Trouble Spots: Refrigerator

My former boss used to say that “work expands to the time allowed”, meaning that however long you have to complete a task is how long it will take you.  As is true with most of his mantras, I have found this concept to be true – and applicable to more than just work.  One example being refrigerators.  Food will expand to the space available in your fridge.  Think about it.  Have you ever seen a fridge that had large, empty space?  I haven’t.  And while I’ve come close, I’ve also never seen a fridge that couldn’t be shut because it was too full.  Whatever space we have, gets filled.  Bottom line.

That being said, when we were remodeling our kitchen and searching for a fridge, I started with the biggest models and worked my way down.  We had the advantage of working with a blank slate, meaning that we didn’t have a pre-determined space in which it had to fit.  That was pretty awesome.  We have the Kenmore Elite 29.8 cubic foot (!!!!) French Door refrigerator.  I fell in love with it when I saw it on the showroom floor.  My husband looked at the price tag and then told me to keep walking.  We ended up in the clearance section where we spotted the same fridge that had been returned to the store because it had numerous dings on the front.  Josh and I talked about it and decided that sacrificing the aesthetics of a non-dinged fridge to get the size and features we were looking for at a fraction of the cost was worth it.

We love it.  I see the dings every day and think “I don’t care.  I love the inside too much to care about the outside.”

And I fill all 29.8 cubic feet.  Looking at it empty on a showroom floor, I never thought I would.  But I do.  Every week.

A few weeks ago, it got to the point where I was approaching not being able to shut the doors, which meant that it was time to pull everything out and do some re-evaluating of where stuff went.

How to Organize your fridge - maximizingdaysblog.com

I found this infographic on Pinterest a few years ago and, generally, try to stick to these principles when deciding where items will go in our fridge.

How to Organize your fridge - maximizingdaysblog.com

My problem didn’t originate with throwing stuff in there haphazardly. What got me in trouble was not using the (plentiful) space I had well, which led to haphardly stuffing things in there because I didn’t have a better spot for them.

How to Organize your fridge - maximizingdaysblog.com

This was the whole sad state of affairs

How to Organize your fridge - maximizingdaysblog.com

Some fridges are made to fit gallons of milk perfectly in the doors, but that is one of the warmest spaces in the fridge, which can cause milk to spoil easily.  Also, the shelves on the inside of the refrigerator doors serve as built-in containers and, from an organizing standpoint, are the perfect way to corral small items such as dressings and condiments.  Milk isn’t any harder to grab from the inside of the fridge than it is out of the door, but you can’t say that about a bottle of ketchup.

I also didn’t need to do anything with the meat and cheese drawer.  You can see how that’s organized here.

I knew that I wasn’t going to dramatically change what was in the crisper drawers or the doors, so I emptied the rest of the fridge and cleaned it out.  That is a LOT of space.  How was that ever full?!

How to Organize your fridge - maximizingdaysblog.com

Then, it was just a matter of figuring out what worked (Milk on the lower shelf, leftovers on the top, yogurt in the middle) and what didn’t (overfull fruit & veggie drawers, not fully utilizing top shelf space & containers).

When it was all said and done – Ta Da!

How to Organize your fridge - maximizingdaysblog.com

 

How to Organize your fridge - maximizingdaysblog.com

Here’s what I did that made such a big difference:

  1. I had way more fruits and vegetables than I had space for in the two crisper drawers.  I used to cut up fruits and veggies when I got home from the grocery store, but had got out of the habit. Any of those that needed cutting up or were good grab and go snacks got put in containers in the new fruits & veggies section.  I cannot say enough about the value of uniform containers in maximizing fridge space.  It allows them to stack easily, which utilizes the vertical space you have.  For any food that doesn’t get reheated, we use these plastic containers.  Now the drawers have fruits that don’t need anything done to them (i.e. blueberries) or are surplus and vegetables that are for supper and will be prepped when I make that meal.  We are so much more apt to grab a container from this shelf and snack on these than we are to open a drawer, pull out a veggie, cut or peel it and then  eat it.  It’s really quite lazy, but it’s true.
  2. Extras that didn’t need to be accessed, such as eggs and yogurt, got put in the very back.  This is how you utilize the depth of the fridge.  Don’t put stuff back there that you need to get to, but use it as surplus storage.
  3. The miscellaneous dairy products that were only using half of a bin, but an entire shelf got redistributed to spots that fit their containers.  I pulled a fridge bin that I had in storage out and it now holds any dairy products that were too wide for the shelves in the door.
  4. Individual yogurts got put in the bin where they are now corralled.
  5. I took care of stuff that needed to be taken care of.  The chicken breasts got put in freezer bags and put in our deep freezer.  Old leftovers were tossed.  Leftovers that were in containers that weren’t ours got taken out and put in our containers so that they stacked nicely to maximize that space.  We use these glass containers for our leftovers and cannot say enough about them.

