How can you use a freezer to help with meal planning?

This is the second in a two-part series on how you can use a deep freezer to help with meal planning.

As I mentioned yesterday, we see meal planning as the best process for planning healthy meals, creating a simple shopping list, and avoiding the stressful “what’s for dinner” moment in front of the open refrigerator. A meal plan helps to keep clutter out of your body, and streamlines your at-home eating.

One of the ways you can use a freezer to help with meal planning is by vacuum sealing foods you buy in bulk. If you don’t own a product like a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer, using freezer-safe zip-top bags and squeezing out as much air as possible can work as well. To get the air out of a zip-top bag, close the bag except for an inch at one of the corners. Submerge the exterior of the bag in water almost to the top of the bag. Let the pressure of the water release air from around your food, and then quickly close the last inch at the top of the bag. Be careful not to let any of the water into the bag and onto your food.

The way we use our FoodSaver is pretty straightforward. We start by buying fish filets, beef filets, chicken breasts, roasts, ground turkey, some pork cuts, and usually one or two other meat items based on what is freshest at our butcher’s shop. (If you buy half a cow from a CSA or another animal in larger portion, ask to have the meat butchered for you. My butcher does the vacuum sealing for his customers for a small fee.) Then, we head to our farmer’s market or grocery store and pick up some lettuces and other vegetables that are in season. We buy what we know we like and will use in the next three months.

After shopping, we go home and divide everything up into meal-size portions (we’ll put two fish filets in one vacuum bag, for example). We seal up the storage bags, adhere a piece of masking tape with the date written on it, and throw them all in the freezer. Well, except for the vegetables we want to eat fresh and the lettuces. Lettuces should never be frozen — you don’t want to freeze vegetables with high water content. When you put meat into their bags, you also can add marinades in with the food and they can absorb flavors during the time in the freezer.

When I create my meal plan, I “go shopping” in my freezer and see what I have and what meals I can create from the food in the freezer. I write down what meat I need to pull out of the freezer and transfer it into the refrigerator to thaw two days in advance. (Never thaw meat or fish on the counter.) Vegetables I usually don’t thaw ahead of time.

How do you use your freezer to keep meal planning simple? I’m looking forward to getting our deep freezer and having the convenience of being able to buy more in bulk than we already do.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Reader question: Clothes closet organization

Reader Lisa Z. sent us the following question:

I am OCD, and I thrive on order. I have crazy organization of my closet, which includes organizing all my shirts first by sleeve length (all sleeveless shirts together, all regular-sleeved shirts together, all 3/4 and long-sleeved shirts together, and all t-shirts together), then by color (1st white, then light grey, then to darker grey, then starting with lightest red going to darkest red through the colors of the rainbow). I have four sets of rainbows in my closet, although I have gone back and forth between one rainbow sorted by sleeve length (which didn’t last long). I have 14 pairs of blue jean pants. I know; the first thing you’re going to tell me is that I shouldn’t have THAT MANY pairs of jeans. That is in addition to the number of skirts, shorts, and other-colored pants I own. But I sort even my jeans in order from lightest shade of blue to darkest shade of blue. The question: Do you think this is a waste of time, or do you recommend sorting clothes this way to find exactly what you’re looking for in a snap? It has always worked for me, but I am just barely starting to catch on to the possibility that this might be a waste of time… Thanks so much and keep up the great work on the blog!

Lisa, I don’t have OCD, and I organize my closet in a very similar manner. My exception to this is that I store my jeans and t-shirts folded in a dresser instead of hanging in my closet. My t-shirts are in piles of tank tops, short sleeves, and long sleeves in my drawer.

I’m also a stickler about all of my shirts facing the same way on the hanger.

Organizing my closet this way allows me to quickly match outfits, easily get dressed in the dark, and my husband doesn’t complain about having to share a closet with me. It may be overkill, but it works.

How about our readership? How do you organize your clothes in your closet?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

10 tips to beat clutter in less than five minutes

I’m happy to have Gretchen Rubin, the fabulous author of The Happiness Project, join us with a guest post today on Unclutterer. There just aren’t enough kind words in the English language to say about her. Welcome, Gretchen!

Having a clutter-filled house can make you feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Everywhere you look, you see little chores that should be done. No single task is particularly difficult, but together, they add up to a big headache and a big mess. Pretty quickly, it’s easier just to add to the piles than to try to attack the problem.

