Category Archives: Home

Another One Bites the Dust Clutter List

IMG_1999Well. Whew. Another full car load of stuff for the thrift store, plus an almost-full garbage bag ready to go. I’ve been ruthless, ruthless I tell you. After being guided by two of my new favorite people: Peter Walsh and Joshua Becker, something really clicked, and our home is slowly transforming into a freeing space that we can love.  (Aside from their obvious talents, I’ve found both Walsh and Becker to be really nice guys.)

We still need furniture, having inherited a miss-matched collection. At midlife, with three kids, we are looking forward to a future where we stop treating our home as if it were our first rental out of college. Better to do without than to do with wrong. Letting go leaves the hand open to accept the worthwhile.

As you can see below, the list is getting long, which is both a source of pride and embarrassment. If this much stuff needed to be de-cluttered… I know I am not alone. Tell me I am not alone.

Here is my updated de-cluttering list. The items in bold are the newest accomplishments.

  • One section of the basement
  • Kids’ school paperwork
  • Old Word Processor (a whole project since it had data on it)
  • Hope Chest–emptied and ready for donation
  • Right food pantry
  • Second box of photos
  • Paperwork (10 minutes)
  • Inherited sewing notions
  • First Aid
  • One box of old photos
  • Sweaters
  • Towels
  • Sweatshirts
  • Underwear drawer
  • Make up and toiletries
  • Laundry room shelves
  • Recipe magazines
  • Baskets
  • Rags (Ugh, why was I keeping so many–was I worried about a shortage?)
  • One kitchen cabinet
  • Cookie sheets, muffin pans and platters
  • Pens and Pencils (Until I went around the house and actually gathered them all up, I had no idea how many we had! A bunch went in the trash and a bag full of nice ones were donated to my son’s kindergarten teacher, who will have enough writing instruments to last until said son is in college.)
  • One kitchen drawer (Goodbye chip clips. I sent them to a new friend I met online who was in dire need of some.)
  • More books! (The recent purging and a prompt from organizing guru, Peter Walsh, has made me brave enough to get rid of another large box of books.)
  • The Junk Drawer!!!
  • Master Bedroom Bedding (I even sewed a button on to our comforter cover–a bit of mental clutter solved)
  • Kids Puzzles and Workbooks (I somehow missed this when I did the toys earlier in the week)
  • Socks (All five of us plus the bag of single socks)
  • Utensils
  • Belts
  • Some photos (This will be a long project)
  • Children’s closets (3)
  • Flat surface two (Bedroom dresser)
  • Pots and pans
  • Small appliances
  • Flat surface 3 (Left kitchen pantry)
  • Under the kitchen sink
  • The Car (Hint for those in freezing weather: Grab a laundry basket. Make a mad dash to the car. Fill the laundry basket. Dash back in the house. Sort in the warmth of the living room. Oh, and don’t forget to wear shoes. Brr.)
  • One large food pantry
  • Magazines
  • Flat surface one (Produce bin)
  • Toys (one large contractor bag–whoo hoo)
  • Children’s books
  • Children’s videos
  • Adult Books
  • Cookbooks
  • Adult medicine cabinet
  • Children’s medicine cabinet

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Watching Your Children Soar

Watching Your Children Soar

My daughter and a friend reaching new heights.

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February 19, 2013 · 2:39 pm

Let Your Library Reduce Your Clutter

IMG_2013We love our local library. Not only does it help us save money, but it also reduces our clutter. How? By providing us with education, entertainment, things for the home, and so much more, thus reducing the pile we have in our house.

Here are some of the areas in our home where clutter has been reduced, thanks to our local library. You may be surprised by how many different areas of our home we are able to keep clutter free just by having a library card.

I strongly suggest that if you check out your local library, especially if you haven’t been there in a while. Chances are there are plenty of opportunities you will enjoy.

Kids Craft Supplies

Our local library provides our children with many different opportunities for creative crafts. Often we can just drop in during a particular time period and do the craft together with supplies that are already laid out. Other times, the craft is directed by an instructor. Either way, the kids have some creative fun, and I don’t have to purchase and keep mounds of craft supplies in my home.

Magazines

For a while, magazines were one of the major sources of clutter in our home. We use them for entertainment, research and knowledge. Plus, we like trying some of the new recipes that we find. It was always hard to recycle magazines, since I worried that I might miss something.

Our library now offers popular magazines in a digital format, free to download. There is no limit to the number of current issue magazines that we can view–the library makes all of the most popular ones available, as well as some trade magazines, so we always have access.