How to Organize your fridge - maximizingdaysblog.com

None of these are huge tasks.  None of it required an organizing degree (if there were such a thing…..).  Nothing needed to be purchased.  The entire project took me less than thirty minutes, and the payoff was huge.

How to Organize your fridge - maximizingdaysblog.com

What do you find is the hardest part about keeping order in your fridge?

Trouble Spots: Under the Kitchen Sink

A couple weeks ago, my sister-in-law texted me a picture of Mrs. Meyers Vinegar Gel and asked me if I had used it before.  I use my Norwex rags for almost all of my cleaning, but if I use a cleaning product, it is almost exclusively Mrs. Meyers., which was why my SIL asked me about it.  I told her that I hadn’t ever seen it or used it.

She then proceeded to ask me if I ever used vinegar to clean and what I used for certain cleaning tasks.  I told her that I’ve been meaning to use vinegar for a long time, but have never actually done it.  At this point, I got lazy and didn’t want to text a list  of what I use for each task, so I decided to take a video of under my kitchen sink where my cleaning supplies are housed.

Disclaimer: This is, in no way, a professional video.  I thought that my SIL would be the only person to see it, but once it was done, I decided that I had to show it to you to prove a point.

I am very intentional about not accumulating things, not buying stuff we don’t need, getting rid of things we don’t use – and this still happens.  ALL THE TIME.  It’s a good reminder that organizing and minimizing and decluttering is an on-going project.  And that no one does it perfectly.

As you can see from the video, we don’t have a lot of cleaning products, but what we do have makes up the majority of what we keep under our kitchen sink.  I consider this space to be “unfinished” in that I would still like to do more to leverage some of the vertical space that is currently unused.  But, for now, it works for us, so I don’t have a lot of urgency in crossing that task off of my eternally long to-do list.

What do you put there?

What makes this space a trouble spot for everyone is that the plumbing makes it awkward.  It’s tall and deep, but the pipes through the middle of it and gigantic garbage disposal make it hard to leverage those two assets.  As you can see, we use this space for dishwasher pods (our dishwasher is adjacent to this cabinet), Cleaning supplies & dish rags.  The majority of what is housed in this space is used in close proximity to here.  The exception being the Mrs. Meyers Vinegar Gel.  🙂

Where do you start?

The best way to maximize this space is to locate where you have the biggest chunk(s) of open space.  In the case of our cabinet, it is between the wall & disposal and between the pipe and wall.  These are unobstructed rectangles, which is storage perfection.

I bought this two-tiered drawer organizer (similar) knowing that I’d use it in this space, but not sure what I’d put in there.  It fits perfectly between the pipe and the wall.  I couldn’t put the drawers up against the wall because I needed to be able to pull them out and the cabinet door is in the way, so it sits in an inch or two in.  Our most used supplies, dish soap, cleaning wipes and sponges, are housed in the front of the top drawer.  The back of the top drawer holds our other less-used cleaning supplies.

The bottom drawer is the perfect spot for dish rags.  One of my favorite features of this particular organizer are the adjustable dividers which allow you to use every inch of each drawer.

After putting the drawers in, I moved over to the other big chunk of space and looked to see what the next tallest item is.  At least six years ago, a friend moved out of his house and had Swiffer wet mop and dry mop refills that he wouldn’t use.  I took them thinking that I could find a use for them.  You can see how that went.  The wet mop pads are used more than the dry, so they served as a step stool for the dishwasher pods, which are accessed daily.  The dry mop refills are all the way in the back.  I don’t know why…. As I’m typing this, I’m thinking that I should just throw them.  Six years, people.  It’s been six years and one of the boxes remains unopened.

What about the pipes?

