Saturday, January 31, 2009

Word to the Wise: Steel-Cut Oats Can Go Rancid

As you might recall, a few weeks ago I posted about the preponderance of steel-cut oats I discovered in our kitchen cabinet.

This morning I thought that I should use some of these oats, so I made myself some nice oatmeal with the John McCann steel-cut irish oats (the ones that come in a metal can). If you have ever made steel-cut oatmeal, you'll know that it's a much longer process than usual oatmeal. You can't make them in the microwave. You must boil 4 cups of water, add 1 cup of oats, and stir until they start to thicken...and then simmer for 30 minutes.

When I took the oats out, I thought I detected a slightly rancid odor, but I thought it was probably my imagination or the can. I was wrong.

After eating a whole bowl of oatmeal that didn't taste quite right, I googled "steel cut oats rancid," and sure enough, discovered that they can indeed go rancid!!

There was no expiration date on the tin, so who would have known? But obviously, we have had them for a long time--they are such a hassle to make, plus they were buried back behind all the vases and I forgot we even had them!

Most web sites advise keeping steel-cut oats in the refrigerator to prevent this from occurring. Already, we keep our flour in the fridge (to prevent mealy bugs), so I guess this will free up more cabinet space! And yuck--I think I need to go eat something else to get rid of that taste!! They weren't inedible (and I had put pieces of chrystallized ginger and dried apricots in them, so they masked the flavor somewhat), but the knowledge that I ate rancid oatmeal bothers me more than anything!

January: Week Four, "Whip Your Kitchen Into Shape"

Yes, I know it's the last day of January. So I'm a tiny bit behind...

I'm not completely done with the kitchen yet, but I expect to be this weekend. This doesn't include the kitchen nook, though--that will have to overflow into the bedroom month.

Author Regina Leeds talks about how to prepare for an organizing project (choose your peak time of day--in my case, there's not much choice--evenings are really the only time I have available for this task).

She advises a second round of speed elimination. I skipped that step because my first speed elimination was fairly thorough...although I'm regularly discarding items as I tackle each section of the kitchen.

Leeds approaches each section or aspect of the kitchen:

Kitchen tools: She advises where to keep them, and suggests that we really don't need multiple can openers, wine bottle openers, nutcrackers, garlic presses, etc. This is generally not an issue for us because I have regularly weeded through our gadgets.

Take-out stuff: She suggests discarding any extra chopsticks, soy sauce, etc. I think I have a few of these in my fridge, and when I clean my fridge today, out they will go! Also, she suggests keeping takeout menus in a binder.

Large equipment: She suggests storing large, seasonal, or rarely used appliances in out-of-the-way areas. As I've previously written, I've already been following this philosophy.

Countertop items: I do not like having a lot of crap on my counters, so the only items we regularly keep there are (1) a tea kettle, and (2) a compost container. When I clean out the cabinet under the sink this weekend, though, I think I'm going to look for a way to move the compost container. The tea kettle is used SEVERAL times a day, so it makes sense to keep on the counter.

Baking gear: I already moved my Christmas cookie cutters (as she advises), and have weeded through my baking equipment.

Food storage containers: This is another area I've stayed fairly well on top of. We don't have tons of Tupperware or other storage containers...and the ones we have, we use regularly. (I often take leftovers in my lunch.)

Paper and plastics: We do buy paper products in bulk, but we keep them in the basement out of the way.

Dishtowels, potholders, and aprons: I weeded out the dishtowels, potholders, and aprons when I cleaned the linen drawer and one of the kitchen cabinets, and consigned the older dishtowels to rags, as Leeds suggests. She also suggests rolling the dishtowels to save room.

The pantry: She suggests organizing the pantry into categories and using shelf dividers.

Pet food: I skipped this section because we don't have any pets.

The refrigerator: She has some suggestions for refrigerator organization, but nothing that I hadn't already thought of.

But here is one thing that made me think: Leeds says that "refrigerator poeple come in two basic types: those who cover theirs with magnets, notices, and photos, and those who like an unadorned refrigerator. I would urge you to either join the latter group or at least pare your items down to a minimum."

Now this is radical notion for a busy family with three kids. Our refrigerator was adorned with magnetic poetry, various types of adult and kid magnets, notes, grocery lists, reminders, kids' drawings, and photos. No longer! This morning I took down all the photos and notes, got rid of a lot of the magnets, and consolidated the remaining items to the sides of the fridge. (Because we live in an old 1938 house, our refrigerator is a stand-alone item and is not surrounded by cabinets.) Finally, I took down all of the magnetic poetry that we've had up for over 15 years. Now that was quite a task! Do you know how long it takes to remove magnetic poetry? I haven't yet cleaned the front of the fridge yet, but when I do it will be very exciting. I really like the cleaner, bare look! Leeds is right that a cluttered fridge "looks messy and feels chaotic."

