Creating extra storage and counter space in a small kitchen

You’ve been a good unclutterer and gone through your cabinets and discarded the items you never use. You’ve put away the rarely used appliances that sat on your countertop. For those with a good size kitchen, you’re done. Your kitchen is uncluttered. But what about the rest of us?

If you’re like me and you rent an apartment or own a condo with a tiny kitchen, your counter space still doesn’t offer enough room to cook a complete meal. I have size and poor design to deal with in my kitchen. I can clear my counters completely and still have a difficult time finding space to cut vegetables. To work around this dilemma, I have found a solution: A kitchen cart.

I used to think kitchen carts were silly. That is, until I had a real use for one. Now, I can’t exist without it.

My cart won’t fit inside the kitchen, so I have to store it against the wall across from the kitchen entrance. When it’s time to cook, I just wheel the cart over to the kitchen and, suddenly, I have all the counter space I need. It also blocks off the entrance, keeping my husband and the dog out of my cooking space.

Here is what to look for in a kitchen cart:

  • Sturdy – You need to be able to chop things on it, so go for something that won’t rock or cause you to slice your fingers.
  • Wheels – You should be able to move it where you need to use it.
  • Wire Racks – This feature is great for holding mixing bowls and other items used for cooking.
  • Hooks – If you’re also short on drawer space, the hooks are nice for utensils.

Repurpose brag books for coupons

Businesses are working diligently to get consumers to spend money during the downturn in the economy, and are trying to lure them in with coupons and deals. As a result, clipping coupons has definitely become worth the time and effort.

Instead of using a traditional coupon organizer that requires you to pull out all of your coupons to see them, I’ve started using brag books (small photo albums) to manage my coupon collection. In addition to giving me a better view of my stash, brag books also let you have two to three times more categories than a regular organizers.

If you’re interested in creating a coupon organizer out of a brag book, follow these suggestions:

  1. Track your coupon use for a few weeks without an organizer to see what types of categories you might want to create in your brag book.
  2. When you make categories, label them with printed sticky labels or handwritten on masking tape. As you use your book, you may decide to move pages or rename categories — and removable labels will make this a simple task.
  3. When you enter coupons into the pages, put the oldest at the front and the newest in the back. This way you won’t have to worry about coupons expiring.

The following are suggestions for ways in which you might set up your shopping categories:

  • Review a map of your grocery store, and set up categories based on the layout of your market.
  • Create large categories based on meal types (breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts, snacks, parties, beverages, and condiments) and then subcategories within those types.
  • Set up categories according to where you store items in your kitchen: pantry, refrigerator, deep freezer, etc.
  • Use the good ol’ alphabetical system.

One coupon book might not fit all your needs, especially if you’re diligent about cutting coupons for non-food items. A second brag book is great for hardware, pharmacy, and other miscellaneous items.

How do you organize your coupons? Please tell us about your methods in the comments.

Fun idea for reducing vacation mementos

Have you ever gone on vacation and felt obligated to bring something home? Perhaps you were thinking about someone who didn’t travel with you? Or, maybe you feel guilty for missing a little league game because of a business trip? How can you avoid cluttering up your home when you travel frequently?

Instead of bringing lots of trinkets home with you, take something with you and photograph it at the different locations you visit. Credit for this idea goes to AT&T’s Sweet Pea commercial. In the commercial, the dad takes his daughter’s stuffed animal and sends her pictures of it wherever he goes. Rather than having a box full of junk from Dad’s 30 business trips, she has an online scrapbook of all the places her stuffed animal has traveled with Daddy.

This can work for you even if you’re not leaving someone at home and you want to avoid bringing knick-knacks into your house. Choose an item that goes with you on all of your trips. And, if you don’t travel often, see if friends or family would want to share an item. I have some friends who like to pass around a miniature referee. After returning from a trip, share the pictures of your item at the various destinations you visited. It makes vacation pictures interesting and uncluttered!

Golf for the serious unclutterer

We’ve written about golf solutions in the past including reducing the number of clubs you carry, picking up Dad’s greens fees and renting clubs. Now, we’ve got another clutter solution for you to see.

The All-in-One Golf Club could revolutionize your golf game … or at least your closet space. The club adjusts the loft based on whether you want to hit with a driver, iron or putter. It accommodates both the odd and the even irons and allows you to select a half size such as a 5 1/2 iron. I don’t know many people who can distinguish a 5 from a 6 but that 5 1/2 option is available if you need it.

The best part about this club is that it collapses to just 17 inches in length. And, there is a custom bag designed to be worn as a fanny pack while you golf, complete with small storage for tees, balls and a beverage.

