Contain Me! I went to the Container Store!

Have you ever seen a 5 year old heading into the circus, cotton candy in hand, gleefully galloping towards the big top? Well, my giddiness today would have made that 5 year old look like Oscar the Grouch. I went here:

Container Store

Cue the choir and the angels singing, please! I literally jumped out of our car and ran into the store, while my husband said (distantly in the background) “please don’t stay in here for four hours.” Well, I came out relatively unscathed and only stayed in for a reasonable half an hour.  I seriously love this store. Now, you can find a lot of the items in other stores (and I must admit that you can find similar items for lower prices if you shop right). However, there is nowhere I’ve found that has such a comprehensive collection of boxes, bins, hooks, baskets, filing systems, shelves…I could go on and on.

Please note…even though the closest Container Store is 2 hours from us and I was SERIOUSLY considering doing the storage version of ‘Supermarket Sweep’, I restrained (CONTAINED!) myself to buying only things I had either been looking for or knew exactly how I would use them when I got home. Here are the few purchases I made.

-Small baskets for guests to use in the guest bathroom. We have zero drawers in our guest bathroom so I always feel bad when people have no place to put anything. I have been looking for cute and simple baskets to bring out onto the counter to contain toothbrushes, lotion, etc. I bought 2 medium size baskets and 1 small one.

Container Store Shopping (1)

These are very simple without being plain, they match our decor and they will clean up easily if anything spills inside them. I also put a paper towel in the bottom of each one just in case, though. Sidenote: I love the bags for The Container Store…a constant reminder to ‘Contain Yourself!’ Oh! And please also note the sneak peak of the flooring we are currently laying down in the whole bottom floor of our house (that is another story for another day!). But that explains why the baseboards are off in the photo.

-A plastic storage bin for the kid’s drinks in the fridge. This is the first one of these that I’ve bought, but I know I’ll be heading back as soon as I can to get more. We usually have a couple cups in the fridge for each kid (one for water or juice and one for milk) and we wash and replace them every couple days. But they are usually spread out all over the fridge and it makes it difficult to get to other items. Problem solved!

Container Store Shopping (8)

-A lid holder for the lids to all of our pots and pans. I love how our pots/pans cabinet has two pull out drawers. However, they were always a little disheveled. Here is the before of the top and bottom.

Container Store Shopping (2) Container Store Shopping (3)

I put the lid holder on the bottom and split up the pots and pans so there weren’t so many handles to deal with when I try to get something out. It looked like a constant sword fight in there before…pots versus pans. Whose handle will win????

Here are the after pics of the cabinet with the lid holder.

Container Store Shopping (4)

Container Store Shopping (5) Container Store Shopping (7)

I feel like I’ve made 3 changes that will impact daily life and make navigating our house a much more pleasant experience. The best part is I only spent $35.  Score one for The Container Store!

~Erin

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Pantry Clean Out

Just because I was traveling for most of December and January, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t organizing! I managed to find a couple of projects at my in-laws house. This is great because it allowed me to do something I love doing (for some reason!) and it also kicks me up a notch in the daughter in law department, I think!

My first project was the pantry. This was something my mother in law asked me to help her with just to make things a little easier to navigate. Like most pantries, everything was already grouped by category and the actual placement of things made sense. However, a few bins and a couple of organizational tweaks made it a lot easier to actually access all of the food. Here is the before photo:

Pantry - Nan and Gary - Before (1)

You can see that it is a large cabinet with 2 doors and the cabinet is fairly deep. This is a blessing and a curse. It’s great because you can fit more in there. It’s difficult because you can’t get to the stuff in the back easily. One great feature is that each door has built in spice holders so that helps to rounds up all those pesky little jars, bottles and boxes.

Steps I took to organize:

1) Take EVERYTHING out.

Stuff was everywhere. I was a little overwhelmed because I knew I couldn’t leave someone else’s house in that kind of disarray for long, so I had to move fast! And of course I had my usual assistants helping me out with this part of the project:

Pantry - Nan and Gary - Before (5)

As everything came out of the pantry, it went into its’ category on the counter or into the trash. We actually threw away a good amount of stuff. It’s a good idea to go through the pantry every few months and get rid of anything that is expired (bean dip from 2007 anyone?) or that you know won’t be used (I scored an unopened box of Crepe mix from this cleanout!).

2) Evaluate the current storage options.

-There were several shelf organizers already in there so I decided to work these into the plan. Shelf OrganizerThere were also those great built in spice racks on the doors so obviously those would come into play. On the bottom shelf of the pantry, there were about 8 clear plastic canisters for storing things such as flour, sugar, etc. There were actually a couple that could be combined from 2 into 1 canister and 1 was empty, which gave me another storage option for something else.

 

canisters

3) Divide the pantry into zones.

Like I said, it was pretty much divided up before I started, but there were a few things that needed adjusting. For example, the top shelf had already been drink mixes and spice packets so that stayed. But I made sure it was JUST drink mixes and spices packets. The other zones included canned goods, pasta and rice, cereal/breakfast items, baking items and desserts. The bottom shelf was for bulky items and misc things.

