Tag Archives: Housekeeping

Eco-Saturday: Clean your refrigerator coils

Several weeks ago, I picked up a special brush designed to clean the coils on a refrigerator.

I don’t know how big a difference this really makes — I’ve read articles saying it’s a miracle move that will increase your refrigerator’s efficiency by umpteen percent and/or keep it from burning your house down and killing you, and I’ve read articles saying it’s a total waste of time that won’t make any difference at all. The EPA says it’s a good idea, at least for older models, so I gave it a shot.

Couldn’t hurt. Might help. Either way, it was a good excuse to buy a pointy brush suitable for retrieving the wayward cat toys and dog biscuits that seem to find their way into otherwise unreachable locations.

Pointy brush. If I'd had one of these when Scout was a puppy, we  wouldn't have lost so many kibbles under the stove.
Pointy brush. If I’d had one of these when Scout was a puppy, we wouldn’t have lost so many kibbles under the stove.

The hardest part of the whole project was cleaning off the top of the fridge so I could pull it out from the wall without knocking anything off. (You probably don’t want to know what’s up there.)

I couldn’t remember whether the coils were on the back or the bottom of our refrigerator, so I started by running the brush underneath it just to be sure. No coils, but I extracted an impressive quantity of dust, dog hair, and cat kibbles. Bleah.

Once I’d cleaned underneath, I pulled the refrigerator out from the wall, got on a stepstool, and ran the brush down the back to clean both sides of the coils.

Not the greatest shot, because I was working at an awkward angle, but here are the coils.
Not the greatest shot, because I was working at an awkward angle, but here are the coils.

They weren’t terribly dirty, but cleaning them wasn’t terribly hard, either, so I’ll file this one under “probably worth the effort.” Our refrigerator is less than three years old, but if yours is an older model, I’d upgrade that assessment from “probably” to “definitely.” At worst, you’ll have a cleaner kitchen.


Tiny Tuesday: IKEA shoe bin

As always, product reviews are provided as a service to readers. Nobody gave me any money or free products or anything like that. But if somebody would like to give me free stuff to review, I’d certainly entertain offers to that effect.

As I mentioned last week, we made an IKEA run a couple of weekends ago, and I picked up a bunch of stuff that looked handy. One of the things I was really excited about buying was a set of plastic shoe-storage bins I’d inexplicably passed up on a couple of previous trips.

I’d been storing some of the stuff I use outdoors in a peach box on top of a small plant stand near the back door in the kitchen, with several other items stashed in a wall-mounted flowerpot I’d picked up at Target a couple of years ago. That setup was convenient, but it was starting to look pretty cluttered, so I decided I’d buy a set of those shoe bins and hang them on the wall below the planter.

That would have worked fine if the measurements had been clearer, but they weren’t, and I didn’t have a tape measure with me, so I ended up with a nice set of wall-mounted bins that wouldn’t fit on the wall I had in mind.

No matter; I’ve been on a hang-stuff-off-the-sides-of-the-cabinets kick lately, so I decided to move the plant stand out to the front porch and attached one of the bins to the side of the cabinet, where it now stores an assortment of gloves, tools, mosquito dunks, beekeeping equipment, and various other items.

Everything in this corner is hanging up because I can't set anything on the floor without blocking the heat register.
Everything in this corner is hanging up because I can’t set anything on the floor without blocking the heat register.
For a relatively shallow bin, this thing really stores a lot of stuff.
For a relatively shallow bin, this thing really stores a lot of stuff.
From this angle, the single bin has sort of a toilet-tank aesthetic, but it looks better in real life.
From this angle, the single bin has sort of a toilet-tank aesthetic, but it looks better in real life.

The other two bins went to live in the bedroom, where they’re currently storing socks and underwear, although I’m thinking of moving them to the office and hanging them above Song’s crate to store leashes and stuff instead.

They’re plastic, and you’re not going to fool anybody into thinking they’re not plastic, but they’re handy, relatively cheap ($40 for a set of three), and look a lot better than having a lot of small items out in the open, cluttering up a table or shelf. I can think of several ways they’d work well in a tiny house. Highly recommended.


