Wednesday, February 29, 2012

29 Day Challenge: The Final Reveal!

It has been an amazing month for me; it's been a labour of love and self realizations. It has been a month in which I discovered boxes of soup in triplicate, finding every eraser I've ever owned and the month I've come to realize that if I don't use it, it is okay to let it go. I've learned the benefit of containers and containerizing almost everything outside of it's original packaging. I've learned organizing is not expensive and even a processed cheese box can "containerize" something!

Spice Cupboard (before)
Spice Cupboard (after)

1. What space did you decide to organize and why?

I chose my kitchen for this challenge. As a working mom who spends almost half of my time at home in the kitchen, it only made sense to try and organize this cluttered, frustrating space. The large kitchen had jam packed cabinets, piles of cookbooks, food and artwork stacked three apples high on the counters and no space left to do any of the work usually done in a kitchen. My precious home time was being eaten up by moving pile after pile in order to free some counter space to prepare dinner and without fail, another twenty minutes was spent sifting through the endless packages, empty bottles and cascade of junk spilling out of my spice cupboard.

Snack Cupboard (before) 

2. What steps did you take to ensure you completed the space within the 29 day timeline?

Working as a project manager, I did what I do best to prepare for this challenge. I planned it out, step by step, job by job over the 29 days. I used my standard construction schedule template and instead of steps of construction, I added the tasks needed to be completed. I held weekly meetings with myself Saturday mornings to assess my next steps and taped the schedule to my fridge as a constant reminder.
Snack Cupboard (after)

3. What was the hardest part of the challenge for you and how did you overcome it?

Medicine Cupboard (before) 
I think the hardest part for me to deal with was the sheer volume of stuff that I had to go through. Each and every cupboard was packed full of everything – jobs I thought would take an hour ended up taking an entire day due to the volume of everything jammed in them!

Medicine Cupboard (after)

4. What did I do with the “stuff” you were able to purge out of the newly organized space?

 I packed it all up in boxes and it’s being posted to our local Freecycle website. The things I am unable to give away will be taken to a charity shop (like Value Village or Goodwill).

5. Tell me one of your proudest moments during this challenge?

In today’s society, a person’s perceived success is often tied to the stuff one has. “Things” have a way of making me feel important and like I’ve achieved success. These things are also the bane of my existence! Being able to get rid of the non-essentials was very liberating and made me realize that I don’t need LOTS to survive! Mies had it right when he said "Less is more!"

6. Explain any organizing tools you used to help you create additional space and to establish limits and boundaries?

Broom Closet (before) 
I used the containerize theory and took it very seriously. I didn’t realize how setting up a finite amount of space would aid in keeping me (and my things) in check! In the snack cupboard I used some baskets I bought last spring and because I purged some of the old plasticware, I used those containers to house other snacks and bits and bobs. I became so in love with containers, I decided some of the food boxes I'd emptied were just as good as any basket! Once I get a few moments, I'm going to cover the boxes in some nice scrapbook paper I have in the craft room!

Food Cupboard (before) 

Broom Closet (after)
Food Cupboard (after)

7. What is the one piece of advice you'd give someone else to encourage them on their organizing journey?

Everything I think of sounds cliche... But the key to understanding and discovering my organizing "groove" was the CONTAINER! Limiting the amount of space for any one item truly put it all together for me and solidified my understanding of the "PROCESS"!

Junk Drawer (before)
No more junk drawer!
Cheese box holds the bag clips!

Puppy Teeth!
Having finished up my organizing over the past month (the most recent changes are already two days old), I've had the opportunity to sit back and enjoy my space. I'm making a diligent effort to PUT THINGS BACK where I got them from, not let my paper clutter get away on me and did I mention PUTTING THINGS BACK! Before I show my horizontal spaces, I'd like to share one of my more curious finds... My baby puppy is now 12 years old - I've been carrying these around for 11 years! I'm not ready to part with them however cleaning the broom cupboard and getting rid of some old dog toys meant I could keep this little memento of my big dogs little dog days! 

Kitchen Clutter!

Kitchen Clean!

