3 Ways To Declutter Your Life This Holiday Season

During this busy time of year, it’s easy to let things get in the way and clutter our lives  – for me that leads to stress and anxious feelings. If I let clutter happen without trying to make positive changes, it will completely alter my mood. It can escalate until I just don’t want to get anything done and have mountains of laundry, dishes, and undone to-do lists engulfing me. A friend asked me last week what I do get rid of the “winter blues.” One of the things I talked to her about was environment; managing my environment well is one of the biggest factors in keeping the blues from creeping in.

In this context, I’ll define “environment” as anything surrounding me, both physical and emotional, that can work to either help or hurt me. Here’s what I do:

1. Keep your environment light and cheerful.

I mean “light” both literally and figuratively. One of the things that helps me the most is to open the blinds and let in natural light – even just pulling back the curtains lets in enough light to brighten a room. I do usually keep a few lights on in the room or rooms I’ll be in the most, but something about natural light just makes me feel more connected to what’s going on around me. Plus, there’s nothing worse to me than sitting or working in a dim room for hours (it also helps to cut back on the light bill since I’m not turning on every light in the house). I try not to watch too many dark or heavy TV shows and movies, lighten up the mood with cheerful music while I get ready keep the decor fairly simple. I love pillows and blankets, so I like to have those ready next to me if I’m relaxing and need a couple of them. If I’m not using them, they warm up the space even just sitting folded and pretty. Right now I’m all about holiday-themed throw pillows and blankets! If there’s something  small that cheers you up and keeps you going, use it to your advantage – even just as a decoration.

2. Keep your space neat and fresh.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, having a tidy, clean home is important to me. I can’t focus well unless it’s clutter-free. Not only that, but I don’t like living every day in or around filthy rooms. When I don’t get my cleaning done, I feel like I’ve fallen down on my job. My home isn’t always clean – just like everyone, I have those days when I’m a little lazy or I just don’t get much done. But I know that when I do keep my home neat, clean, and fresh, it will help me physically and emotionally in the long run.

Usually, to help further freshen up, I’ll diffuse essential oils (lately I’ve been loving Young Living Christmas Spirit, Clove, and Tangerine – either a blend of all three or just a couple). Diffusing makes the room smell delicious, and it has great health benefits. I even do this while I’m cleaning to help motivate me to get it all done so I can relax and enjoy my clean house for a while. You could light a candle or spray a room-freshener (I have a homemade Tangerine spray I use on occasion) – anything that works to make you feel cozy and comfortable!

3. Keep your calendar open and breathable.

Don’t overdo it! I don’t like filling my schedule to the brim with places to go and people to see. I like to keep in touch with people I have relationships with, and seeing those people face-to-face is extremely important in order to properly maintain a relationship. But I get mentally and emotionally exhausted very quickly in social situations, to the point where I even get out of breath and can’t wait to go off by myself (this is an extreme example, but it has happened). So, in order to keep mental exhaustion from leading to worse or physical exhaustion, I have to make sure I’m not packing my schedule too full. In order to keep the groups from becoming so large and overwhelming that I can’t visit with everyone there, I like to spread out the days I see people – and I try not to make every encounter a big event. Sometimes the best thing you can do is slow down, have a cup of coffee or tea, and simply be with a friend or family member. This can be hard to do during the holiday season because we want to do as much and see as many people as possible!

I do understand that a lot of people can handle a fuller schedule than I. But I believe it would help everyone to find his or her limit and stop there to recuperate.


 

Of course, these are just three simple things that help me, especially when I’m needing a boost. Maybe there’s something you can add to my list! If you’ve got something, let me know in the comment box. 🙂

I hope the beginning of everyone’s holiday season is cheerful and stress-free!