Shopping lists: Leeds keeps her own shopping lists in three sections, for each store at which she shops. I love the shopping lists on Cozi, because I can create one for Trader Joe's, one for Costco, one for Fred Meyer, and one for New Seasons.

Under the sink: I'm going down under today!! I don't think it's too bad under there, but we shall see!

The junk drawer: Check--I did this last night while Mike and I were watching a movie. I'll post photos later.

The kitchen counter office: Don't have one of those, but we do have a kitchen nook, which attracts a lot of clutter!!!

Leeds ends the chapter by talking about creating new habits and reminding us that she had said at the beginning of the chapter that it takes 21 consecutive days to form a new habit. I do feel that Mike and I are both much more focused on keeping the counters clean and cleared before we go to bed. And each time I open a cleaned cabinet or drawer, I feel such a great sense of satisfaction!!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

100 Reasons to Get Rid of It!

My blogging friend, Jennifer, uncovered this great list of Martha Stewart's, listing 100 reasons to get rid of "it."

It's actually more than reasons--it's also an extensive list of resources for ways to get rid of stuff...some of them I was already aware of, and some of them new to me.

Here are some great statistics, to remind me to continue on my obsessive decluttering odyssey!
  • 1.4 million Americans suffer from chronic hoarding & clutter. I believe it.
  • People burn 55 minutes a day looking for things. WOW!! 55 minutes a day???
  • 80 percent of what we own we never use. I know we do!
  • Getting rid of clutter will reduce housework by 40 percent. That would be nice!

Is this feasible?

Search for phone numbers online instead of storing bulky Yellow and White Pages volumes.

I would dearly love to get rid of the bulky phone books, but I don't completely have confidence in my ability to find everything I need online...

On the other hand, out with the phone books!! We wouldn't want to end up like these people:

  • Miss Havisham in Great Expectations
  • Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier Beale in "Grey Gardens"
  • Oscar Madison in "The Odd Couple"
  • The family in the documentary "Packrat" (
  • The Bronx, New York, man who, in 2003, was trapped in his home under an avalanche of books and newspapers for two days before being rescued...

And finally, here is some inspiration--you know, I do love quotations!

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." -William Morris

"You've got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative." -Johnny Mercer

"The joy of giving is indeed a pleasure, especially when you get rid of something you don't want." -Frank Butler and Frank Cavett, "Going My Way"

Top of Refrigerator, Check!

I didn't get as much done last night as I had planned, because of the TRUE TIME WASTER that is Facebook! Mike had been out at a meeting, and by the time he arrived home after 10:00, he saw the kitchen dishes still not in the dishwasher, and he said "Poor you!" because he thought the kids had kept me going for so long, I hadn't gotten around to my cleaning and organizing!

Can't blame it on the kids. I had them in bed in record time. The younger ones by 8:30, and the older one by 9:00. It was that nasty computer calling me to be unproductive and find out every possible inane detail about my friends that I might want to know. Does it help me to be more organized, or to be a better person? NO!

At any rate, after loading the dishwasher and CLEANING MY COUNTERS! (Mike was doing the laundry downstairs), I did have time to strike one more task off my kitchen list: the top of the refrigerator.

Can you say: "DUST"???


Here's what it looked like precleaning:

With all the various vitamins, calcium supplements, medication, pills, and potions for five members of the family, we had ended up with quite a clutter. The last time I cleaned the top of the fridge, I decluttered through this collection and put what was left in a plastic tub. Clearly we had outgrown it. I also discovered other various items that could be put elsewhere.

Here is my result, after reorganizing and scouring the top of the fridge to get rid of all the dust!

Maybe someday I can figure out a way to have a completely clean top-of-the fridge, but right now it's a pretty safe and convenient place to keep medications out of the reach of little hands, and it's accessible for bedtimes.

I'm running out of January, and I still have some items to do left on my kitchen list--the junk drawer, utensil drawers (which aren't in too bad of shape), and the inside of the fridge. The kitchen nook will have to overflow into February, I'm afraid...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tackling the Freezer Compartment

One memory I have of my upbringing is that my family always had a completely crammed-to-the-gills freezer in the garage. At times, it even had a bungee cord tied to the front to keep it closed! (Okay, Mom and Dad, enough skeletons out of our closet--I mean freezer!) My parents have always been very thrifty, and they have always been on the lookout for bargain prices to stock up on essentials. Hence, the full freezer.

Last fall Mike and I cleaned out our upright freezer in the fun task! But the freezer in the kitchen hadn't been cleaned for quite awhile. It was difficult to find anything without rooting around in it for awhile.

Cleaning out refrigerators and freezers is not one of my favorite kitchen tasks! But I sure do like the results!

Here is the "before":

You can see what I mean...that everything is crammed in there!

When I started excavating, I found several bags worth of spelt flour, and three packages of puff pastry sheets that expired a few years ago!! Out they went.

Amazingly, I found only one banana! (I like to freeze bananas so I have them for baking.)

I threw out a bunch of old bread and rolls, but mostly it was a reorganization effort.