Here are ten easy, quick tips that, if followed regularly, will help keep your clutter under control. And none of them takes more than five minutes – if that.

  1. Make your bed each morning.
  2. Throw away the newspaper each night, even if you haven’t read it yet.
  3. Follow the “one-minute rule” — push yourself to do any chore that takes less than one minute. Throw away the junk mail, close the cabinet door, put your dirty socks in the hamper, hang up your wet towel.
  4. Identify an organization or person to whom you can give things you no longer need. It’s much easier to get rid of unneeded stuff if you can envision someone else getting good use from them. Also, figure out a place to store those things until you hand them over. We have a special shelf for books that we’re taking to the local charity thrift store. When the shelf is full, we drop off the books.
  5. Pause for a moment before you “store” something. Storing something means you don’t intend to use it much. Other than holiday decorations and seasonal clothes, you should strive to “store” as little as possible.
  6. Beware of freebies. Never accept anything free, unless you’re thrilled with it. A mug, a tote bag, a hand-me-down toy, the lamp from your mother-in-law — if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
  7. Get rid of things if they break. When I went through our apartment, I was astonished by how many things I’d kept even though they didn’t work.
  8. Don’t keep any piece of paper unless you know that you actually need it. I have a friend who, for years, carefully filed away the stubs when she paid her gas bill. “Why?” I asked, mystified. “I have no idea,” she said. Along the same lines, don’t keep anything that would quickly become dated like travel information. Remember the internet! If you can easily find information online, you don’t need to keep a hard copy.
  9. Hang up your coat.
  10. Before you go to bed, take five minutes to do an “evening tidy-up.” Don’t tackle anything ambitious, but just stack up the magazines, put your shoes away, shove the chairs into place, etc. Just a few minutes of tidying can make your house look a lot better, and it’s a calming thing to do before going to sleep. Plus it makes the morning nicer.

Say goodbye to perfume clutter

I like the idea of perfume, but have never really supported the whole “signature scent” concept. Wearing the same fragrance day after day isn’t my style, so I usually just go without perfume because it costs a lot to have many options. I also don’t want a whole dresser top full of large glass bottles tempting my cats. I find, too, that after a year or two the perfume goes stale and loses its oomph!

Reader Amanda sent us a terrific idea for men and women wanting to get rid of large bottle cologne and perfume clutter. Similar to the Use it up! advice reader Elena sent us for shampoo, Amanda’s suggestion is to only purchase perfume in very small amounts through websites like LuckyScent and ThePerfumedCourt:

“This keeps the price low, I can try different perfumes (some not available locally), and I hide them in a box in a dresser drawer, freeing (uncluttering) the top of my dresser.”

LuckyScent has an option at the bottom of every page of perfume that gives you the choice to purchase a sample (0.7mL.). They even offer sample packs; groups of popular or seasonal fragrances.

And, ThePerfumedCourt only sells trial sizes:

“What we do is spray, pour, or use sterile pipettes to take perfume from its original large bottle and repackage it in a smaller bottle (we only use brand new sterile glass bottles) so that the consumer can try as many fragrances as they desire before buying a full bottle.”

Thank you, Amanda, for such a terrifically simple idea for men and women who choose to wear a fragrance!

Make your kitchen magnetic

When talking about kitchen magnets, most people think of those plastic alphabets we had when we were kids. But magnets can do more in your kitchen than spell “dog” and “cat.” Magnets, when used wisely, can help you free up valuable counter space, and keep all your most used kitchen tools close at hand.

Spice it up

One of the most common magnetic tool these days are magnetic spice tins, which are simply metal or plastic containers with clear lids. Some come with a special board that sits on your counter or attaches to the wall (like these), but you can also buy them individually and stick them to the side of your fridge. Some spice enthusiasts eschew these because they let light in which can damage delicate herbs, so pick a metal surface that doesn’t sit in direct light. Alternatively, choose these spice containers that come with labels which cover the transparent lid.

Wipe it up

Also very handy – a magnetic paper towel holder. If you don’t have much counter space, one of those freestanding ones can be a hassle. But with a magnet, it’s right on your fridge door, and you can just tear one off when your milk spills.

Hang it up

Next time you’re at the hardware store, see if they have inexpensive magnetic hooks. They are perfect for hanging spoons next to the stove or keeping potholders out where you need them. Hooks are one way to get commonly used items out of drawers and within easy reach.

