Organization Part 6 – Clearing Out the Junk Room

One of my deep shames is a room that should be an extra guest room but has instead become a junk room. Yes. I have a junk room. It’s easy when you have more bedrooms than people to occupy them and that’s what happened when the kids grew up and moved out. It was just too easy to put things in a bedroom with the intention of storing it properly or getting rid of it later. In my mind it now resembles an episode of “Hoarders.” Now it’s necessary to turn that room back into a functional bedroom. I have a solid reason for clearing out the junk room and a time frame that won’t allow me to up and quit.

 

flea-market-1262036_1920-01Our out-of-state grandkids spend a week with us each summer and I really need to separate my 7 year old granddaughter from my 2 1/2 year old grandson. They discovered during their last visit that giggling and goofing around is more fun than sleeping. I’m hoping that keeping them in separate rooms will prevent tired babies in the morning, not to mention a very tired Bam.

I looked in the room that will be my grandson’s room. There’s a bed in there, sans frame. I’ve also stored his Pack ‘n Play, high chair, his big sister’s old car seat, camping gear, a box of pictures I’ve been meaning to get into photo albums since the ‘90’s, and two large boxes of toys. We’ve stashed camping gear and old electronics in that room. Generally, everything I didn’t quickly decide on a storage space for or thought I might use soon has been put in that room. I’m pretty sure there’s a floor but I can’t really be sure at this point. So I’m determined to get this room cleared out and ready for the big visit.

Perhaps my battle plan will help you with yours.

My Plan:

  1. Gather the “equipment” I’ll need to get the room back in shape. This means:
    • Boxes for items that will be stored and a few extra boxes for my yard sale items and things to donate.
    • I’ll need a few garbage bags or one industrial size one (the kind that’s so big you could use it to dump a body). Once an item is in the garbage bag it doesn’t come back out.
    • Packing tape will be used to reinforce and close boxes of things that will be stored in a proper storage area.
    • Permanent marker(s) will ensure I know what’s in the various storage boxes.
    • Notepaper and pen need to be right there to note anything that needs to be fixed. In the case of this room, where many of the grand kids’ toys are kept, that means noting if batteries need to be replaced.
    • Small box for stray crayons, toy pieces, and any other tiny objects I find while clearing out the room. They’ll be put away with like items after the general cleaning is done.
    • My most important “equipment” is my youngest son. I need him for the heavy lifting. Did I mention there’s a TV in that room that’s the size of a Volkswagen Bug?
  1. Move the large electronics (several TV’s, a couple of old computer monitors, and a VCR) to the living room. This will give us more room to work in the bedroom.
  2. Move the items that can be stored in the basement to their proper places down there. This means they’re stored properly and gives us even more floor and closet space. This includes holiday items, camping gear, and anything else that is only used seasonally.
  3. The baby’s crib and high chair will also be moved to the living room. They were cleaned thoroughly after the last visit but they’ll both get another cleaning before the grand kids arrive.
  4. Things belonging to my adult children will be separated by owner and they will have a very limited time in which to decide if they want it or if it will be tossed. If you don’t have adult kids this also applies to those living at home.
  5. All toys will be sorted and those they’ve outgrown will go in the yard sale box.

Once the room is emptied of things that don’t belong I can put the bed on the frame (currently in the basement because one of our kids didn’t like the bed being “so high.”) and wash the walls. I’ll give the room a quick dusting and vacuuming. The day the kids are arriving I’ll vacuum and dust again and make the bed.

While we’re clearing out the room:

  • I’m going to play upbeat music to keep us moving.
  • I’ll set a timer so I don’t wear myself out. First I’ll set it for 15 minutes and, if I can keep going without a break, I’ll give myself another 15 minutes on the timer. I’ll take short breaks when I need to rest.
  • While we’re clearing out, with each item, I’ll ask myself if I absolutely cannot do without it. If it’s been lost in that room for a very long time I probably don’t need it. To make it easier I’ll ask myself if I’d be willing to spend money to replace it if it were gone. The answer to that is usually that if I’d really needed it I would have already replaced it or found it.

Give myself and my son a sincere compliment on the work we’ve done and admire how great that once junk-filled room looks. Then I’ll insist on being taken out to dinner.