My kitchen counter clutter was eating away my time and desire to be in my kitchen. By thoroughly cleaning out the cabinets and purging boxes and boxes (four boxes, to be exact) of stuff allowed me to home many things off the counters and give my big country kitchen back it's "big"!

Clutter be gone!
Clutter Corner!

Microwave Clutter!
Microwave Clean!

Sharing my successes with the Organizing Junkie's 29 Day Challenge! Congratulations to all the participants for all the hard work! I've been enjoying reading all the posts and the trials and successes we've all be experiencing!

PS I've been having all sorts of technical issues with this post - my apologies if the formatting is wonky - it's late, I'm tired and I just don't know how to fix it!!! I also wanted to share my purge piles but too much more of this and I'm afraid I'll lose the post! 

Friday, February 24, 2012

29 Day Challenge: Down to the Wire!

Happy Friday, everyone! How is your organizing going? I'm starting to get my groove on this and although I was sick all week, I tackled a few more cupboards this week. With only four left to go - plus the dreaded Spice Cupboard, I think I have it all well in hand!

My purge piles aren't big, but I did do some big organizing! Our kitchen has a phenomenal amount of drawer space - seven drawers, to be exact. The unfortunate fact is that two of the drawers are "junk" drawers. The first one I tackled this week was JJ #2.

When I opened it, it looked like this:

And when I finished, it looked like this:

Simple right? The blue shopping bag you see in the first picture is filled with manuals - all the manuals for everything in our home... Dating back to the original 1970's washing machine (which is what we still use). We aren't in the bag often but when the time comes, it is a pain to find anything - the contents get dumped out and we're madly rifling through trying to find the dishwasher manual so we can order a part or get the serial number for the dryer. It may have made more sense to have them in our file cabinet but they have always been here (and this is where the previous owners kept them) so we left them there. But they needed structure so I filed them by room.

Lazy Susan (after)

Next, I hit up one of the two lazy Susan's... As a designer, there are some serious flaws with a typical (old style) Lazy Susan. They are round. Boxes are not. Secondly, building a corner cupboard is a big waste of space. In any event, my kitchen is the way it is and I can't change it but if anyone has any ideas on how to better utilize my Lazy Susan, I'd appreciate any tips!

Utensil Drawer (before)
Utensil Drawer (after)
The other big organization job I tackled was the utensil drawer. I purged it last year as part of my 52 Week Organizational Challenge but I'm having a hard time keeping it tidy. When I went through it today, there wasn't much to get rid of but I tried to sort it in a manner in which I use it - frequent items up front, less frequent tucked at the back of the drawer. I'm not completely happy with it (because I'll have to pretty much empty the drawer to get to things like the kebab skewers) but it is about as logical as I can figure at this time.

How are you fairing with your challenge? Laura's words hit home today - "...purging alone is an ongoing process." I adore the idea of a "Donation Station" - we've got three of those going on right now - one of which is from Week 16 of the 52 Week Challenge! Yes, I realize I have an issue... Thanks for stopping in and we'll see you in five days for the final share!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We-Design-Day: Interior Fittings - Electrical Systems (week 2)

The electrical systems in our home are an important aspect to the home study. Often, with the things we can't see in our homes, we forget about it. This, I think, is pretty common with the electrical system. Considering that one hundred years ago, homes with electricity were not common, it isn't too surprising to overlook one of the most used pieces of our home!

Let's look at the parts of your electrical system so we can understand how it fits in and what kind of maintenance and work may be required as part of our home evaluation system.

The electricity that powers your home comes in through the main service head from the outside. Depending on where you live and the age of your home, it can be delivered to your home either above ground or underground. It is fed into the home via a meter - the meter is the junction point and how the utility company finds out how much power you are using. It comes into your house and drops into your service panel (also referred to an electrical panel). This is the metal box that hangs on the wall at some part of your house and from it, wires run throughout your home and feed all your electrical needs.