Plus, if we really want to read paper versions, we can spend a few moments at the physical library reading current issues or borrow older issues and take them home.

Entertainment or Media Center

Video Games

We used to save money by purchasing used video games, but we still wound up with quite a collection that cluttered up our living room. The library has helped us eliminate that clutter by offering video games for our home system. The kids can check out a new video game for an entire week at a time. The games also come with any extra controllers or special devices that are needed to play them, so we don’t have to worry about having to buy and store a special board to do some virtual skiing, for example.

DVDs

Thanks to the library, we can check out new movies any time we want. There is a good selection of DVDs available that can be borrowed from one to three weeks, depending on the popularity of a particular title. This eliminated our previous practice of purchasing whatever new family movie became available. Now, we only purchase a movie if we’ve checked it out more than five times. We get to watch new movies all of the time, without having to commit to the space to keep them all organized.

While most libraries offer DVDs for free, some do charge a nominal fee for this service.

CDs

Need a new CD for the car or just to listen to at home? While the library may have been the last place you would think of for new music, the truth is that it is a wealth of a resource, especially for children’s music, world music and popular tunes.

Bookshelves

This month alone, I saved at least three feet of bookshelf space in my home simply by avoiding book impulse buys and checking the books out at the library instead. Thanks to our library’s online access, I can “order” new books and have them waiting for me to pick up for free. When I am done reading, there are more wonderful books to be had. Since my family consists of avid readers who tend to bump into walls because we have our noses in our books all of the time, the clutter reduction is significant. Thanks to the library, boxes and boxes of books have left our home and given us a lot more space.

What about rare books or less popular ones that may not be available at your library branch? Request them through intra-library loan.

Reference Library

We often kept certain books around for reference, such as cookbooks and home repair books. While we still have a few of these, most of the time, we can simply check out the library when we need to learn or be reminded of something. Physical reference books can be viewed or check out of course, but our library also has a number of online references that we are allowed to access. The library offers solid and reliable reference material. Reference books tend to be large, so it is nice to not have to find permanent space in our home for them.

Toys and Games

Our local library offers a number of board games that can be played with while in the library, including both the classics and some new favorites. It also sponsors different toy and game events from Lego building for kids to card games for seniors. Not only can this reduce the need for tons of toys and games in the home, but it can also offer social benefits, as well.

Some libraries also allow toys and games to be check out of the library for a number of weeks, so you can take them home to enjoy.

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Sometimes It is the Small Sacrifices…

coffeeMy love of coffee starts so far back, I can’t even remember when I started drinking it on a regular basis. All I know is that by the time I got out of college, drinking coffee was just part of my normal routine, up there with taking a shower and feeding the cat. It got me through late-night cram sessions, long-distance drives, and bad dates. During my time as a journalist, I often put a story to bed with one hand on the keyboard and another wrapped around a steaming mug.

Not so my husband, who has an aversion to the smell of coffee brewing.

In the beginning of our marriage, coffee was not an issue. I could grab a cuppa at work, and let’s face it new love and lots of well anyway, let us say that there were other ways to keep my energy up, made me not miss the caffeine as much. Once I got pregnant, which happened before I even got a chance to hang up my wedding gown in the hall closet, I gave up the coffee altogether. The next seven years basically consisted of either being pregnant or nursing or sometimes both.

I had my next cup of coffee after church service one Sunday, and coffee and I re-established our relationship. Significant things can happen after church.

Anyway, there I was. How to coffee and not to coffee.

My husband solved the problem with the gift of one of those cup coffee makers that brews coffee in less than a minute. The choices are limited, the coffee is merely adequate, but it is available. The one-minute brew time prevents my husband from getting sick, which is a good thing in a relationship. Plus, I don’t have to turn in my writer’s badge and start drinking tea.

In my day-to-day, I often forget these little sacrifices. The one I made to avoid my infants from being jacked up on espresso and the one my husband made so I wouldn’t have to sacrifice something I enjoy.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, what small sacrifices are floating, quietly, around in your life?

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There’s a Mouse in the Hoooouse

Not at the moment. There is no mouse in the house. At least, none that has made its presence known. I was going through some old articles and came across the following posts, which originally appeared on Families.com, as a series, almost five years ago. Fortunately, with our fixer-upper now insulated, the little critters of the wood seldom make it in to the house now. Well, we still have an adventure of some sort at least once a year: field mouse, raccoon, screech-owl, weird neighbor, etc.), but we are much better at keeping the outside, well, outside. 