Cut it up

My absolute favorite – a magnetic knife rack. Knife blocks are huge counter space hogs, and keeping sharp pointy things in a drawer can be dangerous for the clumsy-inclined like me. With a magnetic strip, the knives are always handy and out of the way. The magnets are powerful enough to resist a slight bump of the elbow, but pull off without too much force.

The only thing with magnets is that you’re somewhat limited by the number of metal surfaces you have in the kitchen. If you want to add more, try getting a few extra knife racks, or a magnetic memo  strip that can be mounted to the backsplash or any other wall in your kitchen.

What else do you hang in your kitchen?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Reader question: Move or store furniture?

Reader Lisa emailed us the following question:

I am moving across the country (probably just for a few years), and would like to take just the essentials. However, I have three large pieces of antique furniture bequeathed by my grandmother that I can definitely see wanting to have in a more permanent house when I move back in the future. So… what do I do with them for the next few years? (Or am I deluding myself — will I ever want them?)

Lisa, your question brings up a number of different issues, so bear with me while I take a few twists and turns to get to a definitive answer.

To start, you seem more uncertain about life than you do about a few pieces of furniture. You use the phrase “probably just for a few years,” which speaks volumes about why this decision is difficult for you. Stop thinking about a possible future, and focus on right now. Are you moving across country? Yes. Do you want to take this furniture with you? No.

Since you don’t want to move the furniture across country, you need to decide what to do with it. Is there someone else in your family who could use the furniture now? What would the repercussions be in your family if you sold the furniture to an antique dealer and used the money to set up your new home on the other coast? If someone would be upset that you sold the furniture, are they willing to take it off your hands? (If not, do not allow them to guilt you into keeping it.)

Maybe you love the furniture, and are considering storing it in self-storage? The reality is that you would likely pay $100 a month to put the three pieces of furniture into a storage locker. If you stay on the other coast for three years, then you’ll have spent at least $3,600 in rent for unused furniture. Would you pay that amount to buy this furniture if you saw it in a store? Could you even insure the furniture for that amount? The possibility also exists that you’ll love the other coast and decide to stay out there permanently. If this happens, then you’ll either continue to pay to store the furniture or you’ll have to pay to have it shipped across country. Whatever way you look at it, using a public storage facility will cost you … and it will probably cost you stress and worry in addition to the price tag.

The future is uncertain, but the present isn’t. If I were you, I’d give the pieces to someone in the family who wants them more than you do. You can admire the furniture every time you visit that family member, and know that it is being useful. And, remember, it’s just furniture, it’s not your grandmother.

 

This post has been updated since its original post in 2008.

Try giving your refrigerator a facelift

My refrigerator is not magnetic. I have no idea what the previous owners of my house did to it to make it that way, but that is its fate. I learned this the hard way, too, sticking magnet after magnet onto it and watching them fall to the floor. I was mesmerized. How could a magnet not stick to the refrigerator? What kind of a person would want a non-magnetic refrigerator?

Now that I’ve been in my house for many years, I’ve come to appreciate the refrigerator and its plain front. Most notably, I value it because there isn’t any clutter on it — no softball schedules from last season, no warped photos, no magnets with unknown real estate agents’ faces staring back at me. Its clean front actually helps to keep my stress level at bay when I’m in the kitchen. The previous owners of my home were more wise than I had given them credit.

If someone would have ever suggested that I could live without magnets on my refrigerator, I would have thought them batty. So, I will not be surprised if in the comments section people write about my sanity (or, rather, lack of sanity). I am making that very suggestion to you, though. Try clearing off the front of your refrigerator and develop other, less cluttered alternatives to distributing information in your home.

If you must use the front of your refrigerator for this purpose, then use something like a perpetual dry-erase calendar hung with Command poster strips. Command also makes refrigerator clips specially designed for hanging papers (like children’s artwork). These could also be used on other kitchen surfaces such as hanging a recipe on a ceramic tile backsplash. Lulalu makes a weekly calendar pad block that cling sticks to smooth surfaces such as stainless steel fridges, mirrors, and school lockers. Also, you could buy a few easy-change artwork frames and swap out your children’s artwork and well-executed homework on your wall instead of on your refrigerator. Honor their good work instead of losing it in a mish-mash of refrigerator madness. Give a magnet-free refrigerator a try and see how it improves the feel of your kitchen.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Recycling bins don’t have to be messy

Reader Jameselee drew our attention to the June article “How to Hide Recycling Bins in Your Kitchen” from Popular Mechanics magazine.

