Happy Thanksgiving from Unclutterer

Unclutterer is taking the day off to celebrate Thanksgiving with loved ones. We hope you’re having a great, restful day, too. In the meantime, here are some posts from Thanksgivings past to review at your leisure.

Have a great day and we’ll be back in full swing next week.

Have a great day, folks! We’ll see you next week.

Refrigerator cleaning and organizing

Having a clean and organized refrigerator can help save you time when planning what to eat for meals and money on groceries. We’ve talked about organizing your refrigerator before, but there are additional suggestions that might help you to save even more time and money.

Start organizing your refrigerator by removing all of the food. Toss anything that is no longer edible or is past its expiration date. Place the food you intend to keep in a cooler with a few ice packs to keep it cold while you work.

It is important to clean and sanitize your refrigerator. Cleaning is the process of removing food and grime from a surface. Sanitizing is the process of reducing the number of microorganisms (germs) to a safe level. If the surfaces in your refrigerator are not clean, the sanitizer will not have a good contact with the surfaces and it will be impossible for the sanitizer to kill germs. Also, some sanitizers, such as bleach, react with organic matter (food) and will be less effective if the surface is not properly cleaned.

Remove the shelves and scrub them with warm soapy water. An old toothbrush can be useful to clean out small cracks and crannies. Rinse the refrigerator parts well and dry them with a clean towel. Clean and dry the inside walls of the refrigerator as well.

A diluted bleach solution (1 part bleach, 4 parts water) or sanitizing wipes can be used to disinfect the shelves and racks as well as the inside of the refrigerator.

Clean the outsides of bottles and jars before returning them to the refrigerator. Not only do gunky bottles make a mess, bacteria and germs love to grow in the mess. Remember to clean the outside of the refrigerator as well, especially the door handles.

When returning food items to the refrigerator, think about what is used most often and what is used least often. The foods used most often should be put just inside the door to minimize the length of time the door is open. This may save on energy bills but also reduce meal preparation time, as the foods used most often are closest to where you need them.

Group similar condiments together in baskets. By putting all the salad dressings in one basket you only need to grab that basket from the refrigerator and place it on the table when you make salad for dinner. Small baskets prevent small items from getting lost in the back of the refrigerator. You can also use baskets to contain small round cheeses, cheese slices and cheese sticks, mini yogurt containers and soy sauce, and ketchup packets for lunches.

It is a good idea to group leftovers on one shelf. Use clear plastic containers to store leftovers so it is easy to see what is in each container. Label the leftovers so that family members will know how long the container has been in the refrigerator and when it should be thrown out. A piece of masking tape and a marker make it easy to label containers, so keep these items handy.

Refrigerators are designed to keep foods cold enough to prevent food spoilage. The temperature of your refrigerator should be between 32ºF and 39ºF (0ºC and 4ºC). Freezer temperature should be 0ºF (-18ºC) which stops bacterial growth.

Use a specially designed thermometer and adjust the refrigerator dials to ensure that you’ve reached these temperatures. It may take a day or two of adjusting your refrigerator dials to ensure you’ve achieved the correct temperature.

A few more tips…

  • Clean out the refrigerator before grocery shopping — you’ll be able to get a better sense of what you have and have space to store what you buy.
  • Dispose of old leftovers just before trash day — you won’t smell up your kitchen with the odor of rotting food.
  • If you keep raw meat in the refrigerator, ensure that the drippings do not fall on fresh produce or already cooked foods. If you do not have a “meat drawer,” store or defrost meat on a plastic tray that you can remove and easily clean and disinfect.
  • Use a corner cupboard organizer to stack plates of food and maximize vertical space.

If your refrigerator is organized it is much easier to clean. Remember: Clean refrigerators are healthy refrigerators!

Inspiration Friday: Spice storage

It’s Friday morning and my brain is already convinced it’s the weekend. As a result, I’m just going to throw a little inspiration your way and set off to find some pie (it is Pi day, after all: 3/14).

Today’s inspiration comes from The Wall Street Journal, which includes a profile of chef Nick Kokonas’s home in the article “A High-Powered Home Kitchen in Chicago.” Gastronomy aficionados will enjoy the article, and anyone with a home kitchen will drool over the corresponding photographic slideshow.

By far, my favorite part of the profile is the peek into Kokonas’s spice storage cupboards:

Image by Callie Lipkin for The Wall Street Journal.