I grew up seeing the city rats scuttle across the subway tracks, so when I hear the word “rat,” I picture something very different from the creatures they got up here. You know what I’m saying?
working_500In the middle of the morning, around 4 am or so, I heard this loud scratching sounds. Fearful that our youngest son somehow got up and was getting into trouble, I headed downstairs, half asleep. When I got down, I found my husband with a flashlight and his head cocked to one side.

The scratching started up again. “Is it a mouse?” I asked and he shushed me. I complained under my breath about our less than stellar extermination company; the one that failed to show up for the last two appointments.

My husband opened the garage door and started tip-toeing in to take a peek. The scratching started up again. It was more like a loud scrambling. “It is coming from the basement,” I said.

After some investigating, he said, “Actually, I think it is stuck in the wall. It must have gotten in through the hole in the garage that the guy put there when he backed in to the drywall (the previous owner), and it can’t get out.

Immediately, I thought of our stockpile of food in the basement. “Is it going to get our cereal?” At nearly $5 for a box that lasts less than a day in our house, I had my priorities in order.

“No, it would have to chew through a lot of wood to get through,” he said. Okay, so maybe large holes in the walls and chewed up electrical wires would be worse.

“Can’t we scare it back the way it came?” Since the thing was scratching and presumably chewing the whole time that we were talking and shining lights on and off, the possibility of it was admittedly small. Still, my husband wanted to humor me. He got a wooden stick and started banging the wall of the basement, on the stairs, on the other side of the garage. Bang bang bang. He waited. Silence. Bang Bang. Silence. After shining the flashlight back into the garage to see if the mouse escaped, my husband sat on the family room couch and waited. He made himself comfortable and I shot him an indignant look. Wasn’t he going to DO something about the mouse?

***

The scratching started up again, and with a sigh, my husband, at my prompting got to banging. I coached him on technique and frequency. When the mouse fell silent, we would retreat back to the couch to wait. Then the noise would start up again. At one point I suggested using the vacuum cleaner to suck the mouse out of the wall.

I suppose I got the idea from watching the family movie, Mouse Hunt. Even though that method didn’t turn out so well for the home owners, I figured it might be worth a shot. I was getting desperate. And for anyone who is a mouse rights activist, instead of throwing stones at me about the harmful treatment of mice, please feel free to come over and gently coax the mouse to safety. Guaranteed that after the first 20 minutes, you will be ready to throw your stones at the mouse instead.

“No,” my husband said, shaking his head. “I don’t think it would fit.”

“What do you mean?” Panic started slowly crawling up my insides.

“Judging from the sound and the size of the last one that I found (just outside of the garage a few weeks ago), it is big. Very big.”

“A rat?”

He nodded.

I thought about long sharp teeth, red eyes and the bubonic plague. Would our insurance cover the bubonic plague. Your mind goes everywhere at once when it is 4 am, I guess. “So is it really a rat?”

“We need,” he paused for emphasis. “The shop vac.”

Scratch…scratch..scratch…

***

What happens when you combine a former city chick who has seen rats the size of small cats, a handy husband that is surviving on too little sleep and a mysterious “something” with an appetite for a 45-year-old house in the woods? Chaos, I tell you, chaos.

When I last left off, I was telling you about our adventures with a mystery rodent. Let’s call it Godzilla, so you don’t confuse it with that cute little epicures mouse in Ratatouille. Better yet, let’s call it the ROUS (rodent of unusual size); with teeth.

I hate to be anti-climatic here, but the fact is that my husband and I needed some sleep in order to have our wits about us and prepare for our battle against ROUS (with teeth). After a few extra bangs for good measure, I went upstairs to bed, while my husband decided to make himself comfortable on the couch, to act as sentinel in case ROUS (with large teeth) should give him an opening. He just settled down with a throw blanket and closed his eyes. He rolled over once and then again. Just as he drifted off to sleep, the scratching began again (and were those chomping noises, too?).

With a sigh, my husband got up and headed into the garage with a crowbar.

The rest of the early morning passed uneventfully.

The weekend, however, saw about a fourth of our garage wall ripped open. My husband was not about to fool around. Inside the wall, among the insulation, were tiny bits of chewed up black plastic. The mouse trap that the exterminators had placed in the garage three months ago was rendered into a kind of confetti that ROUS (with really large teeth) must have used to celebrate its good fortune and superior skills. I could picture it doing a little full-on butt wiggle in the direction of the family room.

Despite of the destruction to the garage, there was no ROUS in site. I did an Internet search for photos of dead mice to post around the garage as propaganda in a brilliant interrogation plan. My three-year-old wanted to know if the ROUS (with really large, sharp teeth) could invite Mickey Mouse to our house.