Fruit in one area, cheese in another, meat and fish in another, flours on the bottom shelf (the spelt flour consolidated in two plastic containers!), and vegetables in another corner.

Ice, nuts, herbs, ricotta, and tomato paste on the door.

The freezer is still fullish, but at least we will know where everything is!

Coffee, Tea, or Me?

Seriously, at the rate we purchase tea, that could be the question...

I tackled our tea/coffee/cereal/snack cupboard the other night...the one that always seems to be a complete jumble a few weeks after I organize it.

Yes, Sandra, I know we still have too many vases. I do like to have a lot for the lilacs in the spring though. At any rate, I moved them all to the basement storage because we do not use them on a regular basis (according to my new rule...).

Yes, we have a lot of cereal, too, but my children are cereal fanatics. We seem to have a preponderance of steel-cut oatmeal, too--must eat oatmeal!

Half of one shelf is completely crammed with multiple varieties of tea! Mike's been buying a lot more varieties recently, too, because he's on a new herbal remedy kick to calm his stomach down after the holidays. He does drink a lot of tea...but we seem to have a never-ending supply. I believe we have both committed to not buying any more tea for awhile!!

These before and after photos are not very shocking, but what you can't see is my organization of the cabinet.

All snacks are on the top shelf. The middle shelf contains coffee and cereal. (I thought about moving the cereals down lower so that the kids could help themselves, but Mike said he'd prefer to keep them out of reach so they don't pig out on cereal!)

And the bottom shelf contains mugs, tea paraphernalia, knives, cocoa, and TEA!!!

Perhaps I'll take another photo in 6 months, in the hopes that we will have less tea then! How many varieties of tea can one couple need? :)

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Place for the Teapots!

I took a bit of an organizing break over the weekend--I had a good friend visit on Friday night, and then we went to a party on Saturday and a marathon play on Sunday afternoon--but last night I spent about 45 minutes organizing one of my cupboards...and cleaning it.

My evening of tearing through the kitchen, discarding as much as I could in one fell swoop, resulted in a few empty spaces in my cupboards. (Especially when I got rid of all those silly vases!!) Last night I reorganized my main dish cabinet, and actually washed the darn shelves!! I am embarassed to admit that we've been living in our house for nearly 10 years now and we have never wiped down the shelves (to my knowledge). It continues to be a challenge to keep myself focused on organizing and stop myself from fantasizing about what color I would like to paint the cupboards and the walls!!

At any rate, some organization and a few more discarding resulted in a cabinet that looked like this:

Look at all that empty space!! Most of the stuff is on the bottom shelf, because I am very short (5 feet), and the cabinet goes all the way to the ceiling!! I need a chair to get to anything in the back of the middle shelf or on the top shelf.

I was trying to think of what to put in my free space, when I had a bright idea: how about our teapots, which we are always trying to cram into other spaces? We typically keep our coffee maker downstairs because we use it only when we have guests...but I found a home for it on the top shelf...and moved the teapots and french press to the middle shelf. And I still have space! From the perspective of someone who grew up with crammed refrigerators, freezers, and cabinets in my family of origin, and who has continued with that tradition in my own family, I am loving the idea of empty space!! :)

Tonight, I tackle the tea/coffee/cereal/snack cabinet, probably the most crammed one in the house! (And where we typically try to fit the teapots into.) I still have quite a few vases in the kitchen, as you can see...might move those downstairs to the basement.

It would also be nice to move the cold cereal to a lower cabinet so the kids could help themselves. Our oldest son, Chris, is a cereal FANATIC!! He must go through four or five bowls a day.

And Jennifer, over at The Year of Living Obsessively, has inspired me with her clean junk drawer. Must tackle that junk drawer...I've been putting that off!! And I have only six days left of kitchen organizing...or my husband will be very disappointed in me! Such a slave driver he is...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

All the Right Tools to Hand

Part of what I've been focusing on in my kitchen organizing is moving the items we do not use regularly farther away from the kitchen. Our house is a 1938 Cape Cod, and we are blessed to have a good amount of storage space (especially compared to my sister's much-fancier and larger 80s-era "Street of Dreams" home). The basement is a major blessing! We have a utility room downstairs, where the washer and dryer and overflow kitchen items are stored, and we also have a storage room we call "Chai's room." (Chai was our cat, who died 4 years ago, and she used to stay in that room overnight so she wouldn't rip the house to shreds.)

So last night I focused on one of our lower kitchen cabinets that contains pots and pans, plastic storage containers, bowls, measuring cups, etc., in addition to starting on our hall closet cupboard (which contains cookbooks, rice cooker, baking pans, etc.). We have been using our slow cooker constantly, so instead of putting it away down in the basement (its former home), with all of my decluttering, I was able to make room for it in the kitchen cabinet, along with the frying pans, which we use daily for quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, and sauteeing. The soup stockpot and some other items got moved to the hallway cupboard.

I also went through our massive collection of dish and tea towels and relegated about many of the stained ones to the cleaning closet to be used for rags.