4) Decide what storage containers to buy.

Because of the shelves, spice racks and existing storage, I didn’t really have to buy much, but there were a few things that needed to be put into bins to make them easier to access. So I went to my favorite store in the world, Target, and bought 7 plastic bins and a plastic Lazy Susan.

Storage box

lazy susanThe picture of the bin above shows the clear version, but I actually bought the green ones and I got 3 different sizes. The bins were between $4-$5 each and the Lazy Susan was $8 so the entire cost was only about $37. This was probably my fastest trip to Target ever….seriously a record breaker because I can spend hours in there.

5) Put everything back in the pantry. Here are just a few ways I organized everything on its way back in:

-I used the Lazy Susan for drink mixes on the top shelf so that you could access what was up there.

-I used a couple bins for loose items, such as bags of rice, popcorn and a few other drink mix packets.

-I also used a couple bins to separate larger items such as cake mixes and pasta boxes.

-We grabbed an empty bin from the basement to hold extra salad dressing, peanut butter, ketchup, salsa and a few other items on the bottom shelf.

-The clear plastic canisters were reorganized to hold all of the baking items (such as flour) and a few misc items such as an open bag of popcorn kernels.

Here is what it looks like now:

Pantry - Nan and Gary - After (1)

Here’s the thing about pantry’s. Even when they are completely organized, they can tend to look cluttered because of the variety of colors, boxes, sizes, and types of containers. There are a ton of pictures on blogs and Pinterest right now with these unbelievably gorgeous pantries. I hope to have one someday. But the thing to remember is that it’s not if your pantry can make a great Pinterest photo. It’s that it’s organization works well for your life, makes it easy to find things and make grocery lists, and that you’re happy with the final product.

Now get started and throw away that 6 year old bottle of salad dressing in your pantry! 🙂

~Erin

Make way for turkey…fridge and freezer cleanout

Two of the 15 minute projects in my House Project List were to clean out the fridge and freezer. Though these each took about 20 minutes, I figure they would be small enough to consider ’15 Minute Projects.’ I will not even bore you with a before pic of my fridge and freezer because truthfully, it doesn’t look that different from the after pic. I credit most of that to the fact that I try to do a little cleaning each week. Before I grocery shop, I try to wipe down the shelves and throw away anything that is past it prime. I do it before grocery shopping because that is when the fridge is the most empty each week.
So these photos are pretty much just to prove that I actually did clean the entire fridge and freezer:

I took everything out (except for the frozen veggies in the veggie drawer!) and wiped down all shelves and sides. One added bonus of this project was that I forgot exactly where the shelves in the freezer were. So I ended up putting them back in a slightly different configuration.

As it turns out, I had never really evaluated where the shelves were placed before. The new shelf placement is about a million times more effective. I’m not sure why I thought a GIGANTIC bottom shelf optimized the space because…it didn’t. It was just wasted. The new configuration allows me to fit more items and to see them more clearly. Pretty much everything is standing up on end, making use of the vertical space and allowing me to see all of the labels. Happy Accident!

So here’s the after pic:

It’s not beautiful or stylishly organized, but it’s super functional and works perfectly for me and my family.  Here are some things I like about this project and my fridge!

~I have a shelf reserved for leftovers so I never have to rearrange the whole fridge to put away all my beautifully saran wrapped and tin foiled items.

~I have honestly never seen so many condiments as what we have in our fridge. The obligatory mustard and ketchup? Yep, they are there. However, my fridge is also the home to tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, BBQ sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce…are you bored yet? That’s why I love that my fridge has so much room in the door for all of these.

-This project was also timely since we need to make sure we have room for Thanksgiving dinner items! You can see there’s a large turkey on the bottom shelf of the fridge and there is a big bag of ice on the bottom shelf of the freezer. My new rule of thumb is going to be that I ALWAYS want to have enough room for a large turkey and a large bag of ice. That way I will always have room and the fridge and freezer should never get overloaded.

-I’m so glad I was taking pictures for this post because it allowed me to evaluate how important shelf placement is. I recommend taking pictures before projects like this so you can evaluate what works and what doesn’t. Once you have a system that works, you’ll have a photo reference so you can make sure you get things back in the right place.

Is it just me that gets excited about cleaning out the fridge? Probably. But know that if you keep up with it, a complete clean out only needs to take about 15 minutes.

~Erin

Another quick fix…kitchen cabinet

I have a deep corner cabinet in my kitchen that is home to lots of those extra kitchen type things that don’t really fit well anywhere else. It has cookie sheets, cutting boards, casserole pans, mixing bowls, a waffle maker, cheese graters, a turkey pan and a big Tupperware cake holder. Here is a picture of what it looked like last week:

While the overall impression wasn’t horrible, the cabinet was incredibly inefficient. The front of it was filled with items I hardly ever use and some of the things I used daily were not easily accessible at all. Case in point….where are my mixing bowls?????? Waaaaayyyy in the back:

See that red arrow? It is pointing to my mixing bowls which are behind the turkey pan and the cupcake holder? That hardly makes sense. So I did one of my 15 minute organizations. I took everything out, cleaned the bottom of the cabinet and assessed what I had. I realized that I never have used the drawer underneath my stove, so the turkey pan and the muffin tins went under there. The mixing bowls were moved to a ‘front and center’ spot and I restacked my casserole dishes to make them easier to get to. Here is what it looks like now:

Soooooo much better. There is so much more room, it looks cleaner and I can actually reach the items I use most. And it only took 15 minutes! Happy neatening!