Organization Series Part 5 – Tips for Organizing

There are so many wonderful ideas for organizing that it’s hard to share them all with you. Not everyone will decide to use every idea but, in my world, the more organized things are the better. I love being able to find things easily and to know where things I don’t use every day are stored. Here are some of the great tips for organizing I’ve discovered recently.

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  • Use an accordion folder for storing appliance and electronics booklets. Keeping the booklets for these items is always helpful. They almost always have a troubleshooting guide and you can keep the receipt and other relevant paperwork like warranties stapled to the inside of the booklet. The easiest way I’ve found to file them is by what they are rather than manufacturer; I file the dehydrator book under “D” rather than “E” for Excalibur.
  • Shoe boxes make great places to store…shoes! Keep the shoeboxes when you buy a new pair and store out-of-season footwear in them. On one side of the box write the description of the summer shoes and on the opposite side write the winter shoe description. Then, as you store the shoes for the off-season just flip the box so you’ll easily see what shoes are in the box.
  • Tension rods make great scarf hangers. You can also hang tank tops on them.
  • Clear plastic shoe organizers can be used to organize baby clothes if you don’t have enough dresser space. Hang the organizer on the back of a closet door and simply fold the clothing to fit the pocket. You can easily see which outfit is in what pocket. The organizers are also great for storing kids’ socks and underwear.
  • Ice cube trays are for more than just freezing things. Place a few in a drawer to organize tiny accessories like earrings and rings.
  • Put up a magnetic strip near your sewing area to store bobbins, needles, and scissors. Magnetic strips are also great for organizing tools.
  • When you buy new clothing store the buttons and extra thread that comes with the clothes in a photo album with pockets. It’s much easier than trying to rifle through the sewing box when you need to replace a button.
  • Organize your closet by storing “like use” items together. Keep all sportswear in one section, work clothes in another, night out/formal clothing in a third, and casual/weekend in a fourth.
  • Clutch purses can be hard to organize. You end up with them all piled up in a box or in a stack that falls over all too often. Try using an upright wire mesh desk organizer to keep clutches neat and visible.
  • Wooden shelves with deep brackets can be hung upside down creating built-in compartments. They’re great in guest rooms to keep towels, sheets, and other items your guests will need.

Planning For a Month of Dinners

I’m not going to actually give you a list of meals for a month in this post. Every family has its favorite foods and there may be dietary restrictions or allergies to consider for your family. This is more of a how-to planning for the month’s dinners.

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First look at your family’s calendar to determine the number of days you’ll actually be eating dinners at home. Perhaps you eat at home every night but if certain dates mean you won’t be eating at home you can deduct them from the number of meals you plan.

Go over any recipes you’ve found that you wanted to try. I like to change things up so I frequently go online or look at magazines for new ideas. I sprinkle the new recipes throughout the month along with family favorites.

If you like to keep things more reliable you can have certain types of dinners on certain nights; perhaps you have Spaghetti Tuesday every Wednesday or make a big pot of soup every Sunday. There may be specific days of the week you want to reserve for super quick and easy meals. Use whatever method suits your needs best. I like slow cooker meals for Saturdays since we take the boys to play with their friends on Saturday afternoons. By the time we get home I’m really tired and all I have to do is put together a salad and plate dinner. If I’m making something that freezes well I’ll make a double batch and freeze half. I always note if I’m making a double batch of something on my calendar. It’s one more night I don’t have to worry about cooking.

Write out the menu for the month and post it so you’ll know which ingredients you’ll use first. When you finish your shopping you can freeze anything that won’t keep until you’re ready to use it.

Write a list of every dinner you’ll prepare during the month. Check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for ingredients you currently have on hand then write the ingredients you’ll need to buy for each dinner on your grocery list. I like to write ingredients for each recipe on a separate sheet of paper then total the amounts I’ll need for all the dinners and add them to my grocery lists.  I mix complicated, labor intensive dishes with easy ones so I don’t burn myself out.