How do you store your spices? I’m thinking I need to completely redo my spice storage this weekend. It looks nothing like this. Sigh. Thanks to chef Kokonas for having such an inspiring kitchen.

How many cookbooks do you really need?

It’s been all food, all the time on the television in my house. I’m hooked on food show competitions and I dream about turning into a super cook (a mashup of Aaron Sanchez, Amanda Freitag, and Alton Brown would suit me just fine). I also do my fair share of cooking and I use my phone or tablet to find recipes. Both are super easy to use in the kitchen and don’t take up a lot of space.

And, therein lies the problem. I have several cookbooks that are languishing on a shelf in my kitchen. Since I don’t use them anymore, it’s time to part with them. If you’re faced with a similar situation or have amassed a large collection of cookbooks that go untouched, you might want to sort through them, especially if you find yourself reaching for the same ones all the time.

Getting started:

Gather your cookbooks together

It’s helpful to find out exactly what types and the number of cookbooks you have so you can decide which ones to keep and which ones will get passed on to new owners. That will be hard to do if they’re in a variety of places. So, start by gathering them all together, and then put them in categories that make sense for you.

Here are some ways you can categorize your cookbooks:

  • Alphabetical order
  • Cuisine (Mexican, Chinese, Greek)
  • Author
  • Ease of use (30 minute recipes, advanced cooking techniques)
  • Type (desserts, vegitarian, low sodium, grilling, family recipes)
  • Color and/or size

Decide on a storage location

Have you thought about the best location to store your cookbooks or recipe binders? The number of cookbooks you’ll keep will depend on which ones you use the most as well as storage space available to house them. Ideally, you’ll want to have your favorites close to your kitchen so that you’ll have easy access to them. That might mean storing your most used books on the counter with seasonal or less used books in a separate location (dedicated shelf or cabinet). Test out a few different areas in and around your kitchen to see what would work best based on how you move about in that space.

Trade books that you no longer use

If you don’t use a particular cookbook because you haven’t seen it, then be sure to keep it visible so that you’ll remember to look through it. But, if it is visible and you still haven’t used it (or your recipe holder) within the last 12 months, it’s probably time to part with it. Consider passing on these cookbooks to someone else by trading them with a friend or selling them. Keeping them will only fill up space that could be used for books that you use all the time.

Use an app to keep track of recipes

Sure, keep your favorite cookbooks that you refer to often, but if you’re only interested in one or two recipes, you don’t need to buy the entire book. There are several web-based and mobile apps that you can use like Epicurious.com, All Recipes, and Cookstr.com to find and keep track of recipes that you’d like to try out. You can also create a notebook in Evernote or Pinterest with recipes you’d like to test. If you don’t like them, you can always delete them. And, if you decide to keep them, you can create an digital cookbook using Evernote Food.

As you unclutter your collection, keep in mind that you don’t have to let go of all your cookbooks. Just be sure that you’re not holding on to the ones that you no longer use or want. Share them with friends and family members and think about alternative options before buying new books.

Five ways to stop food waste

Over the weeked, I watched The Big Waste, a Food Network program featuring some well known chefs like Bobby Flay. The chefs were challenged to make gourmet meals using food that was ready for the dumpster. In my work experience, I’ve noticed that food is often wasted in households where there is no meal planning or system for keeping track of food that has been purchased.

Food that is hidden or not stored in an organized way will languish in refrigerators and pantries because it’s difficult to see what you have. When this happens, you’ll likely go shopping for those items and increase your stash. Instead, consider using the five tips below to keep food from perishing or stop it from turning into clutter. You probably use one or more of these tips already, but when combined you’ll make better purchasing decisions and have a greater chance of consuming more of your food instead of throwing it away.

Meal plan

We’ve talked about this numerous times on Unclutterer, so I won’t go into detail. (A good place to start is with our article “Creating a weekly meal plan.”) Just remember that meal planning keeps you from asking “What’s for dinner?” because you know what is on the schedule. If coming up with meal plans is difficult for you because of time constraints, check out services like The Six O’Clock Scramble, which is a program we love so much we have become users and affiliates for it.

Always use a shopping list

Using a shopping list will keep you from making spur of the moment purchases. That’s not to say that you won’t ever try something new (and put it on your list), but when you buy things that you wouldn’t normally buy, you may forget about them, particularly if you make multiple impulse purchases. So, before your next shopping trip, create a list of things that you intend to purchase and stick to it.

