Friday, February 24, 2012

Craft Organization Made Easy

Disclaimer: non-knitters and non-crafters, while this blog focuses mostly on craft supplies, the ideas are pretty universal and could apply to toys, Lego's, tools, whatever. So, if you're interested, keep on reading.

I spent part of my morning sort-of helping my friend organize her crafting supplies. I say sort-of simply because I pretty much just sat there and kept her company while she sorted. I may have thrown out an idea or two but it was nothing mind blowing that she couldn't have come up with on her own. And when I say crafting supplies, I really mean massive collection of yarn plus a few other odds and ends. Not being a knitter, I had no idea that one could accumulate so much. But I suppose I have an unheard of collection of scrapbooking papers that I might use "someday," so I guess I get it.

Which brings me to the point of this particular blog. In her particular craft room, she had already purchased a fabulous Ikea shelf that I had been drooling over for two years, plus several bins that fit in the cubes. (Like I said, she didn't really need me.) We spent a couple hours sorting her yarn into groups: keep for me, keep for gifts, and donate. Because yarn is bulky and doesn't stack nicely, those lidded bins were a perfect fit for storing all that yarn. There was a bin left over for her son's various craft supplies and one for projects that are currently in progress. Plus she has a few magazine files she could use to store coloring books or scrapbook paper or patterns. She also had some super cute woven baskets she received as gifts that will look very decorative and cute holding scrap yarn. While we worked, she made a small list of extra bins she would like to purchase to store her sewing supplies. But after that two hours, what looked like an incredibly overwhelming, jumbled mess is now neatly sorted and stored in beautiful boxes.

Some of you will say, but it's still a jumbled mess - inside a box. Is the expense of those darn boxes really worth it? My answer - it depends.

It depends on what you want your space to LOOK like. Because really, it's only partially about function. The rest is aesthetics. If you are super duper creative and just can't generate ideas in a spic and span art room, this method is not, I repeat NOT, for you. Highly creative types need what I refer to as "clutter" in order to create their masterpieces. They can see a random corner of a scrapbook paper and come up with an entire design. Having to dig that out would hinder the creative process. But if you are like me, and you want to live in your house but have it look like a magazine layout, then, yes, the bins, boxes, totes, and various organizing products are absolutely worth every penny.

As many of you know, I love bookshelves. I love bins. I dislike clutter and I HATE toy boxes. I love bins on shelves for three reasons: 1. They look really pretty. 2. When you no longer need the toys, art supplies, or whatever, a bookshelf is a pretty useful piece of furniture. 3. When your child wants to play with cars, just not in the basement where the playroom is, you grab the bin and head up stairs. No digging to find enough to keep him satisfied. No full hands while you walk up and down the stairs. Easy clean up. Easy storage. My kids are also more apt to clean up when they know where things belong.

But, I am also a bargain hunter and bins can get expensive. I want things to look fabulous without the dollar sign. So, while I don't claim to be a master, I have figured out things I can re-purpose for organization.

This is what our art supplies look like. This small shelf is in the basement. The big box on the middle shelf contains all my printed pictures that haven't yet made it into a photo album. The two small boxes contain various papers, large foam sheets, sticker sheets, and coloring books. The three bins on the bottom, however, are my favorite. They are pretty heavy duty bins with cardboard on all sides, so they will continue to hold up when carried up the stairs a million times since we tend to work on crafts in the kitchen. Two of them hold all of our art supplies while the third holds extra containers.

Containers, you ask? Yes, containers. This is where the re-purposing comes into play. I have gotten into the habit of washing and saving plastic peanut butter jars, fruit containers, etc. That is what I use to store various supplies like pom pom balls, googly eyes, glitter pens, ribbon scraps, etc. So those two bins filled with art supplies actually hold containers of art supplies, thus relieving the need to dig around a modge podge of stuff to find what we need. The empty containers I don't need yet are stored in the third bin and are also available for craft projects, like the Tips and Fines jars pictured in this blog.