Think of maximizing this space like doing a puzzle.  Match the spaces you have with the items that need to go in there.  Originally, I had put our dish drying mat between the drawers & wall, but it was awkward reaching around the side of the drawers to pull it out and it almost always got stuck on the cabinet door hinges.  The pipe that runs almost all of the way to the bottom of the cabinet created the perfect wall on the other side of the drawers to hold the mat.  This would be otherwise wasted space, so getting that to fit made me feel like I hit the jackpot.

I put lemons in my disposal at least once a week, so I threw those in a Rubbermaid leftover container and put them at the front of the cabinet.

At this point, I took the random hodge lodge of what was left and put it in a shoebox container, which fit between the pipe & the mop pads.  The trick to this part is that the disposal is low enough that nothing tall can fit in the back of the container.  We have a plastic bag holder attached to the cabinet door that, when shut, takes up space at the front of the cabinet, so the shoebox had to sit back a little bit.  This took some maneauvering of what went where and it’s not pretty, but everything is easily accessible.  And, most importantly, what needs to be accessed most is very easily accessible.

 

I considered getting rid of one of the bottles of vinegar, but didn’t pull the trigger.  Do you clean with vinegar?  What do you clean with it?  How do you use it?

Spring Cleaning The Coat Closet

One of my favorite times of year is the day when I get to pack away all of our winter gear.  Winter is just sooooo loooooong in Minnesota and all of the boots, parkas, hats and mittens take up a lot of space.  So, the reality of not having to add a thick layer to three people in order to get out the door is cause for me to throw a party.  And for me, that party is taking all of the stuff and packing it away in an unreachable spot for five months (fingers crossed, knock on wood, my lips to God’s ears, and whatever else it take to make that true).

Taking all of this stuff out of the closet is the perfect time to clean out the closet and re-organize it.  Here’s the state of the closet when I started:

Before spring cleaning

It’s a hot mess.  Coats and boots shoved in a space that’s too small, toys in a location that’s too high to reach, bags falling off of shelves.  It’s not ideal, to say the least.

Before spring cleaning

 

Before spring cleaning

This closet is meant to be a coat closet, but we don’t have any other storage on this level other than bedroom closets, so it serves multiple purposes.  There is some kitchen storage overflow (the kitchen is adjacent to this closet) along with some of the kids craft supplies that they use at the kitchen counter.

I started the process by emptying the entire closet’s contents.  Winter gear got brought to our basement storage, garbage got trashed and piles were re-organized.  I took the opportunity to clean the floors and shelves while it was empty.

Coat closet spring cleaning - take everything out, wipe down shelves and clean floors

Look at all of that promise.  So much space to fill.

I started by putting the shoe rack (with summer shoes moved to the top!) and spring coats back in.  We don’t currently have a junk drawer (that will come with the addition to our house), so that drawer organizer is housed in this closet.  I moved it to a shelf where the contents are at eye level so that I can find things more quickly when I need them.  Our bags, which are used on a daily basis, also snagged the prime real estate that is the center shelf.

My husband’s one request was that his shoes be on a shelf where he doesn’t have to reach high or low for them, so I worked around those parameters.  The bin with the kids’ hats and gloves stays in here until the end of May because #Minnesota, but I am counting down the days until I can take that gear to the basement.  The other bin includes outdoor summer stuff including umbrellas, sunscreen and our outdoor wireless speaker.

I don’t clean our floors as often as I should, so it wasn’t necessary that those supplies (housed in the diaper box) be easily accessible, which is why they landed on the top shelf.  My husband’s lunch box gets stored on the top shelf because he’s tall and can easily set it up there and get it down.

After spring cleaning

One request that I had when we moved into this house was that we put an outlet in the closet so that our cordless vacuum could be in an easily accessible spot where it could charge.  My husband is awesome and made that happen.

Coat Closet - After spring cleaning

Soon and very soon, most of these coats will find a new home.  I.can’t.wait.

After spring cleaning

The end product is a much less crowded and more efficient use of the space.

Spring cleaning coat closet organization

What is the hardest part about keeping this closet in your home organized?

Trouble Spots: Mail

I spoke at an event last month on the topic of decluttering and opened it up at the end for people to ask questions.  One of the ladies, who had heard me speak before and knew my answer, asked for me to explain what I do to avoid the dreaded mail clutter.  It was a reminder to me about the things that we all do every day that we don’t give a second thought, but that can be enlightening and helpful to others.

And since that was why this little blog party started, we’re talking about mail today.  And how not to let it overtake your life.  Or, at the very least, your kitchen counter.

