Category Archives: Housekeeping

Tiny Tuesday: Kitchen-sink organizer

When I started washing dishes by hand last winter, I discovered another storage need and another example of wasted space in my kitchen.

Dishwashing tools — rags, scrubbers, Scotch-Brite pads, rubber gloves and the like — are fairly ugly and tend to clutter up the area between the faucet and the backsplash.

Fortunately, thanks to the positioning of the window and cabinets in my kitchen, I had a big, empty vertical space to the left of my sink, so last winter, I rigged up a storage caddy from a small metal sign, some magnetic clips, and a dollar-store basket.

It wasn’t pretty, and the magnets occasionally slipped if I put something too heavy in the basket, but it kept my tools handy, and I decided it was probably worth my effort to construct a more permanent setup.

Here is what I came up with:

Cheap and handy.
Cheap and handy.

And here is how to make it:

Materials
Cheap Masonite clipboard
Clothespins
Two Command hooks or similar product
Small, narrow plastic storage basket
Gel-type super glue
Lacquer
Sturdy cup hook
Paint and/or paintmarkers (optional)

Instructions
Decorate the clipboard to suit your tastes. (I doodled a sort of faux-mid-century pattern on mine, but I’m not wild about how it turned out and will probably paint over it at some point.)

Super-glue the clothespins to the clipboard. Arrange them at whatever height and spacing seem convenient based on what you’re planning to hang up there.

Super-glue the Command hooks to the clipboard about two inches from the bottom and as close to the edges as possible based on the spacing of the holes in your basket. (I put the hooks on the basket and then laid the whole thing on the clipboard to figure out the spacing.) If you can find very small screws that won’t go all the way through the clipboard, you can use them to reinforce it, but I didn’t have anything that small on hand, so we’ll have to see how the glue works by itself.

Work in progress.
Work in progress.

Seal the board with lacquer on both sides, making sure to coat the edges so the Masonite won’t get too wet and start to deteriorate.

After the lacquer dries, use the cup hook to hang the clipboard from the side of the cabinet, hang the basket from the Command hooks, and you’re good to go.

Clutter corralled.
Clutter corralled.

I like this little organizer because it’s cheap, easy to make, and corrals all my dishwashing tools in a convenient spot while reclaiming some previously unused vertical space.

Emily

Make-It Monday: Pet-hair squeegee

A few weeks ago, I posted a trick I’d found on Pinterest for removing pet hair from furniture using rubber gloves. It worked beautifully, but I needed something a little faster for treating floors. Enter another Pinterest idea: a squeegee.

Normally, we associate squeegees with cleaning windows, but the rubber blade that prevents streaks on glass also comes in handy for generating enough friction to grab dog or cat hair and pull it out of a carpet.

That pile of hair came out of a section of carpet that was maybe nine square feet. Ron had just run the vacuum two days earlier.
That pile of hair came out of a section of carpet that was maybe nine square feet. Ron had just run the vacuum two days earlier.

Our collie mix, Songdog, is one of the sweetest dogs on the entire planet. He is also one of the messiest, as he sheds constantly. I sweep the living room, and within the hour, I see another sable-colored hair tumbleweed or two sneaking under the couch. Song spends a lot of time in our home office. Ron vacuums in there every week, but the vacuum doesn’t pick up everything, and those guard hairs on Song’s back are just coarse and stiff enough to weave themselves into the carpet and stay there.

Ron ran the vacuum Thursday.

I tried the squeegee technique Saturday.

This is what it pulled out of the office carpet:

You could just about make a Pomeranian out of that.
You could just about make a Pomeranian out of that.

It took about 15 minutes of crawling around on my hands and knees, scraping the squeegee over the carpet by hand, to do the job, but the end result is a rug that looks (and is) much cleaner, and the blade fluffed up the yarn pretty nicely in the process.

I’m not likely to expend this much effort every weekend, but I’ll definitely use the squeegee before the next time I steam the carpets. Put this one down as another win for Pinterest.

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Reclaim a closet door

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I like to paint — especially murals. Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection of paint for these projects, and up to this point, I’d been storing it in boxes and plastic tubs on shelves in the closet. That’s not a bad approach, but it’s hard to find things when you’re looking down at the bottles from the top.

A few months ago, somebody on Pinterest suggested mounting IKEA spice racks to the back of a closet door and using them to store art supplies. It looked nice, but those little spice racks are pretty pricey, and with a hollow-core closet door, I’d have to use special hardware to mount all of them — an expensive and time-consuming proposition.