This shelf unit took me less than $50 (all boxes and bins were from Wal-mart, by the way) and maybe an hour of my time. Granted, my supplies were already stored in re-purposed jars and I've had the shelf for years which saved me both time and money. To me, that was $50 very well spent. The art supplies are still easily accessible and now it looks nice. You too may already have just what you need to get organized.

Happy Friday!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What's a Mud Closet?

I know, two posts in one day! What is the world coming to? But I owe you some posts and today is make-up day. Some folks follow only my Sunday treats while some only look for my cool tips and tricks. I felt it was unfair to please only one group. If you are a faithful follower who reads both, I hope you don't get bored!

A month or so ago, I saw an "I Did It!" column in Better Homes and Gardens where a mom turned her coat closet into a "mini mud room." She put in a bench and shelf. Under the bench, each kid had a bin for shoes. On the shelf, each kid had a bin for hats and gloves. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the brilliant beyond brilliant solution to our laundry room coat closet. Let me paint you a picture...

Imagine if you will a typically sized laundry room. Not one of those gigantic magazine layout laundry room / mud room / whatever room that could fit the whole family plus the dog plus a 9 foot grand piano. I'm talking about a regular, normal people's house, laundry room. The kind where the washer and dryer (and one cabinet - if you're lucky) are on one side and a blank wall on the other where the family traipses out in single file to enter the garage. That is my laundry room. However, the builders of my lovely home decided that they needed to add a second coat closet in this tiny "room." (The other, smaller coat closet is in the living room just inside the front door.)

This closet, in the laundry room, was built over the stairs to the basement. Thus, it has no floor. Well, it has a floor. Set at a 45 degree angle. Not super useful to have a closet without a usable floor. The real issue though, was the doors. Now, if you're paying attention, you should have counted two doors. The big, heavy, metal door to the garage and the closet door. That open into each other, by the way. We lived here less than a month when we dented the garage door with the handle to the closet door since they were both opened simultaneously. (I was inside getting into the closet, my husband was outside trying to come in.) But what you haven't heard about is the door separating the laundry room from the kitchen. I love that door. It closes off the sound when the machines are going and it's a nice place to stash mess when unexpected guests arrive. However, that door ALSO opens into the laundry room. So you end up with a regular sized laundry room with 3 doors that all open into the same space.

To top that off, I had this mirror with hooks thing that hung behind the door to the kitchen for the kids to hang their coats. Thus, that door never really opened all the way. So, small space. Lots of doors. Cramped, cramped, cramped.

Our "Mud Closet" After Picture
So when I saw the closet transformation in the magazine, I knew this was for us and off the closet door came! It took a little longer to complete than our typical projects mostly because of the painting and staining and the extended dry time due to our sudden onslaught of cold weather. Since it was a closet, it had not been painted so we had to paint the walls to match the laundry room. Thankfully, we had the leftover paint left by the builder. (I also painted the ceiling, because it's a closet, so why not?) We also decided to make the bench and shelf out of 2x4's and 2x6's to look like spa benches. Those were stained in the same color as the molding, also left by the builder.

After Pic of the Bench and Floor
The tricky part was dealing with the sloped floor. We discussed just painting it. Blah. We thought about putting a barrier at the base of the slope so it would become a bin. Also blah. So then we thought, make it look like the floor. That way your eye doesn't see the slope. So while, my mom and I were off getting my hair cut, my husband and father worked their magic and covered that slope with wood planks, also left by the builder. Thanks builder guy!

I have since added hooks for the kids coats, bins on the shelf for their hats/gloves/scarves, and a cool drink bucket (found on clearance at Target) to throw shoes in.

I am super excited about what we affectionately refer to as our "mud closet." The only sad part is the retirement of "the system." Our former method of shoe/hat/glove/scarf organization has now been replaced with a pretty cool bucket, some awesome bins, and another (lame) basket in the other closet for my stuff. The true test is whether or not shoes actually make it into the bucket...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Vacuum Your Fridge

It's been over a week since I have blogged. And like everything else in my tiny, little universe, I am blaming the broken fridge. For almost four days, that broken fridge was an excuse to eat out, skip bringing food for coffee hour (only because I knew my rockin' SS class would more than provide), and apparently, blog.