Track your stash with an inventory list

An inventory list placed in a very visible area of your kitchen (or on your pantry door) will help you remember what you have so that you can avoid making duplicate purchases. Record each item along with the quantity on your list or use a dry erase board so that you can easily make updates — and don’t forget your leftovers. If you tend to buy the same items, save a digital copy so you can print it as needed. Check out the Pantry Staples List created by Real Simple if you’re having difficulty getting started.

Keep your pantry and refrigerator organized

To keep your food from getting lost in the refrigerator or pantry, group items by category (dairy, beverages, left overs) and place them in the same spot all the time. You’ll want make sure that you have access to your most reached for items and that they can be easily seen. Use containers (like the Clear Handled Storage Baskets) to keep your items organized.

Check food freshness with StillTasty.com

The website StillTasty.com can help you determine if certain foods are still good enough to eat. The site will also tell you the best spot in your refrigerator to store certain items. For example, to keep eggs and milk fresher longer, don’t store them in the refrigerator door as the temperature fluctuates each time the door is opened or closed. For a quick reference guide, check out Hella Wella’s infographic, How Long Food Really Lasts in the Fridge and sign up for food safety alerts from FoodSafety.gov to find out which foods have been recalled.

Clean and organize your refrigerator

Tomorrow, November 15, is Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day in the U.S. I’m not really sure who decided to declare such a day, but my guess is a refrigerator manufacturer or food producer had something to do with it. I only know about it because of Hallmark’s Ultimate Holiday Site, which tracks the most absurd holidays. (Case in point, today is National Guacamole and Pickle Day.) Although zany, Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day makes a teensy bit of sense being so close to Thanksgiving — it is a good idea to make room in your refrigerator for all the food that will be needing space in the coming days.

When cleaning out a refrigerator that hasn’t been tended to in many months, I like to tackle it in the following manner:

  • Gather supplies. Two large trash bags nested one inside the other (food is heavy and a broken bag makes a huge mess) is a must. You’ll also want a bucket with fresh, warm (not hot) water and mild dish detergent with a sponge. Also, a roll of paper towels or a few clean hand towels are good to have with you to dry the shelves when you’re finished wiping them down, especially for the freezer. Finally, I recommend having a notepad and pen handy so you can create a shopping list as you work.
  • Purge all food past its prime. Working from top to bottom, clear out all food from your refrigerator that is expired, rotten, and not good for eating. If you don’t know if something is edible, check StillTasty.com. If a food is in a jar or bottle and you can’t find its expiration date, visit the company’s website. Many websites have sections where you can enter the item’s bar code and learn its shelf life information.
  • Wipe it down. Give all the walls and shelves of your refrigerator a firm but gentle scrubbing. Clean up all spills, leaks, and general yuckiness that can dirty up the inside of your refrigerator.
  • Organize. In addition to putting like items with like items (making it easier to retrieve foods, as well as remembering what items you have), consider employing some advanced organizing techniques. Add stackable, removable shelves or under shelf baskets to better separate items. Use shelf liners to make it easier to clean up future messes and to keep round foods from rolling. If your crisper is where foods go to mold, try removing your drawers so you won’t forget about your produce (if you’re a visual processor, this may really help you). Also, learn what the recommended cooling temperatures for your food are so you know where the best place is inside your refrigerator to store each item.
  • Clean the containers. Now is a great time to wash all the reusable food containers that may have been hiding storing rotted items.

While you’re working, it’s also nice to inspect the seals on your refrigerator. Are they letting air escape? If they are, you can likely replace them yourself for not very much money or effort. Check your manufacturer’s website for exact information on the replacement seal required for your specific refrigerator model.

If your workplace refrigerator is in need of a good cleaning, you still have time to organize a clean-up project for tomorrow. You may want to add rubber gloves to your list of supplies, though. You never know what science experiments are happening in the back of those shelves.

Random note: November 15 is also Sadie Hawkins Day, so if you are female you can ask a male to help you clean out your refrigerator and celebrate two bizarre holidays at once.