Any organizing expert will tell you that the number one rule for dealing with mail is to only touch it once.  The idea being that action should be taken with each piece on the day that it is received.  Doing this is the game-changer when it comes to conquering mail clutter.

My husband brings the mail in when he gets home from work and sets it on our kitchen island.  It’s not an ideal spot, but we don’t have a “drop zone” and putting it in a high-traffic area reminds me to do something with it.  I know that train of thought doesn’t work for everyone, but piles that I see every time I walk by our kitchen are motivation enough for me to do something with it.  I understand that a lot of people see a pile and have the “I just don’t want or have the time to deal with it” mentality.  For those people, I say redefine what ‘deal with it’ means.  “Deal with it” doesn’t have to mean taking all required action, but it does mean becoming aware of the action it requires and setting a time to do just that.

STEP ONE: Open ALL of the mail the day that you get it.  Not just the fun stuff.  Don’t ignore the bill that you don’t want to see.  You have to open it at some point, so why procrastinate the inevitable?

STEP TWO: Make piles.  What piles you have are going to depend on the kind of mail you get, but generally speaking, you should have the following piles:
1) Garbage
2) Shred (we don’t do this.  I know, I know.  We’re in danger of identity theft.  I can hear my Grandfather’s voice in my head saying the same thing you’re thinking)
3) Catalogs & Magazines
4) Requires action (Bills, Forms, Surveys, etc.)

Let me say this about the garbage pile before we go on with what to do wth the piles.  What goes in this pile may seem obvious, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most of us keep more mail than we really need to.  Outer envelopes are the obvious culprits.  This pile should also include return envelopes in bills that you pay electronically or informative inserts in bills (read them and then throw them).  Additionally, the stuff that you think you need or are going to do something with, but if you’re honest, won’t come to fruition.  Distinguishing what these items are is a learned habit and that means that it takes time.  As you open each peace, ask yourself ‘Do I REALLY need this?’ and ‘Am I REALLY going to take the time to do what I want to or feel like I should do with this?’.  If the honest answer to either of these questions is no, pitch it.  Sounds harsh, but the long-term payoff is worth it.

STEP THREE: Put piles in their respective spots.  Garbage goes in the garbage.  Rocket science.  The shred pile either gets shredded or goes in a pre-determined shred pile (that isn’t on your counter).  Magazines go to a spot where you will see them and actually read them.  Since that’s the reason you subscribed in the first place.  Catalogs get thumbed through within the day and then thrown away.  If you like to keep them or aren’t able to look through them right away, put them with your magazines.  If the Magazine/Catalog pile is getting taller than your children, it’s probably time to rethink those subscriptions.  If you’re not reading them, you’re wasting subscription fees and paper having them delivered to your house.

The ‘Requires Action’ pile goes to a spot that is in proximity to where you set mail when you bring it in to be dealt with at a later time.  The proximity piece is important because, if you’re like me, you’re lazy and bringing a stack of papers all the way downstairs is a deterrent and means the stuff doesn’t get where it should go.

We have a black letter tray on a shelf in our Living Room.  This tray conceals the mess of piles or papers of various sizes.  It’s also the first place we look when we’re looking for something important.  It’s like our paperwork purgatory.  The stuff in there hasn’t had any action taken on it yet, but it’s in there because we need it for something.

STEP FOUR: Choose a frequency for dealing with the stuff that requires action.  My husband is paid weekly, so I pay bills weekly.  Because the majority of what’s in our mail tray has to do with bills, I go through the tray on Thursdays so that all of it sorted and ready to pay bills on Friday.  We haven’t entered the stage of child-rearing that requires signed forms on a daily basis, but if that’s you, you may need to go through this tray two or three times a week.

The reason this system works is because by dealing with mail on a daily basis, it doesn’t allow it to pile up to the point of overwhelming-ness and because by having a designated spot where your important stuff goes gives it a destination and a purpose.

Supper Ideas for 1 & 3 year-olds

For supper, the kids eat what we eat.  I do not make a meal for them and something else for my husband and me.  Partially because I think it’s important for them to try different foods and flavors, but, mostly, because I’m lazy and cooking one supper is enough work.  I’m not going to unnecessarily create more work for myself.  That, and I’m not a short-order cook.

For my husband’s sake, I try to have some variety in what we eat for supper.  However, this week, using up leftovers and what we had in our freezer took precedence.