It was time to call the exterminator. You might be surprised by what he found. I know I was.

 

 

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Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

This post originally appeared on Families.com

zucchini breadOoh, does my house smell good today. I just finished baking two loaves of double chocolate zucchini bread. The aroma reminds me that the holidays are coming soon. Now the only question is do I freeze one or leave them both out for the family to gobble all up?

Zucchini bread is a lot easier to make than you might think. The most tedious part is grating the zucchini, but I have a short cut for you. I use the grating attachment on my food processor, which makes the grating a very quick step. Most food processors come standard with that grating blade, but if yours doesn’t, just use the standard blade.

When it comes to beating and mixing, if you have a stand mixer, now is the time to make use of it. Just make sure to remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the grated zucchini and the chocolate chips by hand.

I adapted this recipe from an old Taste of Home recipe–just tweaking it a little bit. The recipe makes two 8-in. x 4-in. loaves.

And yes, those are our 1960s era countertops.

Ingredients:

2 scant cups sugar

1 cup canola oil

3 eggs

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup baking cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups peeled and shredded zucchini

1 scant cup of chocolate chips

Directions:

In a large bowl, beat the sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla until it is well blended. Separately, combine the flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and baking powder; gradually beat the dry ingredients into sugar mixture until blended. Stir in the zucchini and the chocolate chips.

Evenly loaf distribute the batter pans between two loaf pans that you have coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 350° for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

If you liked this recipe, you might also like the Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls Recipe!

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Clutter Busting: How to Keep the Motivation Going

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That burst of energy you get when you first start organizing your home is wonderful isn’t it? Little victories turn into larger ones, and the good feelings you get keep you going. Have you ever removed clutter from a space and then found yourself returning back to it throughout the day just to admire how good it looks? You organize your closet, a shelf, a drawer and it serves as your inspiration to keep going on other areas of your house.

Then things happen. Life gets busy. You get a cold. The kids or the husband junk up the newly cleaned space. You get discouraged. You wonder if it is all worth it, this being organized. You think another re-run of Sex in the City sounds better than diving into the hall closet and organizing the boots.

When this happens, the important thing is to try and get back to your clutter busting goals as soon as you can. Give yourself a break, if you really need it, but then set a day or a time when you will get back to the clutter. Here are some other ways to keep the motivation going when you are clutter busting.

  1. Work in 10-15 minute increments. This is a small commitment, but it is effective. Your home will improve, and you will see a difference.
  2. Pick a new project each day. Before you go to bed decide what you will tackle the next day. When you wake up, you’ll find yourself looking forward to completing the new task.
  3. Be accountable. Make sure someone else knows your goals and your progress. You won’t want to disappoint them. Plus, you can show off the your results.
  4. Plan to give yourself little rewards when you do a job well done, such as 30 minutes to read a book, a couple of pieces of dark chocolate, or the perfect sweater to fit in your newly organized closet.

Remember: My good thoughts go with you during your clutter busting.

Here is my own updated clutter busting list. I spent about 10-20 minutes on each project.

  • One kitchen cabinet
  • Cookie sheets, muffin pans and platters
  • Pens and Pencils (Until I went around the house and actually gathered them all up, I had no idea how many we had! A bunch went in the trash and a bag full of nice ones were donated to my son’s kindergarten teacher, who will have enough writing instruments to last until said son is in college.)
  • One kitchen drawer (Goodbye chip clips. I sent them to a new friend I met online who was in dire need of some.)
  • More books! (The recent purging and a prompt from organizing guru, Peter Walsh, has made me brave enough to get rid of another large box of books.)
  • The Junk Drawer!!! 
  • Master Bedroom Bedding (I even sewed a button on to our comforter cover–a bit of mental clutter solved)
  • Kids Puzzles and Workbooks (I somehow missed this when I did the toys earlier in the week)
  • Socks (All five of us plus the bag of single socks)
  • Utensils
  • Belts
  • Some photos (This will be a long project)
  • Children’s closets (3)
  • Flat surface two (Bedroom dresser)
  • Pots and pans
  • Small appliances
  • Flat surface 3 (Left kitchen pantry)
  • Under the kitchen sink
  • The Car (Hint for those in freezing weather: Grab a laundry basket. Make a mad dash to the car. Fill the laundry basket. Dash back in the house. Sort in the warmth of the living room. Oh, and don’t forget to wear shoes. Brr.)
  • One large food pantry
  • Magazines
  • Flat surface one (Produce bin)
  • Toys (one large contractor bag–whoo hoo)
  • Children’s books
  • Children’s videos
  • Adult Books
  • Cookbooks
  • Adult medicine cabinet
  • Children’s medicine cabinet

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Power Outage and the Important Things in Life

file00051154666This morning, we woke up to no power. This is a frequent occurrence in the woods, where high wind and heavy rain can take out a power line in a snap. We are used to it. It can last for a few hours to a few days.