Assorted links for October 18, 2010

Interesting articles and services relating to uncluttering, organizing, and simple living:

  • Patrick at Minimal Mac asks “A Most Important Question.” If you don’t know where something belongs, it may “… not have a place in your home, in your relationships, in your job, or or in your life,” and, “perhaps it should not be there.”
  • Alton Brown, the celebrity chef who is the inspiration behind our Unitasker Wednesday posts, wrote a diary about his (bizarre?) minimalist eating practices when he travels in last week’s New York magazine: “Alton Brown Makes His Own Avocado Ice Cream, Does Shots With John Hodgman.”
  • Learning Express Library is an online resource for practice tests on hundreds of topics. The free and digital tests range from the U.S. Citizenship exam to college entrance tests. Save your money and some trees with these helpful resources.
  • Lose the equipment and your gym membership, and get an uncluttered workout using only your body weight. From Nerd Fitness, “Beginner Body Weight Workout.”
  • The Art of Manliness has a tribute to all things minimalist in “Go Small Or Go Home: In Praise of Minimalism.”
  • Clean up your iTunes digital music collection with Tagalicious — a simple and easy to use application that gets rid of all of those “Track 01″ files you have in your directory.
  • Are you on Twitter? Does it bother you when someone attends a conference and floods your stream with messages that don’t interest you in the least? Use DeClutter to remove specific keywords from your timeline. (via Swiss-Miss)

Binder clip hack for your wire shelving

Making the rounds on Reddit this week was a great refrigerator hack by Muteboy on Flickr:

Muteboy, a.k.a. Matthew Petty, created an adjustable beverage rack in his refrigerator with a simple binder clip. The clip can be moved to the left for more beverage storage, or to the right for less. It’s a great idea for those of you with wire shelves in your refrigerator.

Since I have glass shelves throughout my refrigerator and freezer, this particular hack won’t work for me. However, it works great in my office closet where I have two rows of these types of wire shelves in my elfa system. I have already put it to use for corralling four poster tubes. It could work wonderfully for wrapping paper and wine bottles, as well.

Oh, and speaking of elfa, the Container Store is currently holding its 25% off shelving sale. Now is a good time to buy if you’ve been wanting a shelving or closet makeover.

Simplifying packed lunches

Reader Jon wrote to us asking if we had any tips for preparing lunches at home that he can take to eat at work. He has been spending $100 a week on eating out at restaurants, and is hoping to become someone who brings his lunches to work. Since students are already back in the classroom in many states, and other students are getting ready to go, I thought now would be a great time to discuss the humble brown bag lunch.

Storage Materials:
You don’t need anything fancy, but I recommend items that are at least reusable (especially if you want to save money). You can use Lunch Skins for dry items, Rubbermaid’s plastic Easy-Find Lid containers (they’re BPA free) for foods that could spill or leak, New Wave’s Stainless Steel food containers, or Kinetic’s Glass Lock containers. You might want a thermos to hold a drink, and you’ll want a tote or box to contain it all. I’m a huge fan of bento jars and boxes, and if I carried my lunch to work, I would strongly consider getting the Zojirushi Bento Lunch Jar (the inserts are also BPA free):

Food and Preparation:
Taking your lunch to work or school doesn’t mean you have to eat peanut butter and jelly every day. The best tip I have about making lunches is to prepare them while you’re making dinner the previous night. For example, if you’re grilling hamburgers for dinner, pull aside half a cup of hamburger to cook and season for taco meat. A couple tortillas, cheese, and the meat make a great entree the next day at lunch that keeps your attention and isn’t exactly what you had for dinner.

Making both dinner and lunch increases your time in the kitchen a little, but the money you save is definitely worth it. Plus, you only have to clean the kitchen once, and you’re more likely to pack healthier lunches than you would buy if you ate out at a restaurant. If you’re making lunches for kids, enlist them to help you pack up their meals.

I wish I knew of a great cookbook to recommend for lunch ideas, but I’m completely clueless in this area. Hopefully there will be some recommendations in the comments for ways to find even more exciting meal ideas. Also, if you’re someone who brings his lunch to work every day or makes lunches for your children, add helpful tips you’ve picked up along the way to the comments. Good luck to Jon and to all parents embarking on a school-year full of lunch making.

Streamlining your morning routines

To know me is to know my love of coffee. My entire morning routine is structured around brewing the perfect cup and drinking it before the busy-ness of the day begins. Hanging on the bulletin board above my computer screen is my mantra: “When in doubt, drink more coffee.”

I’m not really addicted to caffeine, I’m more addicted to the routine of crafting an ideal cup of joe. If there were a caffeine-free drink I savored more, I would be consumed with making it. However, except for a glass of whole milk minutes after coming out of the cow or a Batida from Ceiba restaurant in downtown, D.C., there aren’t any other drinks that capture my attention so strongly.