Tiny Tuesday: Magnetic knife block

FYI: We made an IKEA run last weekend, so my next three entries are probably going to be extolling the merits of my purchases. As always, I wasn’t paid anything or given any free products to endorse; if something is posted here, it’s because I tried it and liked it and thought somebody else might, too.

I think it might be illegal to pin a picture of a tiny house that does not include the obligatory magnetic knife bar mounted on the wall above the backsplash. They certainly show up regularly. I usually ignore them, because as much as I love saving space, I am completely unwilling to get rid of the freestanding knife block Ron bought me a few years ago:

Ron bought this for me shortly after I was hired as a crime reporter for the paper here. Don't act like you're not jealous.
Ron bought this for me shortly after I was hired as a crime reporter for the paper here. Don’t act like you’re not jealous.

While I was at IKEA in St. Louis last Friday, however, I noticed they’d dropped the price of their magnetic knife bars to $9, and I decided one of them might be perfect for all the awkwardly shaped or oversized kitchen tools I couldn’t quite fit on the back of the cabinet the other day.

It was, indeed, perfect. All of my big spoons are now out where I can reach them easily, and I’ve saved a little space in the cabinet drawers and on the counter.

Very handy, very easy to install, and highly recommended. Mine happens to be an IKEA product, but in looking online, I found everybody from Target to Williams-Sonoma seems to carry them, in prices ranging from $5 all the way up to $50. I can’t imagine there’d be much difference among manufacturers — there are only so many ways you can put magnets in a metal case and hang them on a wall, right? — but it’s probably worth reading reviews before you order, just to be sure.


Make-It Monday: Cheap cabinet storage

I couldn’t decide whether this was a Make-It Monday entry or a Tiny Tuesday entry. The two often overlap, as many of the things I make around here are meant to increase my storage or organize my stuff. This one is kind of a combination.

First, the “make it” part, which is pictured above: I got sick of looking for the lid to my big saucepan — which has a bad habit of hiding in the back of the cabinet when I need it — so I got online and found some storage ideas. This one wasn’t the prettiest, but it was cheap and practical, and I knew I had a package of tiny screw eyes in the junk drawer and a roll of wire in my craft closet, so I grabbed the drill and rigged up an easy way to keep track of that lid.

While I was thinking about the unused space on the back of the cabinet, my eye fell on the small graniteware stockpot I’ve been using to store cooking utensils since we moved to Cape almost four years ago.

I really could have used that stockpot a few times last winter, but it was busy storing utensils on the countertop — handy but not really the highest and best use for the space or the stockpot.

I went back to the junk drawer and rustled up a handful of Command hooks, which I pressed into service holding measuring spoons and cups, kitchen shears, quail-egg scissors and any other odds and ends I could hang back there without hitting the shelf every time I closed the door.

Stick-on hooks aren't exactly a new concept, but I reclaimed some unused space by putting them inside a cabinet door above my jury-rigged pot-lid holder.
Stick-on hooks aren’t exactly a new concept, but I reclaimed some unused space by putting them inside a cabinet door above my jury-rigged pot-lid holder.

I stuck a couple more on the back of the door to the cabinet where I keep mugs and drinking glasses and hung up my tea infuser and bottle opener.

IKEA came through the other day with an elegant solution to the problem of oversized utensils that wouldn’t hang well on the cabinet door, but I’ll save that post for another day.


Sunday self-care: Everything in its place

I opened a folder in my photo archive the other night and saw something alarming.

I saw how I used to live.

When we moved from Belleville to Tulsa, I put away as much stuff as I could. Some of it fit in our new house. Some of it didn’t. I piled the excess in a spare room and promised myself I’d organize it eventually.

While I waited for “eventually,” I went about the business of living. I started projects with the intent of using up art supplies. I bought art supplies with the intent of starting projects. I subscribed to magazines I didn’t have time to read. I pursued new hobbies, accumulating equipment and materials each time. Clutter grew like kudzu over every flat surface in the house, and I just couldn’t seem to get ahead of it and stay there.