Like with lunches, you won’t find a lot of variety with fruit this week.  We had a lot of pears that needed to be eaten before they went bad.  And my husband loves pears, so we have them for supper more often because we sometimes eat that meal with him.

MONDAY: (Leftover) Meatloaf, String Cheese/Cottage Cheese, Cucumbers/Sweet Potato pouch & Pears – We had a few leftover mini-meatloafs, and I needed something quick.  My son was still in the middle of his aversion to string cheese, so he got cottage cheese and he can’t chew raw cucumbers yet, so that’s why he got the sweet potato pouch.

 

TUESDAY: Taco Soup (Hamburger, Black beans, Chickpeas, Corn & Diced tomatoes), Tortilla chips & Apples – Neither of my children (or my husband, for that matter) are big soup fans.  But this one is hearty enough that I just scooped out the solid parts and didn’t give them any of the broth.  My daughter thought scooping it on her tortilla chips was a game, which was the only reason beans were consumed.

 

WEDNESDAY: Homemade pizza, Asian salad/Carrots & Pears – Homemade pizza is a weekly highlight event in our house.  Who knew that spreading sauce & sprinkling cheese on bread could be so entertaining?  We’ve started buying naan and using that for our crust.  It has lots of flavor and is the perfect size to make three pizzas.  Another weekly occurrence in our house is the consumption of this Asian salad.  Someone brought it to our Bible study a few months ago, and it’s a staple on our weekly menu.  My daughter loves it and my son won’t touch it.

 

THURSDAY: Grilled Chicken Burrito Bowls (Quinoa, Grilled chicken, Black beans, Corn, Cheese & Avocado salsa) & Pears – When I make meals like this where there are lots of parts meant to be mixed together, I put the things on the plate that I know my children like; and maybe something they don’t like but that I want them to try again or am hopeful that they will consume in the name of nutrition.  My son got quinoa, grilled chicken, black beans, corn & cheddar cheese.  He refused the quinoa.  That was predictable.  My daughter detests black beans, but would eat the avocados even if they were touching tomatoes and onions, so she got some of the avocado salsa.

 

FRIDAY: BLT’s & Pears – Neither of my children love bacon, so they got the BLT ingredients minus the bacon.  I put turkey and avocado on my BLT, so for their plates, I subbed turkey for bacon.

 

SATURDAY: Bacon, Egg & Cheese sandwich & Strawberries – At least once a week, we have breakfast for supper.  This is one of my favorites.  For my son, he got an english muffin, scrambled eggs & cheese along with hash browns and strawberries.  My daughter wanted a sandwich like Mom & Dad, so she got the same thing as my son, but in an assembled sandwich.

 

SUNDAY: Shrimp Pesto Pasta, Carrots & Garlic bread – What kid doesn’t love pasta?  For both of my kids, if you throw some pesto, parmesan cheese and a meat on there, it makes it even better.  This meal is almost as easy to make as it is delicious, and every time we have it, I think “I should make this more”.  My children’s empty plates are confirmation of that sentiment.

 

Obviously, there are foods that my children refuse to eat.  Because they are both pretty good eaters, it isn’t too hard to stay away from those foods.  If the supper that I’m making includes one of those (i.e. black beans for my daughter), it goes on their plate anyway and they make the decision if they want to eat it.  Our rule is that you don’t get anymore of a food until you’ve eaten everything on your plate.  If it’s worth it to them to get more of something they love (which is almost always fruit or garlic bread), they eat what they don’t like.  Or they don’t and there’s more food at the next meal.

I don’t fight with my kids over food.  They decide if they want to eat what’s on their plate.  If they do, they may have more of whatever we’re having, or they may choose from a list of “snacks” (yogurt, cheese stick, Larabar, veggies & hummus, rice cake, or crackers).  If not, they’re finished until the next meal.  Even my 18-month old son understands this.  He’s stubborn, so there are times where he points and screams at the cupboard because he wants something in there, but I just calmly repeat that he can choose to be all finished or he can eat what’s on his plate.  Almost always, he finishes his plate.  When his stubbornness gets the best of him, he signs “all-finished” and I get him out of his high chair.  Half of the time, it ends there and he goes and plays.  The other half of the time he sits at my feet or stands in front of the cupboard and screams for an indeterminate amount of time.

In case you wanted an insight into our parenting philosophy.  🙂