: you'll feel good, so you'll sleep good!)






This is another one of my mom's creations. She used wood glue to secure eight black-framed mirrors from Ikea to particle board. Then, she bordered the whole thing with wood borders from the craft store (painted black), also secured with wood glue. To finish it off, she placed three button-looking wood accent pieces to the inside corners, almost reminiscent of a "tufted" look, if this were a fabric headboard or something. The whole piece is very cheap, very elegant and just the right touch of masculine and feminine.




Remember what I said about functionality? Well this is an example. I used a black paperclip (the clampy kind) to run my phone charger cord along the placemat on my nightstand. That way, I never have to search for the cord on the ground between my bed and the stand! I saw something like this on Pinterest and had to do it :)




We have four large picture windows in our bedroom, which is great. It's not so great for sleeping in, however, so I hung floor-to-ceiling blackout drapes along the entire wall, layered with some cute white sheers I got on clearance, to add some softness to the institutional-looking blackout drapes. Now, the drapes not only give us a nearly pitch-black room during the daylight hours, but they function as a statement wall with the graphic pattern on the sheer drapes. Function + style = love.

Here is our dresser:



And here is our armoire:

Nothing too exciting to report here, except the fact that I like to keep the furniture tops free of clutter and excess decorations. I just have two baskets on the dresser for holding miscellaneous stuff that comes out of our pockets, and obviously the TV takes up most of the space on the armoire. In the near future, I would like to make a custom TV "frame" out of crown molding, maybe painted blue to match our bedding. We will need to mount the TV on the wall first, then attack this project.

But for now, thanks for reading my little tips and going through my design process with me!