Why am I telling you all of this? First, it’s a way for me to talk about another of my passions. Second, and this is more applicable to you, I want to share with you my strategies for organizing morning routines.

When we wake up after a night’s sleep (or day’s sleep if you work the night shift), we go through the same steps every time. For most of us, these steps include showering, getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, and possibly helping a small human go through similar steps. Your routine might vary a little bit, but for the majority of days you do the same things over and over and over again.

How many of the things you use during your morning routine, though, aren’t convenient to access? Are your breakfast items strewn in multiple cabinets across the kitchen, bathroom supplies in five different drawers and cabinets, and clothing kept in three different places across a bedroom?

Think about all of the things you access each and every morning, and reorganize these things to better meet your needs and make your routines more efficient. For example, if your family eats breakfast cereal, put all of your cereal boxes into a basket so that putting the boxes on the table each morning is one simple movement. If you have a shaving routine, store all of your supplies in one container that you can pull out of the drawer, set on the counter, and then return to the drawer all at once. In your bedroom, consider arranging your furniture so that your dresser is next to your closet. Store all of your coffee-making supplies together with your coffee cups, above or next to where you prepare your coffee.

Keep the things you use together, in containers that you can pull out and use in the most convenient location, and store them in the easiest place to access.

It’s also a good idea to time yourself to see how long it actually takes you to get ready in the morning. Many of us are under the delusion that we’re faster at getting ready for the day than we actually are — especially families with children. If you have difficulty getting out the door in the morning, I recommend that parents get completely ready before children (especially young children) wake up and always padding your get-ready time by 15 minutes.

The more streamlined your morning routine, the more likely you are to have a smooth, stress-free morning. And, the more time you’ll have to enjoy that beautiful, rich, amazing cup of coffee.

Organizing your refrigerator

Refrigerators, especially in the homes of active families, can be difficult to keep organized and free of expired foods. We’ve talked in the past about using a meal plan to help food move through your refrigerator before it rots. However, using a meal plan doesn’t necessarily keep a refrigerator from looking like it was hit by a very small tornado when its door was closed.

Like any storage space in your home, organizing your refrigerator to meet your needs can save you time and money over the long term. Here are some organizing helpers for inspiration:

  • If you or your family regularly consumes drinks from cans, you might benefit from a beverage dispenser or a can organizer.
  • Instead of cans, if you store a lot of bottles, you might need a bottle stacker.
  • Stackable, removable shelves are helpful for adding surface space in refrigerators and freezers.
  • And, shelf liners can keep foods from rolling to the back of a shelf and being forgotten. Shelf liners are also nice because they make cleaning shelves easy.

When putting food into your refrigerator, make sure that you’re storing food in its recommended location and cleaning the shelves and door seals regularly as recommended by your refrigerator’s manufacturer. If you’re not familiar with the different temperature zones in your refrigerator, use a thermometer to find out the variances within your unit. You might be surprised to find that there are multiple variances even on a single shelf (the back of our shelves are three degrees cooler than the fronts). Be sure to follow the FDA recommendation and keep your refrigerator set at 40F degrees or below on all shelves to prevent listeria and other food-borne pathogens. Also, check out StillTasty.com if you have any questions about the shelf-life of the food you’re storing.

Small-space ingenuity: The Sigmafocus hide-a-cue

The French company Focus has designed a truly beautiful barbecue grill that folds into the wall:

From pg. 120 of the focus catalog, the Sigmafocus:

Finally — an alternative to the unattractive contraptions on capricious wheels that have cluttered up our gardens and decks for so long. The Sigmafocus and the Diagofocus [another product Focus offers] prove that aesthetics and ergonomics aren’t confined to interior design. It can be used with either wood or charcoal and comes equipped with a stainless steel grill and a range of barbecue tools. The quality and thickness of the steel used guarantees the longevity of the barbecue, which meets the EN 1860-1 standard.

Sigmafocus
This wall barbecue for gardens and balconies folds up, so that when closed it takes up limited space.

Attractive in both open and closed positions, it offers a range of cooking heights. It is easy to fix to any-wall (there are only two fixation points).

The generous ash pan allows the barbecue to be used a number of times without having to empty it out. The disc that attaches to the wall protects the wall from smoke.

Specifications:

I couldn’t find a price or shipping details, but the full contact information for the company is in the back of the online catalog and on the company website. I cannot tell you how amazing I think this grill is, especially for someone like me with the world’s tiniest backyard. Genius!

(via NotCot)