I considered scrounging up some cheap boards from the scrap-lumber bins at Menards and building a paint rack from scratch, but while I was looking for something else one day at Target, I discovered this little over-the-door wire pantry rack and sort of filed it away in the back of my mind.

The other night, I had some time on my hands and a few bucks to spare, so I bought one and installed it on the back of the closet door.

It wasn’t quite the panacea the instructions promised (I had to use a few extra screws to anchor it, and it took some dinking around with a pair of pliers to get the nuts and bolts at the top tightened properly), but it still came together fairly easily and took maybe half an hour to assemble and install. For $37, I can’t really complain.

I love being able to see my inventory at a glance.
I love being able to see my inventory at a glance.

I like the way it allowed me to capitalize on the unused space behind the door. I can’t set anything at the front of the closet, because I don’t want to block the shelves or make my storage drawers inaccessible. A door-mounted unit that swings out of the way as soon as I open the door is a handy way to gain a few more feet of shelf space without sacrificing accessibility.

If you buy one of these, I’d recommend picking up a package of flat-head sheet-metal screws to reinforce the vertical supports and keep them lying neatly against the door.

Emily

P.S.: As always, nobody paid me for this post or gave me any free stuff to review. Links are provided for convenience.

Make-It Monday: Second attempt to defog headlights

After my failed attempt to defog the headlights on the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcar a couple of weeks ago, my mom mentioned something she’d read on one of those Facebook clickbait posts that suggested spraying the headlight covers with bug repellent and simply wiping away the fog and scratches.

I’d heard of doing this, but the people who had tried it gave very mixed reviews. Some people swore by it. Some people said it did nothing. And several people said it produced nice results, but only on a very temporary basis, as the chemical softens the surface of the plastic, essentially melting away the scratches and leaving the lenses much more vulnerable to future damage.

Based on those reviews, I was reluctant to use that approach, but after the other methods failed, I figured I might was well give it a shot. If I didn’t do anything, I would have to buy new lenses. If it didn’t work, I would have to buy new lenses. If it worked, even temporarily, I might buy myself a few more weeks — perhaps even long enough to finish paying off that dead Subaru — before I had to sink money into replacements.

I really had nothing to lose, so I grabbed the bug spray and headed out to the driveway.

Y’all. Y’ALL. I have never seen anything like this in my life. I can’t decide whether this is beautiful or terrifying.

Here is one of the headlights before I started:

Have I mentioned how much I hate the black walnut tree next door?
Have I mentioned how much I hate the black walnut tree next door?

Here is one after I treated them with toothpaste, Scotch-Brite pads, olive oil and lemon juice, WD-40, and a sock stretched over a belt sander:

At least it's shiny again. Sort of.
At least it’s shiny again. Sort of.

And here they are after I sprayed them with bug repellent and wiped them off:

Almost new, and this has lasted over two weeks. The previous effort fogged up after the first rain.
Almost new, and this has lasted over two weeks. The previous effort fogged up after the first rain.

They’ve held up for at least two weeks, and I noticed as I was leaving work the other night that the reflection of my headlights in one of our office windows was MUCH brighter and clearer than it had been before I treated them.

There is no question the bug spray melts the plastic. You can feel it when you’re wiping it down. It’s sticky. There is absolutely no way I would recommend using this method on a car with a nice factory paint job, because if this stuff will melt plastic, there’s no telling what it will do to your clearcoat. And I’m not sure I ever wanted to know that the bug repellent I put on my arms to ward off mosquitoes is capable of dissolving hard plastic.

That said, if your headlights have gotten so foggy as to reduce your visibility at night, and you just need to keep them going long enough to save up a few bucks to replace them, this is a fast, cheap way to do it.

Protip: If I were concerned about my paint, I’d apply masking tape around the edges of the headlights, wipe the bug repellent on with a rag to eliminate the risk of overspray, and follow up with a quick trip through the car wash.

Emily

Make-It Monday: Free cord concealer

As part of my redecorating project this summer, I got rid of the rickety, cheap-looking vertical shelf that had been supporting my turntable and DVD player and replaced it with an open-front credenza fashioned from a storage-cube unit and a set of mid-century-style legs. I love the credenza — which looks sleek, provides a lot of storage, and goes well with the rest of the furniture — but because it’s much shorter than the shelf it replaced, the cords for the television and peripherals were visible, and they looked anything but sleek.