I have not tried the All-in-One Golf Club myself, but if you’re looking for a unique gift or need to seriously reduce your golf clutter, this may be a good option for you.

Difficult downsizing decisions

As I was packing up the kitchen for our big move, I came across a slicer that went in the cabinet a year ago and has not been touched since. Clearly I don’t need it. Or do I?

When I put the slicer in the eBay pile, my husband asked why I was getting rid of it.

“I haven’t used it since before we moved in. Why should I keep it?”

He pointed out that the new apartment will have a much larger, more usable kitchen so it won’t get buried in the depths of an unusable cabinet. Plus, I’ve recently discovered jicama, which requires peeling and slicing. Using the slicer will make Sunday afternoon preparations for weekly lunches a lot easier on me.

I agreed to pack the slicer and bring it to the new apartment with the stipulation that it must be used in the next 3 months. If it goes unused, it gets eBayed. Now I just need to put a sticker on it with a date in September so I know when the three months are up and get rid of it…unless it becomes my new favorite kitchen tool.

When is it okay to start a collection?

If you follow Erin’s column over at Simply Stated, you may have seen Holly Becker’s article Starting a Collection. First, let me state that there is nothing wrong with collecting things you love. In fact, it’s a great way to display some of your personality in your home. However, you need to be careful that it doesn’t get out of control and become clutter.

That’s why Holly’s question “How do you start a collection when you don’t even know what you are interested in?” caught me completely off guard. I think my eyes may have actually jumped out of my head as I exclaimed “WHAT?!” I cannot think of any good reason to start a collection just for the sake of having a collection. That type of behavior is often at the root of massive clutter problems. Ever watched an episode of Clean House? Then you know what I’m talking about. Under no circumstances should you start a collection just for the sake of having a collection.

So when is a good time to start a collection?

  • If you have something that you love and it inspires you, by all means collect it and put it on display.
  • Sentimental collections can also be done without cluttering your home.
  • Some people collect items as investments. While it can be done, it is very difficult to turn a profit especially in this age of globalization and mass production.

All in all, collecting is not a bad thing. You just need to be mindful of it to ensure it accurately represents you and is not clutter in disguise. As for me, I’ll be paring down my stuffed animal and shot glass collections as part of the big move, and I’ll be looking for a better way to display my sports collectibles. If you have any ideas for me, please share them in the comments!

Books to read box

Last year, Erin wrote about using a cardboard box as a holding place for things you’re debating whether to part with or keep. Twice a year, you can go through the box and get rid of all of the things you never accessed. The box is great for keeping things out of sight, but not out of reach if you end up needing something inside the box.

Recently, Trent at The Simple Dollar blog took this idea a step further and suggested creating a “books to read” box. The idea is the same as mentioned above, but just for books. I really liked this idea and decided to implement it myself.

In preparing for my upcoming move to a smaller apartment, I evaluated all of the books on my shelves. I first divided them into piles based on the type of book, then went through each pile to determine which were trusted favorites, books I haven’t yet read, and which could be sold. Among the keepers were books I frequently reference and books I really enjoyed and would like to read again, and these will go directly onto the bookshelf when we get to the new place. But, there were still a bunch of books I haven’t read yet that I really want to tackle.

This is where Trent’s “books to read” box comes into the picture. When I move to the new place, I can put these books in a box in the closet until a future, specified date. When the date arrives, I can rotate the items in the box with a few of my favorites sitting on the bookshelf or get rid of books I have come to realize I won’t ever read. Having the newer books will be like a little present to myself!

We’re downsizing our apartment!

My husband and I are following Matt’s lead and downsizing our home. In our case, we’re moving from an 1800-square foot duplex to a 1200-square foot condo (with a larger kitchen!). Although we don’t have much furniture to get rid of, we have a lot of clutter that we refuse to move with us.

Our goal for the new place is to only bring in items we need, use, or inspire us. To accomplish this, we’re shelling out the extra cash to have our leases overlap for a month. This will give us 4 weeks to sort through every single item we own and determine whether we need to keep it, sell it, or give it to charity. Paying the extra rent money now is worth it to us so we won’t have to pay extra money later in storage fees.

Now, where are we starting?

We’re excited to get moved into the new place, so clearing items off our large pieces of furniture is a top priority. This means that we’re packing up the book cases and desks, and sorting through clothes in the dressers first. We’re also measuring our furniture and the layout of the new place so we can determine ahead of time what will fit and only move those items. After we get the furniture moved, we’ll go through everything that’s left in the old place and determine what we truly cannot live without. Our goal is to have an uncluttered and organized home by June 30.