I also identified some duplicate (and older) pans and bowls to send to Goodwill, and moved some of the baking items down to the basement. (Because how often do we bake? Once a month, if that!)

It's going to take us a bit of time to get used to the new places for everything, but I'm convinced it will be nice to have all the right tools closer to hand!

I have only 10 days left of my kitchen (and kitchen nook) focus, and have still much yet to accomplish!! (Because you know my husband will be very disappointed in me if I'm still working on the kitchen in February and fall behind in the book!!)

Now that I'm getting my kitchen in better shape, I want to paint and redo the flooring...but no time, because I will be on to the bedroom next! I can't get distracted yet in redecorating before I feel more organized.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Clean Counters!

Some of you will recall one of the resolutions I made earlier in the month: to clean my counters every night. (Actually, I said after every meal, but that is a bit unrealistic given our lifestyle.)

Well, I can't say that I've been entirely successful with that resolution, but I do believe that I've made an improvement. It's amazing how much CRAP finds its way to our kitchen counters!!! Usually little game pieces, paintbrushes, felt pens, coins, or other such things. Not to mention food items.

Last night I was going to continue reorganizing my cupboards but decided to really clean the counters and sink that's what I did, save for the little corner of one counter where a bunch of junk has collected. (That will be tackled next. Tonight has been wasted with perusing inauguration coverage and blogging...)

It's such a lovely feeling to have clean counters!! And tonight, when we go to bed, they will be clean again. Yippee!!

Before the end of the month, I plan to also tackle that windowsill collection of junk and bric-a-brac!

And the forementioned corner of junk...

But not much got done today--was too excited to clean and organize!! :) Oh happy day!!!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Week Three: Kitchen Questions

1. What do you like about your kitchen?

When we moved into this house, I liked the white cupboards (as opposed to the oak cabinets we had in our old house); the newness of it all (new linoleum and formica counters; new paint on the walls and the cabinets); the plentiful storage space; and most of all, the lovely kitchen nook.

Eight and a half years later, nothing is new any more. The counters are still in reasonably good shape, but the white cabinets and walls are looking very shabby! They really need a nice paint job. The kitchen could also benefit from new flooring. I loved the white linoleum and cabinets when we moved on, but I soon discovered how difficult it was to keep clean...especially with three children. Still love the kitchen nook, but we don't really take advantage of the space like we could. We still have nice storage space, but we could improve on the way we use it.

Since we moved in, we installed a small dishwasher (well, okay, my dad installed it with a bit of help from Mike)...and I very much like that!

2. What do you dislike?

See above. The kitchen could use some updating. I don't like how grubby fingers sully the white kitchen cabinets and the appliances. If it were up to me, everyone in the house would wash HIS hands before touching the cabinets or the fridge! :) I dislike the cluttered, haphazard way we've displayed items on the built-in shelves in the kitchen nook. I would like the whole kitchen to be more organized...a goal toward which I've been making some progress.

My dad has often encouraged us to build out our kitchen, and it would be nice to have more space...but I don't want to give up our nook. The reality is that of all the possible home improvement projects we could invest in, that's at the bottom of our list.

3. Do you have things from past generations that don't serve you other than giving you a sense of familial devotion?

Not really.

4. Are you eating off chipped plates and drinking glasses?

There might be a few dishes with chips in them, but for the most part we've made small investments in aesthetically pleasing plates and glasses.

5. Do you like the color of your walls?

See above. White is fine, but it attracts dirt. My fantasy is to have a Mexican kitchen, with lots of contrasting, bold colors.

6. Is the lighting adequate?

It's adequate, yes, but it would be nice to replace the flourescent light fixtures in our kitchen, if we do remodel one of these days.

7. Do you have space for furniture in your kitchen?

The only "furniture" we have in the kitchen is the microwave cart and the kitchen nook table and chairs. Someday it would be nice to have a custom-made island for the kitchen nook with additional storage and table space...but it might detract from the period quality of the nook, so I'm not sure.

8. How much time every day is spent looking for things?

Less and less time, the more I organize the kitchen! I've definitely been noticing a difference already in this area, and I'm looking forward to it spreading to the other areas of my house (where we are still spending time looking for things!!).

9. Do you have counter space to prep meals or has that space been usurped by stuff?

We have counter space, but some of it has been usurped by stuff. We've been doing a better job of clearing off our counters this month, but we're far from perfection!

10. Do you cook every day or just on special occasions?

We cook nearly every day, and we make an effort to eat together every evening. My husband usually cooks during the week, and I cook on the weekends.

11. Do you ever bake?

Yes; every few weeks. Mostly for special occasions (like birthdays).

12. Are the items in your kitchen the right size for your family?


My only other wish for my kitchen is that I were taller...because we have some very high cabinets that are difficult for me to reach, making them a bit impractical.