It makes sense to find convenient and attractive ways to cope with the typical household’s revolving collection of cans, glass bottles and newspapers, since recycling has become an everyday reality.

Whether you’re planning from scratch or improving an existing setup, the first decision is what room to use for storing the stuff. The kitchen is ideal, given that it’s where most glass and plastic containers get used, but kitchen space is often at a premium. Other options are the pantry, garage, laundry room or mudroom.

The article provides a number of ideas for visible and hidden storage, even though the word “hide” is in the title. I particularly enjoyed the following drawing from the article:

The company simplehuman has quite a few stylish trash/recycle bin combinations. Some can be hidden in a cupboard, others can be placed on the floor. A ClosetMaid four drawer basket kit could be hidden inside a closet.

Do you disguise or hide recycling in your home? What techniques do you use? How do you keep this area from looking cluttered and out of control?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

How a home office should function

Reader Amanda recently contacted us with the following question:

Could you write on the idea of how a home office should function?

It seems like an innocuous question at first. Obviously a home office should be used for, um, home office, uh, stuff …

But, it turns out, it’s not such a simple question. Identifying all of the reasons why a person might have a home office and then all of the possibilities for how that home office should function are quite extensive tasks. The specific requirements a single, graduate student, working on his dissertation might have are far different than those of an active family with four children where both parents work outside the home.

It is possible, however, to write about over-arching ideals that should be present in a home office. Here are the big picture goals I believe all home offices can strive to achieve:

  1. Welcoming. Strive to create the most comfortable, productive, inspiring, and organized environment that you can for your work space. You want this area to make boring tasks like filing home owners association documents as pleasant as possible. If your stress level rises when you walk past this space, you’re not going to use it.
  2. Flexible. The demands that you put on this space can change from year-to-year, or even day-to-day. You want your space to be able to adapt to your needs. This means that you need to have room on a shelf and in a drawer to grow — at all times. If your space is completely full, then it becomes a museum or library instead of a functional office. You want your files to be able to accept new entries and your desk to be ready to handle your next big idea.
  3. Consistent. The more consistent your office systems are, the more likely you will be to maintain them. Save files on your computer and in your filing cabinet using names and categorizations that makes retrieval quick and possible. Keep the learning curve low and let it reflect the way you think and work. Additionally, be consistent about putting objects away when you’re finished using them so that you will be able to find them the next time you need them.

Regardless of what type of work you need to do in your office, having a welcoming, flexible, and consistent environment will make it a functional space. The better your office can work for you, the better work you can accomplish in your home office.

How does your office measure up to these standards? Let us know in the comments.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Editor question: Should it stay or should it go?

Normally, a reader asks a question about uncluttering and organizing that our writers answer with amazing input by fellow Unclutterer readers. Today, I have a question that I’m hoping readers can help me answer.

We’re a military family. We’ve lived in 13 different homes in the past 28 years. Each house has been different. Some have basements, others have garages. Some homes had three bedrooms and one bathroom, others had four bedrooms and four bathrooms. We lived in houses with very little closet and cupboard storage, others with walk-in closets and walls lined with cupboards.

Because the houses have been so different and we have moved so often, I have accumulated a large stockpile of organizing products. This includes:

  • A slat-wall system with various hooks and baskets. It has been used in garages in previous homes to store garden tools and bicycles. Our current home has a shed that won’t support the use of the slat-wall system.
  • A plastic filing cabinet with broken locks and missing wheels. The cabinet was rather expensive. It is sturdy and in great shape so it could be used for storing something. It is currently empty.
  • I have probably two dozen fabric drawer organizers. I’ve used these to organize clothes in drawers and items on shelves in various houses over the years.
  • There are lots empty totes. I’m not sure what was in them at previous houses. They are all in great shape and have matching lids.
  • I have a few shelf extenders. Our current home has adjustable shelves in the kitchen cabinets. Almost none of our previous homes did.
  • I save car cup gum containers and Altoids tins because they are great for storing office supplies, cotton balls, cotton swabs, and other small items. There lots of each type of container in my stash because they might come in handy.
  • There is a tower of plastic drawers that I’m sure could come in handy for something but it is currently empty.
  • There are at least 50 ways to use a basket so I have baskets of all sizes in my stash. This includes a bunch of kitchen drawer organizers.