Rock Band clutter: A possible solution

Matt warned me back in December, but I didn’t listen. After playing Rock Band at a friend’s house, my husband and I rushed out to purchase a Playstation 3 and the Rock Band game. We were able to justify the PS3 because it includes a Blu-Ray player, which was recently declared the standard for HD movies (much like VHS beat out Beta back in the day). And, while there is no similar justification for buying the game, it has brought hours of fun to our home.

We love our Rock Band game. For me, I get to be a rock star despite having no musical talent whatsoever. For my husband, he gets to laugh at me as I rock out on the microphone or try to keep a beat on the drums. But, the problem we have now is finding a place to store the game pieces when they’re not in use.

Thankfully, reader Melissa has come to our rescue. Melissa sent us a link to the Kotaku site with a review for a rock band stand (and I think Kotaku picked up the link from Gizmodo). At $50, the stand seems a bit expensive. However, the comments to the post she sent us contain a number of do-it-yourself options for how to build your own. Also, if you follow some of the DIY tips, you can even find a way to include space for the drums on the stand.

What do you do with your guitar and drum set when not in use? Share your ideas in the comments.

Strategies to clear food clutter in your kitchen

Have you ever tried eating better but still had forbidden foods in the cabinet and refrigerator? You probably thought, “I don’t want that food to go to waste!” I’ve done it every time I’ve recommitted myself to healthier eating … until now.

Now that the college basketball season is over, it’s time to get back on track and eat better. In past attempts, I have left all of my not-so-great food in the cabinets — processed foods, pasta sides, etc. — thinking I’ll want to eat them again someday. In an effort to unclutter my life though, I decided to remove the forbidden foods from the cabinets. And I feel liberated!

I feel calmer and more ready to dedicate myself to a lifetime of healthy eating. When I go into the kitchen, I don’t have to think about the fact that I’ve changed my diet. I just need to eat what I have available. And if I get a craving for something unhealthy? I’ll have to find other options until the craving is satisfied or passes.

So what do you do with all of the undesirable food? You have a few options. First, I tossed all of the junk food. It’s not healthy and I never should have bought it in the first place. Second, I chose to put the not-so-bad foods from my pantry in recycled grocery bags and temporarily stored them on a shelf in a different room. That way, I’ll be able to eat them in moderation once I get into better habits, but I won’t have to think about them until I’m ready. Third, I moved the refrigerated not-so-bad foods to the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and labeled it “NO” with a yellow post-it note. Again, these are foods that will be okay in moderation once I get into healthier eating habits.

You also can donate your not-so-bad food to a local food pantry. This is a great option for those times when you clean out your cabinets and realize you’re never actually going to make anything with those canned artichokes. Good luck to everyone starting on a healthier eating plan!

No time to unclutter? Consider turning off your TV

I recently came across this inspirational and humbling quote:

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein. — H. Jackson Brown

I have often claimed to not have enough time to do a lot of the things I’d like to do. I’ve made this excuse for things like working out, cooking dinner, doing laundry and cleaning the apartment. But, after I saw this quote, I started thinking about how I actually spend my time and realized that I watch a lot of TV.

According to this 2006 article, the average American watches over 4-1/2 hours of television per day! Over the course of a year, that’s more than 1,600 hours. What can you do in four hours a day? You could stop stressing out about a disorganized closet and help it find order. You could attend a Rolling Stones concert, and even watch the opening band. You could run an entire marathon!

So, the next time you think you don’t have time to unclutter, think about how you’re spending your time and whether turning off the TV for a few nights might give you those needed hours.

Living while at work: Organizing kitchen utensils in your desk drawer

I’ve always kept plastic forks and spoons in my desk, along with napkins and ground pepper, for those frequent times I need them. Whether it be yogurt from home or a bland soup from a restaurant, I always wind up having a need for some kitchen basics while I’m at work. I’m not someone who lives at work, but I do live while at work.

My problem was that I didn’t think it was very sanitary to toss some random kitchen utensils in a junk drawer of my desk. It also wasn’t very efficient because I always had to dig through the drawer to find what I needed. So I took a trip to The Container Store to find a solution.

I found these modular interlocking kitchen drawer organizers and put them to use the next day. I bought four of the same size – for knives, forks, soup spoons, and regular spoons – and snapped them together. They fit perfectly in my drawer. I even had room for napkins and a roll of paper towels.

I prefer the modular interlocking organizers because desk drawers all vary in size, and moving desks is common in office spaces. Being at work doesn’t mean that you stop living, and a drawer set aside for kitchen items isn’t a poor use of space — especially if its organized.