My husband hooked up the generator before he left for work, so I could have my off-line laptop (for end-of-the-month writing deadlines) and coffee (also for end-of-the-month writing deadlines). Well, he also hooked up the heat and the refrigerator.

Because we have well-water, no electricity also means no water, which is why our basement crawl space is stacked with cases of bottled water and bottles of hand sanitizer. There are also a few gallons of stored water for flushing–you know, the important things. We learned the first year in this house that it is easier to store milk jugs full of non-potable water than to take a bucket down to the creek in the middle of a rain storm, snow storm, hurricane, invasion of stupid drunk people hitting trees in the middle of the night.  I refuse to let the yellow mellow.

The power (and the Internet) did come back on eventually, and I got my first over-the-phone lesson in undocking the generator. That husband of mine is trying to turn me into a country woman, which is funny, since he comes from New Jersey. I opted to leave alone, the open wires connecting the furnace to the house power. I figure crispy mama would not be a good view for the kids to come home to after school.

 

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The Amish Give Me Corn Muffins

AmishThe sugar is running low. The organic flour is gone. So are the raisins. So what does this have to do with the Amish and muffins? Let me explain.

We travel a bit more than an hour from our home in Pennsylvania to Lancaster, Pa. It has a big Amish community and several other interesting things, such as major outlets. Tucked down a long winding road, past a farm is a little natural food store run by an Amish family. (If you know the secret password, you can also purchase raw milk next door from a little Amish girl.)

We visit the store three times a year to stock up on organic bulk ingredients, including the flour, sugar and raisins. We also stock up on corn meal, however, I haven’t been using it as often. Since I like my ingredients to be fresh, I’ll need to use up most of what corn meal remains.

So, this morning, in the chaos of getting second-born child out the door for school, I decided to make two batches of corn bread for the freezer. Yes, I’m an idiot. I almost got cough syrup in the batter, and left my daughter’s excuse note in my recipe book, but I need the kid-free afternoons for freelance work, so baking in the morning usually works for me.

Since the oven was hot anyway, I also made a pan of brownies which will not be going into the freezer. 

 

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Keeping the Clutter in Check

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Once you do a major de-clutter (or even a minor one), how do you keep the clutter in check? It is tough, since the stuff really does seem to reproduce itself, or should I say breed. I don’t remember ever buying that sock with the toes. Mutant DNA.

There is no way around it. Regular maintenance needs to be done. Clutter has to be busted before it can fully establish itself. That means that you have to scope out your spaces and conquer. For example, just now I looked away and when I looked back, a coffee cup had popped, mysteriously, on to my bedroom dresser. Ack.

What the coffee cup must come to realize, though, is now that the surface of that dresser has been cleared, it stands out like a sore thumb, um white mug. Just ask the small tube of hand creme that tried to infiltrate the flat surface of the kitchen pantry yesterday. Eventually, our stuff will get the message that clutter is not tolerated. Especially when certain items watch other certain items wind up in the trash or leave the house in donation boxes.

I’ve been a little lazy under the weather in the last few days, and the kids are battling one virus after another, so I’m having to push though with the clutter busting challenges. Still making good progress, though.

Here is my updated clutter busting list.

  • Master Bedroom Bedding (I even sewed a button on to our comforter cover–a bit of mental clutter solved)
  • Kids Puzzles and Workbooks (I somehow missed this when I did the toys earlier in the week)
  • Socks (All five of us plus the bag of single socks)
  • Utensils
  • Belts
  • Some photos (This will be a long project)
  • Children’s closets (3)
  • Flat surface two (Bedroom dresser)
  • Pots and pans
  • Small appliances
  • Flat surface 3 (Left kitchen pantry)
  • Under the kitchen sink
  • The Car (Hint for those in freezing weather: Grab a laundry basket. Make a mad dash to the car. Fill the laundry basket. Dash back in the house. Sort in the warmth of the living room. Oh, and don’t forget to wear shoes. Brr.)
  • One large food pantry
  • Magazines
  • Flat surface one (Produce bin)
  • Toys (one large contractor bag–whoo hoo)
  • Children’s books
  • Children’s videos
  • Adult Books
  • Cookbooks
  • Adult medicine cabinet
  • Children’s medicine cabinet

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