 

How I Prepare For A Trip

Something that’s very important to me is leaving my home clean and orderly before I leave for an extended period of time. I like to know that I didn’t leave things to sit undone for days while I’m not there to do them. I love even more the feeling of coming home to a clean house and not feeling frantic right when I walk in the door because there’s so much to do right when I get back – especially if I’m going to be getting in late. As I mentioned in my last post, John Mark and I will be leaving for our hometowns today celebrate Thanksgiving with our families – apart from packing a suitcase, there a few things I’ll always do before I leave. They only take a little time and effort, and are so worth it in the end.

1. Make the bed

You all know by now how important making the bed is to me. It gives the whole room a fresher look, and I’m not tripping over throw pillows or staring at a wad of sheets and blankets the whole time I’m getting ready or doing other chores. I think what could be even better than this, though, is that when I come home after being away for a while, I like to crawl into nice, untangled sheets. I don’t like leaving the bed sheets tangled because, even though I have to turn down the bed before I get in it, I don’t have to crawl into a mess. It’s also comforting; it reminds me of when I was little. My mom would turn down and straighten up the bed for me after a long day because she knew I was exhausted, and when I came in from a 3.5 hour trip from school she had the bed all made up with clean sheets, ready to go. Now I’ve adapted that method, and I just don’t leave without making the bed.

2. Finish the laundry

This is something I do the day of or couple of days before leaving. Let’s face it; we all let laundry pile up too much sometimes. Depending on the load, it can take more time, but before I leave I like to make sure all of the laundry I can finish is finished before I leave – since laundry is never really “finished,” I just make sure to wash all of the clothes sitting in the hamper. I have a couple of reasons for this. 1) It’s much easier to pack when the clothes are clean, and I know where everything is. Not to mention, I don’t have to worry about a shirt or pants I’ll want to wear being dirty last minute. 2) I simply don’t like leaving old, dirty laundry in the hamper when I leave. I feel so much better having done the laundry so I’m not rushing to get it done when we get back in, in case there’s something in there one of us wants (or needs!) to wear the next day. My laundry rule takes a lot more planning and time than making the bed, but it’s totally worth the trouble to have clean clothes to take with me and come home to.

3. Clean the kitchen & bathroom

When I say “clean” I don’t mean “scrub down every surface and deep clean the floors, sinks, bathtub, and oven.” I simply mean this: I cannot stand to leave dirty dishes in the sink while I’m gone. If they sit for too long, they start to smell, and no one wants a smelly kitchen. So, if I need to, I empty the clean dishes and put them all away, then I load the dishwasher with all of the dirty dishes sitting around. If it happens to fill up the dishwasher, I’ll go ahead and hand-wash the rest, and put them all away. If the dishwasher is still running by the time we have to leave, I’ll just leave them as long as they’re clean and put them away when I get home. I try to make sure the sink is free of old food and scrubbed down. The last thing I’ll do is make sure all of the surface is wiped down with Thieves Cleaner. I wipe down all of the counters, the stove-top, and the hood over the stove if it needs it.

As for the bathroom, I try to keep it clean on a regular basis. But before I go on a trip, I like to make sure I’ve picked up any dirty clothes, washcloths or towels out of the floor and wipe down the counters. I also make sure that the toothpaste or face wash (or anything else for that matter) is in its proper place.

4. Tidy up the living room

I like to make sure that the living room space is as neat as I can make it in a short amount of time. I’ll collect stray coasters and stack them all on the coffee table, straighten the bookcase, John Mark’s desk, and the chairs. Our coffee table has a glass top, so if it has any marks on it (and if I remember) I’ll wipe that down with Thieves Cleaner as well. I throw all of the stray shoes we aren’t taking with us in the shoe bucket we have next to the front door. The next thing I do is just make sure the couch cover is tucked in well, fold all of the blankets and either stack them neatly in the basket or lay them over the couch – the ones I use the most stay on the furniture so I can grab them more easily. 🙂

5. Take out the trash

This is a MUST for me. Just like leaving smelly dishes, I absolutely will not leave trash in the cans. I make sure to pick up trash lying around the house first, then I’ll tie up the kitchen trash. If there’s room, I put the bathroom trash in the kitchen bag, as well, and then tie it up. If the kitchen trash is overflowing too much to include the bathroom trash, then I tie up the bathroom trash separately (it’s usually in a Wal-Mart bag in the tiny can). Then I set both of the bags next to the front door so we don’t forget to take it out on our way to the car.