Last Friday, when I should have been bringing you the latest and greatest in organization or child-rearing secrets, I was moving all of our fridge contents into the freezer or ice chests while simultaneously plugging in the garage fridge (crossing my fingers that it would stay cold at night) and phoning Whirlpool as the fridge is still under warranty. That completely messed up our PJ Friday and thus, the blogging routine. Then on Monday, when I should have been sharing a fantastically delicious Sunday treat, I was instead waiting for the fridge repair guy. Sadly, there was no treat to share as the lack of a fridge means the absence of eggs. And as I am sure you know, cupcakes don't really do so well without eggs.

Thus, it is now Thursday. An odd day for me to blog, I know. And I have no amazing tips to give you. Instead, I am going to tell you what I learned from our broken fridge incident.

It is essential that you clean UNDER your fridge. All you do is pop off the vent cover, stick your shop vac attachment under there, and vacuum away! The repair guy said at least every six months, but with the amount of ice behind that secret panel in the freezer, I think we will be adding that to the weekly vacuuming chore.

Once upon a time, refrigerators were made with the coils on the back. Now, I knew that you were supposed to vacuum those coils every once in a while to keep the dust off so that the air can circulate better. Because optimum air circulation is essential for a fridge to work properly. But these days, those pesky little coils are located under the fridge on most models. They are known as fully encased systems, or something like that. According to my fridge guy, Tony, this is not great for three reasons:

1. Those coils get less air flow under your fridge.
2. More dirt, dust, crumbs, and grossness occur under your fridge.
3. Way harder to clean.

I will come clean and say that I have NEVER cleaned the coils of any refrigerator. EVER. I knew you were supposed to, but never bothered since I never experienced an issue. (When I told him Tony's advice, my sweet husband thought that vacuuming the fridge was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.) But I assure you, we will be doing so now. I can't remember all the technical stuff that Tony told me, but basically, those things get dirty and it restricts airflow. When that happens, coolant (or something) gets dumped into the mechanism located in the freezer. When that stuff freezes, it prevents airflow to the fridge part. So your freezer keeps on truckin' while the fridge gets warm and your milk goes bad. And I can't even describe the amount of ice that was completely taking over behind that little panel. It took Tony over 30 minutes to melt it with a heat gun. It then took all night to get the fridge back to the optimal cooling temperature of 35-38 degrees Fahrenheit. (We put a thermometer in the fridge to ensure it was indeed getting colder.)

But we once again have a working fridge. I hope to make some fantastic Super Bowl inspired treats for my super cool band peeps this weekend. And homemade chicken tacos and guacamole on Tuesday night tasted like the best meal we had eaten, probably ever.

So to save you the headache, my tips for preventing this in your house:

1.  Vacuum under/behind your fridge at least every six months. Or how about when you change your air filter? Or smoke detector batteries? I'm all about bulking the home maintenance stuff into the same day. Makes it easier to remember those rarely thought about chores.

2.  You know how, when you were looking for something to eat, your mom always told you, "It's not a TV. Shut the door!"? Yeah, she was right. I can attest to the drastic change in temperature after simply keeping the door open for one minute to pour a glass of milk. Since we left the thermometer in the fridge for about 24 hours to ensure it was working, we got to see the massive temperature fluctuations caused by leaving the door open. We're talking 3-5 degrees, well into the "danger zone." Then your fridge has to work harder, and that can't ever be a good thing.

3. If you think your fridge feels warmer, it probably is. We let it go for almost a week before we were convinced that it really wasn't working. Trust your instincts, people.

4. Tony advises that you obtain an extended warranty or service plan on only three appliance: your dishwasher, washing machine, and refrigerator.

We're thinking about it; how 'bout you?