See that f'ugly mess?
See that f’ugly mess?

You can get fabric cases for cords, but they don’t always match the walls. I wanted something I could paint the exact same color as the wall. I looked at some of the rigid PVC cord hiders at the hardware store, but they seemed unduly expensive, and they were all designed to mount flat against the wall, which wouldn’t work well with our swivel-mounted TV. I needed something lighter and more flexible but still paintable.

Enter the humble wrapping-paper tube.

Cardboard tubes are big enough to hold several fairly thick cords, and they’re lightweight enough that you can cut them with scissors and fold or twist them as the situation warrants. Perhaps best of all, they’re free. Here’s how to turn one into a cord concealer in about 10 minutes.

Slit the tube.
Slit the tube.

1. Use scissors or a sharp knife to slit it all the way up one side and trim it to the length you need.

It's OK if it tears a little bit. That's why God made Scotch tape.
It’s OK if it tears a little bit. That’s why God made Scotch tape.

2. Use leftover wall paint to cover the entire outside of the tube, the ends, the edges of the slit, and a few inches up the inside. (Note: You do NOT need to be very neat about that inside part.)

That's a tomato-stake tie. Handiest stuff this side of duct tape.
That’s a tomato-stake tie. Handiest stuff this side of duct tape.

4. Bundle the cords together and use twist ties, Velcro strips, tape, or string to secure them in a couple of places.

Much neater.
Much neater.

5. Once the paint dries, slip the tube over the cords with the slit pointed toward the back. If necessary, secure it with a little transparent tape.

Free, easy, and it took me less than 15 minutes of actual work to create and install mine.

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Multitaskers

As we continue working toward our tiny-house dream, I find myself increasingly impatient with single-function products. My current house isn’t tiny, but it’s small, and I don’t like cluttering it up with fiftyleven different bodywashes, shampoos, cleaning solutions, scouring powders, stain lifters and assorted other one-trick-pony products.

Instead, when I go shopping, I look for multitaskers: products and tools I can use for at least two or three different purposes, thus reducing the amount of space I need to store them.

I’ll do a blog on appliances and tools at some point in the not-too-distant future, but in the interest of keeping this blog to a manageable length, today’s focus will be products. Here are five multipurpose products I keep on hand and highly recommend:

Cider vinegar is easily the most versatile product in my pantry.
Cider vinegar is easily the most versatile product in my pantry.

1. Cider vinegar. Without a doubt the most versatile chemical in my house. Cleans; disinfects; degreases; dissolves lime deposits; opens clogged drains; kills fruit flies; neutralizes odors; lifts stains; preserves foods; curdles cheese; leavens cake; dresses salads; preserves pickles; and serves a multitude of other purposes — all for about $3 a gallon. Get a big jug and a spray bottle and keep it handy for basically everything.

Vinegar's chemical opposite -- and its best dirt-fighting partner.
Vinegar’s chemical opposite — and its best dirt-fighting partner.

2. Baking soda. Leavens cookies; helps unclog drains; absorbs odors; smothers grease fires; soothes insect bites and stings; makes a handy scouring powder; and doubles as toothpaste in a pinch. Do NOT use it as carpet deodorizer if you have pets, however, as it can cause upper respiratory problems for them.

A must-have for a beekeeper. Ammonia neutralizes bee venom and reduces recovery time for stings.
A must-have for a beekeeper. Ammonia neutralizes bee venom and reduces recovery time for stings.

3. Ammonia. If you can clean it with ammonia, you can probably clean it with vinegar, but ammonia is a better glass cleaner; neutralizes acid-based odors (vomit, for instance); discourages ant infestations (spray the areas where you see them to neutralize the formic-acid scent trail they’re leaving for the rest of the colony); and perhaps best of all, if you soak a paper towel with ammonia and apply it to your skin immediately after being stung by a bee, it will neutralize the venom and thus reduce the effects of the sting. It’s not as safe as vinegar, however, so be sure to keep it out of reach of pets and children.

Nature's scouring powder.
Nature’s scouring powder.

4. Borax. Whitens clothes; draws stains out of carpets; kills bugs; teams with washing soda and Ivory soap to make laundry detergent; and makes a great scouring powder when baking soda isn’t quite enough.

This stuff is so versatile. Bonus: It smells like strawberries.
This stuff is so versatile. Bonus: It smells like strawberries.