The electrical panel is the place to start. A few things can be told by looking at your panel. Depending on the vintage of your home, the panel may or may not be fused. If your home is about 40 years old or older (and not had it's electrical upgraded) it is likely your home has a fused panel. This means that all the circuits in your home have a fuse protecting it. When the circuit is overloaded, the fuse will blow and require replacing before it will work again. Newer panels (that are not fused) have a breaker, the breaker will trip if overloaded and simply resetting the breaker will fix the outage of power caused. If your panel is a fuse style, add it to your list to be updated. Although it still works and is reliable, fuse panels are "old" technology and improvements have been made and new breaker panels are safer.

Next, check to see if you can identify the type of drop into your panel. Prior to the 1960's (in Canada, at least), drops to panels were generally 60amp. This amperage, with all the new technology we all have in our homes (televisions, computers, home theatres, etc) is insufficient. Upgrading to 100amp is preferred and although a costly endeavor, it too is important to the function and comfort of your home. Some homes are even employing 200amp drops - I suppose a lot of this depends on the service available in your area and your demand on the system.

While looking at your panel, if you can, take a look at the conduit (big, thick silver looking pipe that carries the power to your panel). If you see the letters "AL" or the word "Aluminum" on the pipe, you very well may have aluminum wiring. This style of wiring was commonly used between 1950 and the late 1970's. Again, this is something that is in need of replacement. New code, new developments in technology all suggest this is important to correct. When we were house shopping, my other Mom went with me. Her experience in home insurance inspections was what first alerted me to the issues with this type of wiring. It can be a fire hazard.

The three aforementioned items are the "big ticket" items, other considerations include knob and tube wiring (used more commonly in homes built before 1930). If your home has this, it too should be factored in to your study and replaced.

Duplex outlets, light switches and light fixtures are all part of your electrical system and at some point, will need to be refreshed in your home. The how and when are up to you, your use of them and their function.

I do not expect (or recommend) anyone to do anything "electrical" - the electrics in your home (much like your mechanical system) can be dangerous and it is imperative that only qualified and certified personnel work on the systems. This is one area where it is life or death and is not worth trying to "DIY". I have no issue with replacing a light fixture, exchanging an outlet or maybe even wiring a new light, anything more than that and I always recommend a professional.

Thanks for reading today - next week, we are going to wrap up the Interior Fittings portion of our study.

More Reading:
US Department of Energy
More on Aluminum wiring

Friday, February 17, 2012

29 Day Challenge: Procrastination Central

This week, I had a senior project manager at work tell me (about an upcoming project) that:

"If the project has 100 (class) rooms and you've got four months to do them and you're two months into the job and you aren't done 50 rooms, you better look at bringing contractors in as YOU CAN'T DO MORE THAN HALF THE JOB WITH ONLY HALF THE TIME LEFT."

Houston, I have a problem.

I am 10 days from the final reveal and guess who has not progressed past the first cabinet? That would be me, in case you couldn't guess!

I did, however, get the rack for my spice cupboard, a drawer unit for TroubleMaker's snacks and something to start working on my "Command Centre".

I think I'll have to focus on my "hot spots" and get a much larger box for purging.

On the plus side, my first cupboard is remaining organized! Yay! I'm going to get into high gear tomorrow and see if I can't catch up! Check back in a couple days and see what I've accomplished!

February 20th Update!

Today it felt a little like a screen shot from Sleeping with the Enemy. As I mentioned, I was behind... Really behind... And although I am still behind schedule, I do believe after my crazy-do-it-all today attitude, I can see the finish line and I fully expect to be ready for the reveal on the 29th! Let's get to the progress I made today!

Servery Cupboard (before)

Servery Cupboard (after)

 This cupboard holds some of the serving dishes that match our dinner set. It also is home to an odd collection of travel cups and antique breakfast dishes that I never use. I also found bubbles and the wedding favour from my parents wedding in 2005 (Dad & second mother).

Dinnerware Cupboard (before)

Dinnerware Cupboard (after)

Next is my dinnerware cabinet. Although the lower portion of the cupboard was fine, the top shelf had a hodge-podge of coffee mugs. I had decided to purge all the mugs and save only those with the "most" sentimental value. If TroubleMaker had his way, we would have kept every cup... Thankfully, he lost interest and moved onto another project. Cleaning out the cups allowed me to move the patio dinnerware into this cupboard so it is "same with same". I also decided against buying new coffee mugs - I decided that the cups that match the dinnerware will work just fine for coffee.