Part of me wants to keep all of these items because we will be moving again in less than one year. I have no idea where we will be moving or what our next house will be like. I might need the organizing supplies because they are useful and I just love having lots of organizing products.

Another part of me wants to just donate all of the stuff and only buy what I need when we move into our new house because I just love buying new organizing products.

So, I will ask fellow Unclutterers as the classic song by The Clash repeats in my head…

Readers, you got to let me know
Should it stay or should it go?
If you say “keep,” because it’s mine
It’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should it stay or should it go?

Gallery hanging systems can solve artwork clutter

When we lived in England, our home had picture rails mounted on every wall in the lounge (living room) and dining room and on at least one wall in each bedroom. At first, I thought it was odd. But, the walls were made of concrete covered with layers of plaster so when I tried to hang a picture by drilling a hole and sinking a plug, I almost broke the masonry bit, the plaster kept chipping off, and it was a big mess.

I purchased some equipment to hang my pictures from the rail at my local hardware store and hung my artwork. It was the easiest thing ever!

The following post (updated since it was originally published in 2007) talks about the ease and versatility of the picture rail system, something that I will install in our next home.

 

My father is a wildlife photographer. As his daughter, I have free access to his always expanding portfolio. I do not, however, have an always expanding supply of wall space to display my collection of his work.

To solve my conundrum and to keep my collection from getting out of control, I decided to turn the walls of the first floor of my house into an art gallery.

I started the project by installing an art gallery hanging system along the top of my walls. Cables slide into the tracks, and pictures hang from hooks that attach to the cables. I can hang multiple photographs on the wall at once, in any configuration, without having to hammer a single nail.

I currently have enough of his photographs that I can change the artwork on the first floor of my house three times a year. It does take some time to switch out the frames–I only have one set of frames that I use–but on the whole it is a pretty quick process. When the photos are not hanging on the walls, I store them in glassine envelopes inside an archival storage box. Having a limited number of pictures out at a time and the others stored safely in a small storage container keeps my collection of my father’s artwork uncluttered.

If you’re someone in a small space or who has a large artwork collection, you might want to consider installing an art gallery hanging system in your home. The system certainly worked for me.

Ten things to do in 10 minutes

I get frustrated when I work for eight hours straight and then finish the day feeling like I haven’t accomplished anything. It is as if I have been a hamster in a wheel, running nowhere. It’s times like these when I seek out small tasks that I can finish quickly to feel some sense of productivity. Often, too, small tasks are all that I can handle because I’m exhausted.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, feel welcome to tackle one (or more) of the following 10 uncluttering tasks you can do in 10 minutes:

  • Organize your sock drawer. Get rid of socks that are hole-ridden, stained, or without mates.
  • Clean out the cupboard under your kitchen sink. I’m not sure why, but in my home this is where all of my “I don’t want to deal with this right now” kitchen items land.
  • Round up all of your pet’s toys. My cats like to swat their toys under dressers and into closets. Once a week, I walk around the house with a yard stick, retrieve all of their toys, and return them to their toy basket.
  • Sort through your magazines. Decide which ones can stay and which ones should go.
  • Clear out your “to be watched” list. Check your favorites list on your Amazon Video, Netflix, and other streaming services accounts. Delete the movies and TV series you’ll never watch.
  • Start a load of laundry. Laundry and I are in a constant battle, and usually Laundry is winning.
  • Sit in silence and do nothing. I often forget to take time out of my day just to sit, collect my thoughts, and relax. Uncluttering my mind is just as important as uncluttering my home.
  • Straighten out the trunk of your car. Right now, there is a stack of wood in the trunk of my car. I remember how it got there six months ago, but I don’t know why it is still in there. It needs to find a different home.
  • Pull all of the extra hangers out of your closets. Hangers are like tribbles. They seem to appear out of thin air. I put mine in a grocery sack, toss the sack into my car, and then drop them off at the dry cleaner’s the next time I’m running errands.
  • Post a Freecycle ad. Find one thing you’ve been meaning to get rid of in your home, and create a Freecycle post for it.

Feel welcome to drop suggestions for 10 minute projects into the comments section–we would love to hear your ideas.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.