There are a few remaining areas in my kitchen (under the sink, the junk drawer, the refrigerator [inside and the top], finishing the cabinets) that need work, but I'm already seeing a lot of progress. My plan this week is to try to plow through as many remaining areas as I can, and next week focus on any final spots and work on the kitchen nook.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Week 3: Kitchen Questions

I haven't yet read this chapter yet, but last night my fingers were itchy to do some more organizing. (Plus Mike has been dropping hints that I have to get back on my program.) He had meetings three nights this week, plus his mother just left on Wednesday, so I have let up somewhat. But back to the program!

Chapter 3 starts by asking lots of questions about how the kitchen is set up and whether it serves my purpose. I will get to those later. But in the meantime, I scanned through the chapter last night for a task I could tackle in the kitchen, and saw the suggestion to take a minimum of 15 minutes to "literally tear through your kitchen...identifying items that you can eliminate quickly." That sounded like just the kind of quick activity I needed to get back in gear!

I announced my intention to Mike, and again recognized how different we are in these types of activities. He declared that the would not want to approach things way and would much rather tackle each drawer or cabinet methodically, one at a time. That is the plan, eventually (Leeds later talks about going back through each area and revisiting it), but I think it's nice to mix things up a little. My most gratifying part of organizing is decluttering, and this was a fun way to do it. I've been meaning to tackle these top shelves of our two kitchen cabinets for some time, beyond other spots:

That's right, we had a shelf and a half of valuable kitchen cabinet space (granted, it is very high and I have to practically stand on the counter to reach anything)...taken up with vases!! Very impractical. How often does one use a vase? AND HOW MANY VASES DOES ONE HOUSEHOLD NEED? We even have more vases out in the garage!! So out went most of the various items from the lower cabinets and other drawers and cabinets I haven't gotten to yet. Including a huge package of Japanese green tea I bought in Hawaii 5 years ago, which is most likely incredibly stale and tasteless by now! And breast milk storage bags I haven't used in well over a year. And a once-beautiful glass salad bowl we got for a wedding present that had a chip in it, so we never used it any more.

Out went a lot of tall water cups and bottles that never get used (not very practical), various straws and bowls, tupperware lids without bottoms, and wonder of wonders, Mike even tackled his egg cup collection and got rid of a bunch of them! (Even though he disagreed with this process...) Our kitchen cabinets have all sorts of space now and are ready for me to reorganize next week.

The result of last night's binge was a box and a garbage bag full of vases, cups, and other stuff to go to Goodwill (and that doesn't include items that went in the trash). Took me about an hour, while talking on the phone to my sister part of the time and watching "Brothers and Sisters" online on my laptop (on the kitchen counter).

Anyone want to start a flower shop?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

January: Week 2, Creating schedules and Routines

Technically, I've started Week 3 but I haven't read the chapter yet!

I had a couple of tasks left to do before I moved on...identifying time traps in our home and creating a way to engage the children in helping me.

Time Traps

I think I've successfully narrowed down my list of time traps, and it's one item: SURFING THE INTERNET! A key one is a little site called Facebook. Yes, it's fun to find old friends and acquaintances, but on the other hand, do I really need to know what everyone is doing every single second of the day? (Actually, that's not possible because my company very wisely blocks Facebook on our networks...) I do enjoy seeing photos people post...but it is definitely a time waster. It's pretty likely that if I feel that I've wasted an evening, I've been on the computer.

Our television is downstairs in our family room, so I'm not typically drawn to that (out of sight, out of mind)...if it were nearer to hand, I might be on Rock Band 2 all evening! I don't consider that to be a big time waster for me, because when I am playing Rock Band, I'm usually hanging out with Chris and we're doing it together.

Engaging the Kiddos

To illustrate the ineffectiveness of getting my children regularly involved in the cleaning of our house, I will tell you an anecdote from this week. My mother-in-law left last night after visiting for a month. Chris was bereft at the thought of her leaving. Kieran's response? "Does this mean we can trash the family room now???" Yes, I kid you not.

I've created some chore and behavior charts for Chris and Kieran--I found some templates on the web that attach points to each task. I think this will be a more successful approach with my kids, because they will be able to earn points to cash in for special treats or money.

I know that some people feel you shouldn't compensate kids for chores (or behaviors for that matter), but I say HOGWASH to that! It's all a part of learning about earning a living. We really don't expect our children to do a lot of chores (probably because we're both oldest children and think we can do things best), but we need to expect more.

I have "keep room clean" on there...however, I wouldn't describe their rooms as clean to start with, so they won't be able to earn points until we have a good base from which to start!

I am also planning to develop a reward chart to go with the point system. We've implemented these types of programs in the past, but with tickets.

About 6 months ago, my dear husband began putting the timer on for 10 minutes after dinner, and everyone in the family is supposed to clean until the timer goes off. What usually happens is that Kieran and Nick wander around, not sure what to do unless specifically instructed, and Chris, Mike, and I do most of the picking up...but Chris also often watches the timer and announces how much time is left (which is very annoying!). The idea is that everyone gets ice cream or dessert on Saturday night if they help. We haven't been entirely consistent in implementing this technique, and in the past month, since my mother-in-law has been visiting, the whole idea has completely lost its teeth...since she offers them sweet things every day!!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Discovered: a Fellow Aspiring Organizer!