Pantry Cupboard (before)
The next cupboards are where I began to feel a little "Sleeping with the Enemy". I actually had so much stuff shoved in these cupboards and had already purged so much out of the first two cupboards that I no longer had anywhere to place stuff! Instead of emptying it completely, I moved the top shelf (my summer dinnerware) and used the top shelf as a staging area.

Pantry Cupboard (after)
As I sorted and stacked, I felt the compulsion to align all the labels... It was creepy but the straighter I got the labels, the happier I was! My husband even commented on how good it looked and how I should be overly concerned with the three packages of pudding, fruit cups and Kool-Aid that had gotten lost and was now past the "best before" date. He also concluded that organizing it was "fine" but it was the long term management we would both have issues with. I am also proud to say that by cleaning out this cupboard, I was able to home several packages of snacks, munchies and pickles that had been stacked on the counter because I had no more room!

Snack Cupboard (before)
The next cupboard started off it's life as the tea cupboard and evolved into the "kid cupboard". Then it was a cross of both tied in with some of my medication (because there was no room in the medication cupboard). This is where I run into the duplicate and triplicate problem. Last weekend, I picked up a drawer unit for "sometimes snacks". Once I got into this cupboard, I realized for a family of people who don't drink tea, we sure have a lot of teas...

Snack Cupboard (after)
I cleaned so much out of this cupboard that I can now home all the coffee supplies (including the carafe, press and grinder)! The tease are organized in a stacking basket and the lower shelf are all lunch/kid snacks! I can see this simplifying the lunch making process for me!

Bar servery/medication Cupboard (before)

The last cupboard I tackled today was the one I knew I'd be getting rid of the most stuff. My husband and I are not big drinkers however my sister managed a liquor store and we got lots of beer glasses. We also had lots (and lots and lots) of wine glasses and just about a dozen high ball glasses. I was ruthless in this cupboard... I kept six beer glasses and six wine glasses. I got rid of all the crystal (goblets, red and white, aperitif and champagne) and all the highball glasses.

Bar servery/medication Cupboard (after)

Cleaning out this cupboard gave me SO MUCH room in my kitchen! All the medications can be in one spot and I've got a home for our lunch kits and even was able to keep a few of the oddball cups TroubleMaker wanted and a home for our collection of Christmas mugs.

What surprised me most was the room I gained. I've read Laura's recommendation to use baskets to store snacks and such but I had a hard time grasping the idea. It never seemed logical that removing the products from it's packaging and putting it a container could reduce the amount of real estate it required! I am a believer... Not only did it work, doing so created a half bag of recycling! The whole process also created a half garbage bag of garbage! I've got three very full boxes of purged stuff to pass along! Look at my purge piles... I can't believe all this stuff was crammed in the kitchen!
More stemware to go!
Stemware to Go!

Coffee mugs to Go!
Some expired food!

Expired Medications
Packed and ready for a new home!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We-Design-Day: Home Evaluation - Interior Fittings (Part 1)

This week, we’re moving inside! I'm going to split the interior into three sections to be covered over the next three weeks – mechanical, electrical and the general and aesthetic components. I am not an electrician or a plumber but fortunately, I've been involved in enough institutional renovations that I have a fairly good idea of how a system should operate and simple home owner tips that can improve the life of your existing mechanical systems.

When you start to think about the mechanical components in your home, it's easy to get overwhelmed and not even know where to start. In a manner of speaking, your home is a breathing entity. Air must come in and air must go out. Improper air movement – either caused by “too tight” construction or by “too loose” construction can cause equal energy inefficiencies. It's hard to know where the balance lays and it varies depending on to whom you speak. The mechanical systems in our homes help the house breathe and when it isn't operating properly, the result could be higher energy bills, poor indoor air quality/sick building syndrome or mould.

A typical home mechanical system is comprised of four main parts: heating, cooling, ventilation and plumbing. These are further broken down to the furnace, air conditioner, humidifier, ducting, hot water heater, pipes, drains, hot and cold water. Other homes may have other parts, but generally, these are the "common" parts.