~Erin

15 Minutes more

A couple months ago, I did a post called 15 Minutes, which you can read here. The concept was to either tackle small projects that would take 15 minutes or less or break down a bigger project into 15 minute segments so it was more easy to handle. This also increased the likelihood of a bigger project actually reaching completion at some point! Here are a couple more 15 minute accomplishments:

1) Big Project – Clean out the kitchen.    15 Minute Project – Clean out the Tupperware drawer.

Whose Tupperware drawer looks like this?

Well mine did before 15 minutes of organizing magic. Here’s the thing, the drawer doesn’t technically look a lot better now. However, some major things changed:

First I took out the extra stuff. In the before photo, you can see things like a Slap Chop (which, by they way, is one of the greatest inventions ever). That did NOT belong in there, so I found it a new home in the pantry.

I also had a box of Tupperware in the pantry which I hadn’t even opened yet, so it was taking up space and going unused. So I washed and dried all of the stuff in the box so I could put it in it’s rightful place.

Here’s the ‘After’ photo:

Now it’s not what I would call pretty. However, it is soooo much more functional and I actually have about 3 times as many containers in there as I did before. Also, when I want to use the Slap Chop, I just pull it off the pantry shelf,..no more digging through lids to get to it! Speaking of lids, I was also able to throw away several mystery lids (their only purpose was to frustrate me!).

2) Big Project – Clean out the linen closets.    15 Minute Project – Go through pillows and pillowcases.

Let me set the scene: picture me tossing and turning, night after night, constantly fluffing and rearranging my pillows, secretly switching mine with my husbands before he came to bed.

Scene 2: We have guests come into town and I pull the extra pillow out of the linen closet. The thought that comes to my mind is “Wow, this pillow feels extremely fluffy and comforting, I should use this in my room instead”. What actually happens is our guest uses it, I put it back and go back to tossing and turning.

Sooooo, I took 15 minutes and gathered every single pillow and pillowcase in the house. Several pillow cases went straight in the ‘Donate’ bag. Several pillows went straight in the trash for the crime of being closer to place mat thickness than pillow thickness.

I laid on every single pillow and had my husband do the same. We chose what pillow should go where and honestly, I have been a much more peaceful sleeper for the last few nights. How easy was that!

I did not take a picture of my ridiculous amount of pillows (let me also mention that I had 5 king size pillows and 21 king size pillowcases. Are you serious??!!!!). However, I did take a picture of our guest room bedspread for no particular reason. Love it!

I will continue with the kitchen and linen closet cleanouts soon, but for now, I’m satisfied with the progress and it didn’t take long at all!

~Erin

Things I Love Thursdays – Once A Month Cooking

I’m going to borrow a little here…..

The concept is widely known, but I’ve chosen to use the Once  a Month cooking from:

http://onceamonthmom.com/

I’m also borrowing from a post I already posted on my other blog:Self Pursuits.

Self Pursuits is a blog I started with my friend Katie and the plan is to pursue a new hobby, activity, etc for one month within a given category. We are on a small hiatus for June because we are busy and exhausted people. But come July, we’ll be back in Pursuit!

Anyways, one month the broad category was food/ cooking so I decided to try ‘Plan Ahead Cooking’. This involved going through my cookbooks, organizing my pantry and Once a Month Cooking! I made about 18 meals in one day. It was the craziest day, but it fed us for weeks and the meals were delicious. You can read the full post on my adventure here:

http://selfpursuits.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/i-must-be-crazy/

So even though it makes your kitchen look like this:

It is totally worth a try!

Why I love Once  a Month Cooking:

-It gave me loads of food for a whole month and all I had to do was heat everything up.

-I saved a decent amount of money. Not only did I not go heavy food shopping every week, but since I wasn’t going to the store as often, I was foregoing those extra purchases that just kind of come up when you’re at the store. I’m notorious for going off the list at the store, which is something I’m working on….”Don’t I need more paintbrushes? …Oh look at that bathmat! I have to have it! … Maybe I should get 2 gallons of ice cream since I can’t decide.”

-The meals were delicious and unique. I’m also notorious for slapping a piece of chicken or fish and a side f broccoli on the plate next to a piece of bread. No fancy dishes served here friends! So the new flavors and recipes (read Peanut Butter Crock Pot Pork, Chicken Stuffed Shells and Chicken Calzones) were a fun treat for my family!

-My freezer was so organized! It was just full of yummy, unique dinners and all I had to do was grab a bag!

-Not only did I not have to cook for most of the month, but I hardly had to clean the kitchen for a month. We just cleaned the crock pot or pan and the plates we used. No other cooking dishes necessary. Yeah!

For someone who likes to be organized and does NOT like to cook very much, this is the project!

~Erin