This new humble blog of mine has attracted two interesting developments:

1. The author of the book I'm using, Regina Leeds, the "Zen Organizer," found my blog and commented here. Very exciting!

2. Today I received a comment from another aspiring organizer, mom of three, and grad student, Jennifer. She is also using the book and blogs about her progress at The Year of Living Obsessively (love the title), Broken Bananas, and Global Mother. Even better: she's an Obama supporter living in Arizona! :) I'm very happy to have a partner in crime, and am hoping we can cheer each other on in our efforts to get ourselves and our families better organized.

Still thinking about a plan to get my kids engaged in (strike that: bribe them to help with) my organizing adventures. That post will be next!

Friday, January 9, 2009

January, Week 2: Creating Schedules and Routines

Week 2 focuses on the importance of creating regular schedules and organizing your life with a calendar.

I just blogged about a great tool I recently discovered to track our family appointments...important in a family of five! It's a free program called Cozi. We have started using it to attempt to help us organize our time better and to make sure that no appointments fall through the cracks on either of our calendars.

Regina Leeds advises readers to "invest in a good calendar." In our case, we have a plethora of calendars! I track my work (and some personal) appointments on Microsoft Outlook--which synchronizes with my Blackberry; we have a calendar by our telephone and a few more calendars throughout the house; and now we have Cozi. Mike is a fan of calendars; in his eyes, the more the better! I just hope that we don't have too many now! Cozi should tie all our paper calendars (and Outlook) together, if we use it effectively.

Leeds recognizes that readers think like organizers and do not agree to commit to anything until we have consulted our calendars (and our partners, if applicable). She also talks about the importance of creating regular routines and identifying ways to save yourself time in your life. For example, setting the breakfast table the night before, or setting out your clothes before you go to bed.

She recommends that we make a list of the most common time traps in our home, and then create a routine that will eliminate this opportunity to waste time. She mentions her own tendency to want to get distracted by less-important tasks (for example, rearranging her furniture) when she is facing a deadline. I can definitely identify with this tendency, and sometimes I wonder if I have attention-deficit disorder! I will meet deadlines, but I often wait until the deadline is facing me in the face...and my product would have been much better if I had been more methodical and allowed myself to revise along the way.

This is why I've decided to tackle this organization project in a more methodical way. I need a structured routine to get myself to stick with it. And starting a blog to document my progress is one sure way to get myself to follow through!

The last activity for this week is to "get the kids on board." I've been thinking about how to do that...and I will blog more about that next time. I know Mike is anxious to see what I come up with! And onto more kitchen cabinets!!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Last Night, the Drawer Under the Stove and an Appliance Drawer!

As I was on my hands and knees, scrubbing the gunk from underneath the stove last night, I said to my mother-in-law (who was observing from the next room), "This is what people pay housecleaners to do!!!" However, (1) after reading Nickel and Dimed, I can't bear to hire a housecleaner, (2) I'm too cheap to pay for one!, (3) most people I know who do hire housecleaners are not very happy with them, and I've heard a number of horror stories!, and (4) I would not have the wonderful sense of satisfaction that comes from cleaning, if I had someone do it for me!

But. Those types of tasks need to be done more often.

As does cleaning out my drawers regularly. Last night I tackled a drawer that contained the blender, coffee grinder, food scale, cheese graters, tons of cookie cutters, and various sundry appliances and gadgets. Many items went in my Goodwill bag, and others into the garbage. The many cookie cutters will get sorted through and moved downstairs to basement storage, since we use them only once or twice a year.

I do believe that this drawer might never have been cleaned out and scoured since we moved into the house 9 years ago!!! Oh my! Talk about skeletons in my closet!

The best part of last night's activities? I found the toast soldier cutting device Mike's mum had given us a few years ago...and Mike had been looking for it! ("Perfect Soldiers")

Never heard of toast soldiers? Read here and here.

Personally, I HATE runny eggs. So I never use it. I like my eggs poached, scrambled with salsa, in an omelet or frittata, or in egg salad or deviled eggs. And only when I'm in the proper mood.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Microwave Cabinet--Check!

Regina Leeds lays out January in four weeks: the first two focus on thinking and journaling about time management, scheduling, and list making, and the last two focus on the kitchen. However, I've decided to adapt that plan a bit and work on the kitchen all month long (in addition to pondering my time management habits). Otherwise, I'm afraid I would be cram-organizing during the last two weeks.

My husband has informed me that he would never do it this way. He is a rule follower. I am a rule "adaptor." I will follow rules when they are important, but following the book to a tee does not seem very important to me. The most important thing is for me to organize my space and my life, and the book is simply a helpful means to an end.