Looking at old photos, I cringe now, realizing even my occasional attempts at decluttering often ended up looking — well, cluttered. (Case in point: I once decided it would be more efficient to hang all my accessories on the wall above our bed. Just thinking about that wall gives me a headache.)

When we moved to Cape, we lost about 250 square feet, so before we moved, I halved our household inventory, and when we arrived, I unpacked everything and put it away immediately. This little bungalow, I decided, would be my laboratory for learning minimalism and test-driving storage methods ahead of our tiny-house retirement dream.

My life is neither more nor less stressful than it was during most of my time in Tulsa. But back then, I took at least a dozen road trips a year and had dinner out several times a week. I was never home if I could help it. Route 66 was my excuse, but looking back, I think I was trying to get away from the mess. Looking at the state of my house made me feel guilty, so I didn’t look.

Today, my house is generally uncluttered, and despite its diminutive size, it feels open and spacious. Cooking is easier. Cleaning is easier. Living is easier. Breathing is easier. I spend more time with my dogs and enjoy being at home. Decluttering has become one of my most valuable forms of self-care, because my mind and my home tend to sync up. If the house is cluttered, my thoughts are a jumble. If the house is neat, it’s easier to find a peaceful space in my mind.

I needed that peace more than I realized.


P.S.: If you need to declutter but aren’t sure where to start, I highly recommend Flylady.net. She’s got some great tools for establishing good habits without getting overwhelmed.

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:

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

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.


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.


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.)


Make-It Monday: Easy shower scrubber


Here’s a cheap, easy timesaver for you, gleaned from one of those Pinterest-clickbait listicles. I’m not sure where the idea originated, as several variants on it have been making the rounds for a while, but the upshot is that you fill a dish wand with soap and vinegar, hang it in your shower, and use it to wipe down the walls and fixtures after you shower, thus keeping soap scum at bay and obviating the necessity of scrubbing.

You will need:
Hook you can hang in or just above your shower
Dish wand
Dishwashing liquid

Install the hook. (Protip: Command hooks are worthless for this. I want to love them, but I’ve never had any luck getting the adhesive to work in humid conditions, and the inside of a shower is about as humid as it gets.)

Fill the dish-wand reservoir halfway with dishwashing liquid. Most of the Pinterest versions of this will specify Dawn, as if it has magical properties, but the brand really isn’t important. I think we used Costco’s eco-friendly store brand, but whatever you have on hand is fine.

Fill the reservoir the rest of the way with vinegar (either apple-cider vinegar or plain distilled will work), screw the cap on, and shake it up.

Hang the dish wand from the hook. Before you step out of the shower each morning, give the dish wand a good shake and use it to wipe down the inside of the shower while it’s wet. Takes about 30 seconds and knocks down the soap residue before it has a chance to dry and leave a film on everything in the shower. Not bad for something that costs less than $5 and takes maybe 5 minutes to throw together.


Tiny Tuesday: Broom and mop storage

This is such a simple thing, I’m not even sure it deserves its own entry, but it has come in really handy, so I’ll post it anyway.

I got tired of knocking over brooms and mops every time I pulled the stepstool out of its spot next to the refrigerator, so I got online and found myself a nice wall-mounted storage rack to take advantage of an unused space next to the basement steps.

Any time I can get some benefit out of an unused space, I'm calling that a win.
Any time I can get some benefit out of an unused space, I’m calling that a win.

The model I bought cost about $15 and has pull-down plastic hooks between the broom-storage brackets, making it perfect for storing my broom, dust mop, sponge mop, dustpan, watering can and plastic-bag dispenser. It’s out of sight, easily accessible, and makes use of a previously dormant space — all essential in tiny-house planning, and very helpful even in our house, which is about twice the size of most tiny houses.

I can’t remember what brand mine, is but it’s very similar to this one. I highly recommend one if you’ve got an out-of-the-way spot to hang it.