 

Some people have a higher tolerance and different definition of “messes” than I do, but these are all helpful things to keep in mind so that you don’t end up with chores piled up by the end of a relaxing trip. It just hits me too hard when I get back to real life and have jobs to do that could have been done earlier.

These things might take some planning, but even just a little bit of tidying up can go a long way – and it only takes a couple of minutes to take out the trash or wipe down counters! Lately I’ve been trying to do these more often so it takes even less time if I’m in a rush to pack and get on the road. Do you have any tips to make going on trips easier? Let me know in the comment box! 🙂

 

 

 

 

Tiny Kitchen Organization

My kitchen is approximately the size of a shoebox.

Exhibit A:

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Excuse the harsh lighting and cluttered grocery lists on the fridge; still a work in progress.

While I’m glad the rest of my apartment isn’t also the size of a shoe box, having a tiny kitchen makes it hard to organize everything you need in a kitchen. Picture the cabinets you see on the top right (across from those are very similar ones) crammed with cans, boxes, and bags of food, plus several spices and other cooking or baking items. It’s filled so much that you can’t find what you need without something toppling onto your head – or to avoid that happening having to climb onto the counters to scrounge through to the back of the cabinets only to find that it was right in front of you all along. That’s the situation I had going on.

Small-But-Mighty Storage

Before I got overwhelmed and first started to tackle the kitchen, I saw some small holes where nails had been along the bottoms of the cabinets over the sink. I realized that I could put nails there myself and hang things on them to keep the counters free from clutter and the items easily attainable. I tried this with some cute measuring spoons, pot holders, and a dish towel (John Mark also hung a mug there). This has worked wonders for me; the towel is easy to grab when I’m washing and drying dishes, and I can always get to my measuring spoons without digging in a drawer. I may even add some more nails where I need them.

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The Dreaded Food Cabinets

I usually think I’m pretty good at organizing – I can at least figure out how to do it, even if I don’t go buy the things necessary to carry the task through. I had spent a lot of time on my step-stool, getting down to business with these cabinets, thinking I had finally figured it all out. I was determined that we had plenty of space to store everything without using all of my energy finding and getting it back out to use it! There aren’t many organizing situations in which I’m completely burnt out and at a loss for ideas, but these cabinets held me hostage. As many of you can imagine, this was a disaster for me. So, naturally, I spent countless hours pinning my dream kitchen and organizing hacks in an effort to spark some kind of inspiration fitting to my shoe box kitchen (no pun intended). But, honestly, nothing beats finally texting your mom with that “will you please come help me organize my kitchen cabinets??” text.

I knew she would figure it out.

My parents just so happened to be passing through on their way to see my brother last weekend, so they stopped at our apartment for a while. My mom had told me that when she came, she’d help me with the cabinets. John Mark and I ate breakfast with them and visited for a while…then I just let her go and do her thing with those cabinets. I walked in the kitchen every few minutes to check on her – by “in” I mean “right outside of” because we wouldn’t both fit with such a big mess in there. At one point I walked in and the counters looked like this:

A lot of random stuff, right? It always gets worse before it gets better.
A lot of random stuff, right? It always gets worse before it gets better.

This pile eventually dwindled down to nothing, and everything had a home – more on this in few minutes. Now, I had two main cabinets I was worried about: the one above the counter that holds our un-refrigerated food, and the one above the stove that holds baking-related items (it used to be a store-all kind of thing).