5. All-in-one shampoo and conditioner. About 30 years ago — shortly after the first shampoo/conditioner combos hit the market — I read a magazine article about packing for vacations, and the author recommended traveling with them because they take up less space in a suitcase and stand in for shower gel, shaving cream, and moisturizer in a pinch. I use them all the time — not just during vacation — although I have to supplement with lotion and conditioner during the dry winter months. L’Oreal kids’ shampoo smells nice and fits neatly in my backpack.

What are your favorite multitaskers?

Emily

Make-It Monday: Rubber glove pet-hair removal

When I bought my Marshmallow couch a few weeks ago, my only real misgiving was Walter. The world is Walter’s obstacle course, and he spent most of his time lying on the back of our old couch, looking out the window or supervising the goings-on in the living room, so with visions of snagged leather dancing in my head, I set about trying to create a more suitable perch for him.

Forty bucks later, I came home with 10 lbs. of birdseed and a carpet-covered perch just the right height for him to use for birdwatching. I hung a birdfeeder from the front porch, removed the bubble wrap from the window to give him an unimpeded view, and set the perch next to the window.

He was wary at first, but once he figured out how to jump up on it, we couldn’t have kept him off of his perch if we’d wanted to.

This is Walter's favorite perch. He sits and watches the birds at the feeder on the porch.
This is Walter’s favorite perch. He sits and watches the birds at the feeder on the porch.

Now our only problem is cleaning the hair off the carpeted surface. This cat sheds like — well, a cat — and it takes four or five layers of lint-roller tape to clean a perch the size of a notebook.

I’m not fond of wasting disposable materials at that rate, so I got on Pinterest to see how other pet owners had worked around this problem.

Rubber gloves, as it turns out, are great for removing pet hair from furniture. Put them on, rub your hands over the upholstered surface, and the friction does the rest. Two minutes of that treatment on Walter’s perch, and I came up with this:

Gross. (And as usual, Songdog couldn't resist photobombing.)
Gross. (And as usual, Songdog couldn’t resist photobombing.)

Five minutes later, the whole perch — top, base and scratching post — was clean. File this one under “Pinterest win.” (Now I just have to find an equally effective means of getting the dog hair out of the office carpet. I’ll be testing a technique for that soon, too.)

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Space bags

I bought my first set of space bags at a drugstore about 17 years ago, when we lived in an apartment with limited storage, and I needed a compact way to store coats and sweaters during the summer.

The bags were huge, required a vacuum hose to use, and tore easily. They did, however, hold a lot of clothes and fit neatly under the bed, so I didn’t get too wound up about having to patch one and throw out another that tore while I was trying to figure out how to use them.

Space bags have come a long way in the last 17 years. I don’t recommend the off-brand, which are still awkward to use and prone to tear, but the Ziploc brand work fine, and the company has developed a second variety that I really like: travel space bags, which have a little one-way valve at the bottom that allows you to fill the bags about two-thirds of the way up, zip them shut, and then fold or roll down the top, pressing on the items inside to force out as much air as possible out through the valve at the bottom — no vacuum required.

Travel space bags are among my favorite tools for organizing small spaces.
Travel space bags are among my favorite tools for organizing small spaces.

They’re not quite as airtight and won’t flatten down quite as much as the ones that require a vacuum to use, but they’re great for vacation (I assume you don’t travel with a vacuum cleaner and hose attachments) and even better for storing my surplus T-shirts on the top shelf of our bedroom closet so I’ve got replacements on hand when one wears out or gets stained. If you’re creating a capsule wardrobe, they’re also a nice way to store items you aren’t quite ready to get rid of altogether but are pretty sure you don’t really need.

Space bags can be pricey, and the travel kind aren’t always available when I need them, but I found a cheap alternative in the food-storage aisle at Target: plain old 2.5-gallon Ziploc bags.

Big storage bags: the poor man's space bag.
Big storage bags: the poor man’s space bag.
Press down on the bag with one hand to keep the air out while you use your free hand to seal it. Or to take a picture of it. Whatever.
Press down on the bag with one hand to keep the air out while you use your free hand to seal it. Or to take a picture of it. Whatever.

Fill ’em halfway, zip ’em most of the way shut — leaving about a quarter-inch gap at the end for air to escape — and fold or roll ’em up, starting at the bottom and pressing out as much air as you can before you zip them the rest of the way shut. They don’t compress quite as much as space bags, but they’re cheap, hold several T-shirts, and work pretty well in a pinch to keep items organized in a relatively compact manner on a closet shelf or in a backpack.