Go through your coupons and put the applicable ones with your list. Take your coupons and list(s) and head to the store. I like to do a lot of shopping at Walmart but I also go to Aldi. I usually make two lists so I know get the best deals on items. I go to Walmart first since it’s in close to our village. The next day I head to Aldi since it’s almost two towns away. I just make sure I don’t need anything from the Aldi list for dinner on my Walmart shopping day.

Prepare any make-head meals if you’re doing them. I like to take a day off after shopping then prepare some meals for the freezer. I’ll note that those meals are frozen on my calendar and when I need to take them out to thaw before cooking.

Sit back and relax knowing your dinners have been planned for the entire month.

Do Not Refrigerate

For homemakers one of the true Great Debates is what must be and what must never be stored in the refrigerator. One of the most hotly debated items is butter. The USDA insists butter should be kept in its wrapper in the refrigerator while many people, including me, keep it on the counter. Butter is made from pasteurized milk so the chance of contamination is low but there’s always a slight risk. Salted butter runs a low risk but unsalted, whipped, or “light” butters have a higher risk. There are certain foods, however, for which you should always follow the rule; Do not refrigerate.

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Avocados won’t ripen if stored in the refrigerator but if you have an already ripe avocado you want to keep longer the refrigerator will slow ripening.

Basil absorbs the smells of other foods in the refrigerator. You don’t want tuna scented basil! Refrigeration also causes basil to wilt faster. Store basil as if they were fresh flowers; in a cup of fresh water on the counter.

Bread dries out quickly in the refrigerator. Keep bread on the counter or in the freezer unless it’s sliced sandwich bread that you will use within a few days. Bread kept in the freezer should be wrapped to retain moisture. Let frozen bread thaw slowly and completely before eating it. Unsliced bread should be kept on the counter and sliced when you’re going to eat it.

Coffee loses flavor and takes on the odors of other foods in the refrigerator. It can be stored in the freezer but ideally it should be stored in a cool, dark place.

Garlic will start to sprout in the refrigerator after a time. It can also get rubbery and even grow moldy. Keep garlic in a cool, dry place.

Honey should be kept, tightly sealed, in a dark spot in the pantry. Raw honey will keep basically forever. Honey found in the pyramids was edible! Keeping honey in the refrigerator will cause it to crystalize.

Olive Oil should be kept in a cool, dark place but never in the refrigerator. In the cold it will condense and harden. You’ll end up with olive oil with a butter-like consistency.

Onions stored in the refrigerator will turn soft and moldy because of the moisture. You should store onions in a cool, dry spot, away from potatoes.

Potatoes turn gritty and sweet in the refrigerator. The cold turns the starch into sugar quickly. The ideal place for potatoes is a root cellar but if you don’t have one store your potatoes in a cool, but not cold, spot in the pantry. Keep potatoes in a paper bag as plastic isn’t as breathable and potatoes will rot faster in plastic.

Tomatoes should never be stored in the refrigerator. Refrigeration cause the ripening process to stop and ripening is what give tomatoes their flavor. The cold also makes the tomato mealy because it breaks down the membranes inside the fruit walls. Store your tomatoes in a bowl on the counter for the best flavor.

Making A Coupon Organizer System

In my post Simple Steps To Saving Money — Part 1: Groceries I talked about using coupons to save at the grocery store. One problem I’ve seen so many times at the checkout is that people often don’t organize their coupons. They miss using coupons for items they’re buying only to find them afterward, they pull out expired coupons, and sometimes the coupons are so wrinkled and worn they can’t be read. It may seem like a silly topic, but coupon organizing is important in helping save money.

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There are many ways to organize your coupons. Here are a few of the ways I’ve seen used and used myself over the years.

Boxes – If you’ve looked at the pictures in many of my posts you’ll know I’m a big fan of boxes. Using a box for coupons can be an excellent way to organize them. The box can be as small as a recipe box or as large as a shoe box. It all depends on how many coupons you need to organize.

I like index file boxes because I use the blank tabbed dividers to separate my coupons into groups. You may choose to divide your coupons by expiration date or type of food or cleaning products, etc. Pick the method that make the most sense to you. Mark each tab of the dividers with the types of coupons in that section. You can fit a really large number of coupons in one of these boxes.

The only real issue with boxes is that they can be inconvenient to carry to the store.