I had already bought a couple of storage containers at Bed Bath & Beyond that are wonderful (one of the ones I bought is a two-tiered shelf system), but I didn’t think any more would fit without still having some trouble getting in and out of the cabinets. So, while my mom was working in my tiny kitchen, she figured out a way to organize these containers and the surrounding food items still left over in a way that wouldn’t be a hassle. Before we go any further, you need to know that my cabinets are a little warped. They hold things just fine, but the bottoms of some of them are slightly concave, so if you need to store something a little top-heavy, it won’t stand up correctly. So, we needed to find a solution for this next – I hadn’t even realized there would be a solution to this.

John Mark and I received a lot of cutting boards as wedding gifts. I only use a few of them, so she found a couple that would fit the width of the cabinets and leveled out the bottoms so I could put boxes, cans, or bottles on top of them. Here’s what it ended up looking like (I know you’re dying to find out):

On the top left is a bin with boxes of baking soda, cocoa, etc., and the right is the stackable shelves with small spices.
On the top left is a bin with boxes of baking soda, cocoa, etc., and the right is the stackable shelves with small spices.
Below the bottles, you see a magical, leveling cutting board.
Below the bottles, you see a magical, leveling cutting board.

She modified it even more after this. We used to keep bread on top of the refrigerator because there was just no place for it to go in the cabinets. I went back to the kitchen another time, after it was under control quite a bit more, and found her looking for another small cutting-board-leveler. When I found her one, this is what she did with it:

The peanut butter and jelly aren't knocking each other over now!
The bread fits, and the peanut butter and jelly aren’t knocking each other over!

Plastic Bag Solutions

I had absolutely no clue what to do with the three kinds of plastic bags I own plus the aluminum foil and Crock Pot liners. I had read about attaching them to the insides of cabinet doors, but couldn’t figure out a practical way to do it. The only thing I didn’t think of was tape! 🙂 We decided to tape the flaps of the boxes to the insides of the bottom cabinets where we store pots and pans (which is still a work in progress).

It originally looked like this. A horrible place for them, can't you tell?
It originally looked like this. A horrible place for them, can’t you tell?
Surprise! So much easier.
Surprise! So much easier.

The aluminum foil is now standing by itself, and the Crock Pot liners are inside the Crock Pot. This was a pretty easy fix, and it took hardly any time. We used packaging tape because it holds better than regular tape and is more attractive than duct tape.

Refrigerator Makeover

Like I said before, we used to keep bread on on top of the refrigerator. I also stashed John Mark’s Clif Bars, all of our baking and sweet potatoes (in a Veggie Sack), and anything else we couldn’t find a home for on top of the fridge, as well. This has changed…mostly. There are still things on the refrigerator that shouldn’t go in the cabinets, but they’re so much more attractive now.

Before
Before
After
After

Since the fridge is really one of the first things you see when you look into the kitchen, this two-tiered basket really helps to make the room look less cluttered (it’s from Target). We put the Clif Bars in a medium-sized Pyrex bowl – I had plenty of Pyrex to spare, and the Enjoy Life Chocolate chips I use for baking and fruit dips in a jar that we already had – they won’t melt on top of the fridge!

Final Touches

The last couple of things that needed a home were my aprons. My grandmother and a friend both bought me aprons, and we just hated to have them crammed in a drawer somewhere where I couldn’t get to them if I needed them. We bought a two-pack of Command fancy-looking bath hooks to hang those on (similar to these, with a brushed nickel look). They also added some much-needed color to the room that I thought would never be there.

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Tiny Kitchens Have Hope

There has been some serious progress happening in my kitchen. I feel like I can cook and breathe at the same time now! Even the smallest and bare-est of kitchens can be dealt with and made warmer – mine is proof, although I still consider it a work in progress. What else can you really do to a rental, you know? If you’re struggling with organization, it really pays to brainstorm and use simple things you already have in your home. We only ended up buying two items for organization purposes that day and still accomplished so much! It’s a relief to have an organized, simplified kitchen.