Besides, I made a list of all of the cabinets and other areas of the kitchen (and nook) that I plan to organize (and clean), and it is going to take me all month!

Last night I tackled the microwave cabinet...which is where we keep potatoes, lunch bags, large bottles of oil, the popcorn popper and popcorn, a big bag of dried Shiitake mushrooms, and Clif bars, among other things. I cannot remember the last time it was cleaned out! I also cleaned the microwave and toaster oven (which sits on top) and dusted and vacuumed behind and under the cabinet and the stove. I'm surprised I didn't have an allergy attack last night...the dust!!!

Most exhilarating is the task of crossing off one of the items on my list after I am through!!!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

January, Week 1: Where Does the Time Go?

Continuing on the topic of time management, author Regina Leeds asks me to look at my life and what takes up my time. Here is my list, in no particular order:

Spending time with my family
Spending time with my friends
Organizing my life (!)
Spiritual pursuits (church, attending events, self-help books)
Errands and shopping
Surfing the internet
Watching TV or videos

Leeds asks the following questions:

What is on my list that isn't on hers (answer: organizing, blogging, reading, being creative, eating, sleeping, surfing internet, watching TV or videos)

Would I like to add some things to my life? (answer: more frequent dates with Mike and one-on-one time with each child, more time being creative, more time entertaining friends, more exercise and time spent outside)

Would I like to eliminate some things? (answer: I think it would be beneficial for me to limit myself to a certain amount of daily time on the internet or TV [like screen time for the kids], because both can be huge time wasters!)

The next step is to mark next to each item how much time it gets during an average week. I had to do it in Excel to get the times to add up, and I kept getting more total hours than exist in a week! Something's not right. Obviously, some of these items can be done at the same time (for example, eating and spending time with family), so it's hard to get the numbers to line up exactly the way I want them to.

Work and commuting--29%
Spending time with my family--12%
Spending time with my friends--1%
Cleaning and organizing my life (!)--6%
Spiritual pursuits (church, attending events, self-help books)--2%
Errands and shopping--1%
Surfing the internet--2%
Watching TV or videos--2%

And finally, the last task is to rewrite the percentages with the amounts of time I would LIKE to spend on each task. Ideally, I would work only 20 hours per week, but we all know that's not very I'll stick to my current percentage for that. I actually do not work tons of overtime in my job, so that's not something I would cut back on. Here are my revised percentages, with a couple of new lines:

Work and commuting-29%
Spending quality time with my family--12%
Spending time with my friends--2%
Cleaning--or Organizing my life (!)--6%
Spiritual pursuits (church, attending events, self-help books)--2%
Errands and shopping--1%
Surfing the internet--0
Watching TV or videos--1%
Exercise--3% (NEW--since I've lapsed in my gym habits in recent months)
Creative pursuits--crafts, making music, etc.--1% (NEW)

That was a tough exercise! (again done in Excel first) In order to come up with some time for exercise, creative pursuits, and spending an hour more a week with friends, I have to cut out any internet surfing and cut back my TV watching to 2 hours a week. I could cut back more on reading (only shaved an hour off), but that's one of my spiritual pursuits! I suspect I do spend more time on reading than I've estimated here, but much of that reading is done while I'm trying to get Nicholas to sleep (which I suppose I could categorize as spending time with family), or while I'm working on my hair in the morning, etc. Maybe I should cut back on my sleeping! :)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Mike Is Getting into the Act!

I declared my intention to organize our jumbled kitchen pantry a few days ago. It was designed to be a broom closet, but we have another one of those in the hallway, so we use it for phone books, the food processor, cutting boards, reusable bags, garbage bags, and ziploc bags. We also use it as a repository for library books that need to be returned (by putting them in one of the bags).

It has a receptacle for saran wrap, etc., but the bottom fell out awhile ago and we have not yet fixed it. We rigged a temporary repair by putting a bag inside of it, but it didn't look very nice. It's very hard to find the cutting boards or correct size of ziploc bag because they are buried under all the reuseable bags.

I took Kieran on a "date" this afternoon, and while I was gone, Mike installed some shelves in the closet (which we had owned for several years; they were away in storage) and did some reorganizing of his own! I plan to continue reorganizing the closet--I want to move the phone books (which we use only once a month) and continue refining the organization...but this is a vast improvement. The bags have not returned to their proper space, but I plan to do some sorting and purging first. Mike very proudly showed his handiwork when I walked in the door.

We also plan to repair the saran wrap receptacle to create more useable space. Small thrills for small minds! :)

Organizing the Kid Dish Drawer

My intention is to take "before" and "after" photos of my organizing projects, but I must get into that habit. (Mike is horrified at the thought that I will be posting our messy habits online...but I figure it will be a satisfying exercise...maybe we DO have skeletons in our closet, our house!!) I forgot to take a before photo this time, so I took a "during" instead!

Anyone who has or has had children knows how easily one can accumulate kid cups, plates, etc., especially when so many restaurants give plastic cups with kid meals. We have designated a lower drawer for our kid plates and cups, so that the kids can retrieve them on their own. The drawer has not been cleaned out for over a year! (or two or three?) It was a jumble of junk.