Expanding Accordion File Folders – These folders come in a wide variety of sizes. If you’re really into couponing the large folder would be great. If you’re more like me and never have a huge number of coupons then the wallet size folder would probably work out just fine.

An advantage to the expanding file folders is that the normally have a way to hold all the contents within the folder. You don’t have to worry about your coupons ending up all over the floor if you drop it (of course that’s only when it’s closed). And the folders are easier to carry to through the store than a box.

Zippered Binders – I’ve seen a couple of local ladies who keep their coupons in a zippered binder. I have to admit I’ve been intrigued. They carry the coupons and a calculator so they can keep track of their coupons and do a sort of running tab on the groceries they’re buying. I thought they had the coupons in page protectors but they actually use those little plastic sheets that photographs in albums. They have dividers that separate the sheets into their particular coupon system.

Envelopes – This is a simple system in which you just separate the coupons by group and put each group in its own envelope.

You may choose to separate your coupons by aisle in the grocery store if you’re very familiar with the layout. But this can be problematic if the store changes locations of products. You can also separate coupons by:

Product type – You may choose to group your coupons by product type like all baking items in a group or all products found in the cleaning aisles together.  

Expiration Date – Although sorting coupons just by expiration date is one way to organize your coupons it’s not always the most efficient. Yes, you’ll avoid having expired coupons with you but you’ll have to sort through all the coupons to find the ones you want. I prefer sorting by the type of product and putting the coupons that will expire soonest in front.
Before shopping make a list and go through your coupons to match items you need with coupons you have. Note each item on the list that has a corresponding coupon with a C or some other way to remind yourself you have a coupon for that item. You can pull all the coupons for that shopping trip while you’re making your shopping list and take only those you know you need. However, you may want to take all your coupons in case you pick up an item on sale and want to also use a coupon.

Organization Part 5 — Spice Cupboard

Today I’m going to spice it up! Okay, bad pun, I know. But the spice cupboard is so important to the kitchen. Cooking and baking would be incredibly bland without the right spices and I hate wasting time searching for a specific spice. When I’m gathering ingredients for a recipe I want to be able to pull the spices out without getting a headache. And our youngest son and his lovely girlfriend often come over for dinner which he usually takes over making so I want him to be able to find everything easily.

Cleaning out the spice cupboard is important because spices and spice blends don’t last a super long time. They begin to lose their potency and an outdated spice can ruin your recipe. While I’m cleaning out the old bottles I like to wash down the cupboard as well.

So, first things first, empty the cupboard for your spices completely. Wash the shelves while they’re free of bottles and jars. Now pat yourself on the back for a job well begun. Next it’s on to arranging the spices.

Many people like to store their spices in groups; the spices they use for stuffing in one group and the spices for pies or pot roasts in other groups. I’m a little more O.C.D. about my spices. I find it easier to arrange them alphabetically and by size of jar than by the recipe groupings. It’s also easier for any cook’s helper to locate things if they’re not trying to figure out your method for grouping items.

Having some kind of sliding drawer or carousel makes it easier to locate a bottle than having them all just stacked on behind or on top of another.  Right now I have a couple of Lazy Susan-type carousels but my dream is to have slide out spice racks. I’m working on getting enough brownie points to tell my husband I want him to build me a few.

While all the spices are out of the cupboard go through and discard any old bottles and jars. They’ll last a bit longer than their “Best By” dates but not a lot longer. Wipe the jars down with a damp paper cloth to get rid of anything that’s gotten on them. You don’t want to open a jar and have dust from the lid get into your spice.

Now it’s just a matter of putting everything back. Choose the method by which your spices will be arranged. By group, alphabetically, or any other way you like. Just make it simple to use so you’re not hunting for something in the middle of cooking.

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Organization Part 4 – Organizing Your Pantry

A chore that is often forgotten or ignored is organizing your pantry. If you’re lucky enough to have a pantry you may know how easily it can sometimes look like one of those closets in movies where, when the door is opened, everything falls out. It can require a little discipline to keep your pantry organized but it’s worth it. Time spent re-organizing is wasted time. Money spent on things lost in there is wasted money. And having a well-organized pantry makes meal-planning and creating a shopping list much easier.