Emily

Disclaimer: Ziploc didn’t give me anything to write this review. I just found these products handy and thought somebody else might, too. Nobody ever gives me anything to get me to blog about it. I’m not popular enough for that. Poop.

Tiny Tuesday: Capsule wardrobe

Most of what I do lately is done with my end goal — a tiny, off-grid house in northern New Mexico — in mind. (The longer this election cycle drags on, the more that idea appeals to me. Let me just vanish into the high desert and live in a way that obviates the necessity of interacting with other human beings altogether.)

Anyway. A tiny house, typically defined as 300 square feet or less, requires a certain commitment to minimalism. Items that make sense in 690 square feet won’t make sense in 300, so I’m constantly looking for downsizing opportunities.

One area I’ve downsized considerably is my wardrobe.

I’m not going to tell you how to choose the items that should go into a capsule wardrobe. There are plenty of resources online to help you with that; Project 333 is a good one to get you started. I will, however, point out some considerations that helped me make decisions as I downsized.

1. There are only seven days in a week, and I only work five of them. We do laundry once a week, so I really don’t need more than five outfits that are presentable for work and two that are suitable for whatever rough-and-tumble activities I choose to undertake on weekends. I try to keep a couple of spare work outfits on hand in case I spill something on myself (likely) and a couple of spare weekend outfits on hand in case I get sweaty or muddy or soaked with pond water (also likely). But I don’t have much beyond that.

2. I’m not willing to squander precious storage space on things I can’t wear, so anything stained, smelly, too big, too small, unflattering or damaged went out the door.

3. A couple of cardigans and a couple of hoodies take up less space than a closet full of bulky sweaters. My summer and winter wardrobes are virtually identical: black T-shirt and khakis for work; jeans and a T-shirt for weekends. Add a cardigan, hoodie or flannel on cold days, and I’m comfortable regardless of the season. I also have a couple of broomstick skirts, which store easily and work fine with a black T-shirt and cardigan for those rare instances when I need to dress up.

4. Comfort is king. I wear a pair of 16-year-old tan suede Birkenstock clogs at least 300 days a year. If it’s cold out, I wear them with socks. If I need to dress up, I wear a newer pair of charcoal wool Birkenstock clogs. I also have a pair of black Justin boots for snowy days; two pairs of running shoes (your risk of injury is lower if you rotate between pairs); and a pair of Dansko clogs I bought for a job interview one time and have worn maybe a half-dozen times since. That’s it. I’m not wasting closet space on uncomfortable heels or colorful shoes that only match one outfit.

I still have more clothes than I need, but not by much, and by keeping the inventory small, I can find things easily and don’t have to spend a lot of time figuring out what to wear. If you’re trying to save space, I highly recommend giving a capsule wardrobe a try.

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Shoe-hanger spice rack

shoespicerack

Living comfortably in a small house depends, to a great extent, on how efficiently you use all of your available space — including areas that in most houses are underused or overlooked altogether.

The back side of my basement door, which is right next to the refrigerator, was one of those underused areas. I considered custom-building a set of shelves to install on the back of it to hold jars of spices and boxes of tea, but then I remembered I’m lazy, so instead, I just went to the dollar store and bought a $6 over-the-door shoe rack.

If you’re willing to spend more, you can get similar racks with clear pockets so you can see what’s in them, but I wasn’t willing to spend an extra $5 to $10 for that feature, so I just labeled the pockets with a Sharpie, which works fine.

It’s not the prettiest storage system I’ve ever come up with, but it doesn’t need to be; it’s not as if we’re entertaining guests in our unfinished basement, and if we were, I’m sure they’d be too busy shuddering at the cave crickets under the stairs to pay any attention to the shoe rack full of spices hanging on the back of the door anyway.

Each pocket was designed to support the weight of a shoe, so keep that in mind when you’re figuring out what to store in there: Big plastic jars of spices are fine, but canned goods probably aren’t. That was fine with me, as I have a lot of spices in large containers, and sticking them in the pockets freed up shelf space for heavier items.

If you want something nicer, Pinterest has all kinds of plans for building custom door-mounted pantry shelves, but if you just want to reclaim some unused space without spending a lot of time or money, a dollar-store shoe rack will work perfectly well.

Emily