After fishing everything out of the drawer, this was what was left--pens, cheerios, paper, soy sauce, Christmas tree ornaments, game pieces, feathers, magnets, and pieces of junk:

Here are all the lids I threw away (can't be recycled, alas)--most of them did not have matching cups to go with them!

Here are some of the cups and plates lined up (after many of them had been thrown away!).

And here, at last, is the organized drawer--much easier to find things!
My intention is to organize my house and life without spending tons of extra money. Therefore, our house will not look like House Beautiful or an IKEA catalog. We will invest in organizing systems when we need to, but I'm hoping to make a lot of progress simply by getting rid of stuff, so it's easier to organize what we have.

January, Week 1: Why Am I Like This?

This chapter poses a number of questions about the way one views time management. I'm paraphrasing these questions; here are my responses:

1. Think back to your home of origin. Were your parents on time or do you remember both of them being chronically late? What specific memories do you have regarding time?

I remember being late to church all the time--in fact, our family had a reputation for our tardy habits! I think it was because we were a family of five, but I can't remember a specific reason why we were always late. I also recall that every time we had a family event, my grandparents and some of my aunts and uncles arrived early, or spot on time. And we were usually late! However, I don't remember being horribly embarassed by this habit, or it being a chronic issue...just to church and family events. I also remember getting annoyed by my sister taking so long to get ready to leave the house (because she took a long time with her hair and makeup!).

2. How were you affected by parental dramas regarding time?

I don't remember one of my parents being responsible for our lateness more than the other, but I do recall that my dad would wait until the last minute to get ready. Leeds poses the question of whether my own time management has any emotional links with my past, and whether I use time now to identify with or rebel against one of my parents. I don't think this is the case for me. I believe that I'm generally an emotionally healthy person and don't have a lot of skeletons in my closet. My area for improvement is to be more present and focused on what I am doing, and make sure I'm using time more effectively. I suspect that I'm very similar to my parents that way, and I know they are curious to read about my journey to a more organized life!

3. Were you a person who was always on time until something happened that derailed your usual modus operandi?

Yes, children! I doubt that anyone would have described Mike and me as unfailingly prompt before we had children, but I'm positive no one would describe us in such a way now! We are somtimes a few minutes late to church and other events. However, I think we do not do too badly considering the fact that we have three active boys!

4. Does it bother you when you are late? Is it possible that you are manipulating time to become the center of attention?

It does bother me when I'm late. On the occasions when I'm late, I am definitely not doing it to attract attention. We actually have been known to be on time or early at times!

In summary, although I do think I have room for improvement in my time management, I don't think that it causes me to be late all the time. That is more likely to be caused by my three children, and getting five people out the door. When I do not have my children with me, I'm on time!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

January: Understanding Time Management and Working on the Kitchen

Here we go! Today I read the introduction of the book, which advises readers to create a "dream board" full of photos of the kind of lives we idealize. Mine will be full of photos of beautifully designed, spare spaces (probably not very realistic with three kids) and time spent productively doing crafts and making music, furthering myself, and spending time with my family.

Each month has suggested habits to develop (on the theory that repeating an action for 21 consecutive days turns it into a habit). Regina Leeds advises readers to choose one or two of the following actions for this month:
  • Wash dishes rather than leave them languishing in the sink.
  • Put your clean dishes away immediately.
  • If you use a dishwasher, unload it when its cycle is complete.
  • Wipe off the counters after each use.
  • Once a day, take out the garbage.
I am going to focus on washing the dishes (or loading the dishwasher) and wiping off the counters after each meal. I told Mike about these goals, and he freaked a bit. He has expressed his desire to do this project and read the book with me, but the prospect of implementing these habits every day worries him. He said "after every use??" I know it's hard for him to do this, juggling three active kids all day long. We'll see how we do. I would be happy if we at least stayed on top of the dishes throughout the day so that cleaning the kitchen before bed didn't take so long.

January focuses on getting to the heart of why we are disorganized..."Why Am I Like This?" Leeds' introduction begins by saying she knows me..."You engage in a near constant quest for your house keys. Invitations, personal notes, and letters are lost in a sea of paper debris...You never use a calendar because you store your schedule in your head...Your home is not your castle; it's your prison. Guilt is your frequent companion..." and so on. This is all way more dramatic than I feel about my life; however, we have vast room for improvement in terms of getting our lives organized. Furthermore, I would love to organize my work life as well.

The major reasons I want to get my life and house organized follow:
  • I want to know where everything is.
  • I want to avoid buying more of something that we already have (but cannot find).
  • I want to feel more at peace in my home.
  • I want to not be embarassed when visitors show up unannounced.
  • I want to vastly reduce our amount of possessions, and specifically, clutter.
  • I want to teach my children to clean up after themselves on a regular basis (and model that for them as well) and foster more independence.