Tag Archives: Tiny Tuesday

Tiny Tuesday: Space-saving gifts

Last year, I ran into a bit of a challenge as Christmas approached. Earlier in the year, a new Five Below store had opened in town, and on my first visit, I’d found a plethora of items I was sure my niece would love. I bought several, wrapped them, and stacked them on a high shelf in the bedroom closet.

As the year progressed, I added to the pile: a Hastings run here, a trip to World Market there, with new additions being wrapped and placed on the shelf as they came in, until the pile started encroaching on the space bags full of extra linens, and I started running out of places to stash gifts where the dogs couldn’t unwrap them.

As I wedged an awkwardly wrapped plushie into the space between a Death Star tea infuser and a set of Batman pint glasses, I thought: When we build our tiny house, everybody’s getting a gift card, because I’m not going to have anywhere to store all this.

Then the tags started falling off the presents while I was trying to figure out which ones needed to go to whose house on Christmas, and in what order, and I decided I’d just make the switch this year instead of waiting until we move.

Look at all that space they aren't taking up!
Look at all that space they aren’t taking up!

Maaaaan. Gift cards aren’t a new concept, obviously, and I buy a few every year (ask my dad how many Barnes and Noble cards he’s gotten in the past decade), but doing the vast majority of my shopping this way? Major stress reducer. No wrapping. No storing large items. No chasing the cat out of the presents 583,742 times a day. All I have to do is buy a few Christmas cards, slip the gift cards into them, and file them so they don’t get lost in the next month.

Bonus: If the recipients have limited space, they can use their cards to buy small items or consumables, so their gifts won’t create storage issues for them, either.

If you’re too disorganized to keep track of a gift card, another good option is to treat your loved ones to dinner out. I did this for my little brother’s birthday this year, and it was great: We got a nice visit, he got a meal he liked, and I got out of shopping. So. Much. WIN.


Tiny Tuesday: One more IKEA project

This is the last of my IKEA fangirling for a while. I promise. I spent years rolling my eyes at IKEA and trying to figure out how their flat-packed furniture could possibly be any different than Target’s or Wal-Mart’s or anybody else’s — and then we got a store in St. Louis, and I walked through it and realized the difference is that their designers come from places where living quarters are often tight, which means their products tend to be versatile and space-conscious and fit well in smaller homes. Some of the furniture looks dodgy, but some of it is well-designed, and their storage tools? SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.

I’m not sure this counts as an actual “IKEA hack,” because I’m not altering anything — just repurposing it — and it’s a common item you could buy at your local lumberyard, so it’s hardly exclusive to IKEA, but I’m posting it anyway because it worked well and made effective use of an underutilized space.

We’ve always been in the habit of hanging our dishtowels off the oven door, because the oven door is handy, and really, where else would you put a dishtowel? In our house, the answer is “not there,” because Songdog has picked up a bad habit of standing right next to the oven, wagging his tail and knocking the towels onto the floor, and Walter recently noticed that dishtowels have fringe, which is obviously the Greatest Cat Toy EVAR, so now we’ve got two animals throwing my towels on the floor and covering them with their cooties. Gross.

Got pets? Mount your towel bar (or a big drawer pull) above the sink to keep them from messing with your towels.
Got pets? Mount your towel bar (or a big drawer pull) above the sink to keep them from messing with your towels.

On our IKEA run last month, I found a solution to the problem in the form of a cabinet-door handle that looks nice and projects out just far enough to serve as a towel bar. I drilled a couple of holes in the side of the cabinet above my dishrack, hung it up, and got my dishtowel up out of reach of overenthusiastic collies and marauding cats without giving up any convenience or any space I was already using.

Bonus: The handles were on sale in packs of two for $7, so I’ve got a spare I can hang somewhere else when I figure out a good place for it.


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.


Eco-Saturday: Check your supplies

This post could fit under either Eco-Saturday or Tiny Tuesday, as it conserves both materials and space. You might already be doing it; if you’re not, it won’t cost you anything except a little time, and it might save you a few dollars.

Many years ago, I decided to boycott Wal-Mart. I really wasn’t sure I could pull it off, as I’m prone to work on projects at odd hours and frequently ended up having to make Wal-Mart runs to buy supplies or materials for whatever I was doing. Without the convenience of 24/7 access to paint, basic hardware, and whatever else I might need to complete a project, how would I get by?

Among other things, I discovered I was terrible about buying duplicates of things I already had, simply because I didn’t bother to check before I shopped.

Sometimes a project calls for a specific item; for instance, I made some repairs to my dining-room floor today and found a certain type of screw worked best for the job. If the item I need is a specialty item I’m not likely to have on hand, I’ve no compunction about going to the hardware store. But more often than not, I can make do with whatever I have.

When I quit shopping at Wal-Mart, I had to improvise. If I needed inch-long screws at 3 a.m., I had to remember where I put the leftovers from my last project. I spent a lot of time rifling through my toolbox and using up odds and ends I already had instead of going out and buying more just because I was too lazy to look for my existing stock.

This saved me money, obviously, and it allowed me to reclaim some storage space. It also saved resources: the materials to make whatever item I’d decided not to buy; fuel to get it from the manufacturer to the store; fuel to drive to the store to pick it up.

Over the years, this has become habit. Very rarely do I buy new items without checking first to see whether what I have will work — even when I’m shopping during normal business hours.

If you’re looking for a way to help the environment and your pocketbook, I highly recommend taking an inventory of the stuff you have on hand so you’ll know what you already have and won’t waste money and resources buying new every time you need something.


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.


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.


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.


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

Tiny Tuesday: Outdoor living

In assessing how much space we need in our home, I find it valuable to consider three questions:

1. How much time do I spend indoors?
2. What am I doing there?
3. How much of that could be done outside?

The answers to those questions will help you determine what kind of square footage you need and how comfortable you’re likely to be in a small space. Most of the things I like to do in my spare time — read, write, surf the internet — takes up very little room and could be done just as easily outdoors when the weather is decent.

A small bench parked in the middle of a peppermint patch makes a nice spot for sipping coffee and relaxing next to the pond.
A small bench parked in the middle of a peppermint patch makes a nice spot for relaxing next to the pond.

On clear days when it’s not terribly hot and humid, I like to drink my coffee and eat my breakfast on the deck while the dogs play in the yard. On cool evenings when I have a little time off, I might sip a craft beer next to the pond, where I have a little concrete bench just big enough for one person to sit and think, and on drizzly days, the papasan chair parked at one end of our wide front porch makes an inviting place to curl up and read a book amid the scent of petrichor and the sound of the rain. A couple of years back, I added a little tile-topped plant stand that’s just big enough to hold a glass or a small plate, and next year, I’m planning to add a small table and chair to the other end of the porch to create a sort of outdoor office suitable for writing or working on other projects.

I’ve put a lot of time into customizing my yard, turning it into the kind of place where I like to hang out, and I imagine that will only increase when I get to New Mexico, where nothing indoors is ever going to be as pretty as anything outdoors, and where the weather is generally much more favorable for spending time outside.

If you’re trying to figure out how much space you really need, do yourself a favor and try spending more time outside. You may find you don’t need as much room as you thought — or you may find you can keep your climate-controlled space to a minimum and swap some of it for a transitional space that doesn’t have to be heated or cooled, such as a sunroom or conservatory with big windows you can open to let the breeze through on nice days.

Go play outside and see how it works for you.


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?


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.


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.