There are some tips to organizing your pantry –

Size Doesn’t Matter: Arrange the pantry by groups, not size. I like to keep breakfast items together. I keep pastas and jars of sauce together. Snack foods are another grouping. I don’t store oils or spices in the pantry but if you do it’s a good idea to store each group together. Decide how you use the foods in your pantry and group them together.

Location, Location, Location: In general, you’ll want to keep the items you use most frequently on the shelves easiest to reach; that’s chest to knee level. Items you rarely use or that are too heavy for the shelves can be placed on the floor.

Make It Easy for Others: My husband helps put the groceries away and, if he happens to be visiting, so does my youngest son. While my son is as disciplined about organization as his mama (his closet makes my heart swell with pride) my husband is the kind of guy who’d rather just throw things where they’ll stick and be done. I label each area of my pantry so my husband knows where each item should be stored. Most of the time the labels aren’t really needed since it’s obvious that a box of spaghetti should go with the pasta but the labels keep him from saying he didn’t know where to put something.

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My Pantry Layout: You’ll want to arrange your pantry to suit your needs so this is just as an example of one layout.

Top Shelf – Cake mixes, chips & snack crackers, popcorn, dried fruits, marshmallows & marshmallow crème, and the sugary cereal my youngest grand kids get as treats.

Second Shelf (moving down) – Breakfast cereals, oatmeal (instant and quick cooking), syrup, honey, peanut butter, and jellies.

Third Shelf – Saltine crackers, canned soups, canned fish, salad dressings & salad toppings (croutons, etc.), sauces (barbeque, chili, pepper jelly), gravies (in jars), breadcrumbs in various flavors, and cornmeal.

Fourth Shelf – Pastas and pasta sauces, tomato paste, canned fruit and canned vegetables. I also have an ice holder from an old refrigerator on this shelf. I keep small boxes of baking mixes and seasoning packets in it.

Floor – White and cider vinegar, canned foods I use only when the grand kids visit (Spaghettios® and canned chop suey), a 6 lb. box of baking mix and potatoes.

Food Equipment Center

Food Equipment Center sounds terribly impressive, doesn’t it? The reality is that it’s just that I had too many things I used fairly frequently and didn’t know how to store them. If you have this problem my solution may work for you.

I wanted some kind of free-standing “cupboard” so I wasn’t taking up valuable real estate in my kitchen cupboards. It had to be big enough to put my food dehydrator, pressure canner, some of my canning tools and jars. I also had a vacuum sealer, bread maker, and deep fryer I didn’t want using up counter space. But it couldn’t be so big I had to keep it in some distant spot far from the kitchen.

One day a friend mentioned she was having a garage sale. She posted pictures of some of the items she was selling and I found my “food equipment center!”  It is an old entertainment center from the days before flat screens. It was deep and not too tall for me to easily reach the top. There was a shelf beneath the space for the television. It had a deep drawer originally for VHS tapes (if you don’t remember them, Google it). And best of all, when I said I wanted to buy it my friend gave it to me free and she and her brother even delivered it, carried it in, and set it in place!

It holds my dehydrator, pressure canner, and vacuum sealer in the area originally holding the television. On top I keep my bread maker, stand mixer, and deep fryer. The shelf above the drawer is large enough for my half pint canning jars, extra rings, and used lids.

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The drawer is large enough store a digital food scale, a canning utensil kit, food mill and accessory kit, canning labels, large and small jar sealers (for the vacuum sealer), and a package of food handling gloves.

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While it’s not quite perfect; I’d like to be able to keep the things on top actually in the cupboard, it does free up a tremendous amount of space in the kitchen cupboards and on the countertop.

Even if you don’t have a friend with an old entertainment center to give you it’s not too hard to find one. Check resale shops, Habitat for Humanity stores, and garage sales. You may find the ideal center for your needs at a really great price!

Organization Part 3 — Everything Under The Kitchen Sink

In 2000 I had a spinal cord injury that left me with central nervous system damage. It’s very difficult for me to bend and getting up and down from bed and chairs is difficult and sometimes impossible without help. Since getting up from a chair is hard you can imagine how hard it is to get down and back up from the floor. I avoid putting my bottom end and floors together as often as I can!

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