We don't have to be experts to know if we've got problems with any of these items. Stale air, lack of heat and smells can be indicators something isn't working right. 

We can start our inspection in our furnace rooms. Note the type and age of your furnace - you are a looking for a manufacturer’s tag that should give you all the pertinent details. Most utility companies (in Canada) perform free inspections on your furnace. They can check the fittings, look for leaks and
As with many things on our checklist, age is a major factor in determining the need to replace anything. Old doesn't mean "no good", of course, but as everything ages, the parts start to wear and fail and like your building envelope, you do not want your furnace to tank during a cold snap! To check the efficacy of your furnace, remove a vent cover in your living room - when standing; can you feel air moving when the furnace is running? If not, check another room, if the air flow is limited, it may be your ducts need cleaning. Are you cold air intakes covered? It should be added to every spring and fall clean to remove the cover plate and vacuum the plate. Also, ensure no furniture or other such item is blocking the air intake. in order for a mechanical system to work properly, free flowing air must be present.

Design Tip: Most people consider putting furniture up against a wall a design 'no-no' - while this is true, the bigger reason not to is because you can cover furnace vents and cold air intakes, thus restricting the air flow in your home! Think of grouping your furniture in conversational arrangements and using walls with no ducting to anchor large pieces.

One area of the house too hot, another cold? Hire a professional and consider relocating your thermostat before replacing the furnace. Our mechanical system is costly so start saving those pennies - all furnaces and hot water tanks will eventually need replacing and depending on where you live, you may eligible to government grants or rebates for improving the energy efficiency of your home.

When our hot water heater went during my seventh month of pregnancy, we were home and both of us thought the other was running water. By the time we figured out what it was, we were inches away from flooding our carpet and furniture in our family room! There were no signs, other than age, that the hot water tank had any issues. As part of your furnace inspection, most utility companies can also assess your hot water tank and if not, a furnace cleaning company can often offer cleaning and maintenance services. If your tank does go, consider a tankless system - although the initial cost is high, the hot water on demand is great and you aren't spending hundreds of dollars a year heating 40 gallons of water when

Mommy Tip: Go right now and check the temperature of your hot water tank. it should be set no higher than  49°C (120° F). This is essential if you've got children in your home - we all like a nice hot shower, but not at the expense of scalding a small child. Our tank has been set like this its entire life and it won't change.

Wait, you're not done yet! That snake-work of pipes running all over (your home) are part of your mechanical system! Cold water, hot water, drains, toilets and sinks are all part of this system and ensuring their operation - although not directly impacting the effectiveness of the whole system - can impact your energy budget by wasting water! A leaky toilet can use up to 200 000 litre of water annually - not only is our clean water supply at risk, the cost (to the home owner) is extremely high - so you are literally, flushing money down the toilet!

A leaking pipe, a dripping tap can all cause excess cost and waste. Although this isn’t necessarily directly part of our home evaluation, it goes to show how all the parts of our puzzle need to work together to ensure our home is functioning. All these parts need to be looked at, listed in your evaluation and a plan for replacement devised. Certainly, a furnace can last your lifetime (in the home) but they can go with no notice or cause extra costs through repairs or wasted energy. It’s good to get all these things on our radar now before they can fail.

Next week, we’re going to look at the electrical system and how it fits in to our Home Evaluation. Thank you for stopping by and as always, I value your feedback and questions!

Friday, February 10, 2012

29 Day Org Challenge: Applying the PROCESS!

Our kitchen is the hub of our home and as such, it is often a dumping ground for mail, packages, artwork and all those “things” a house has that has no other home. We cook, eat, entertain, play games, surf the Internet, craft, take pictures, play trucks, potato head and read books all in this one room. At first glance, it doesn't look much different than any other kitchen across the world; cabinets, counters, appliances, table and chairs.

It's what you can't see that is the problem! Behind the fir and cherry late 1970's cabinetry is a host of clutter and chaos that threatens to spill out every time one opens a door. The plastic containers are helter-skelter, the spice cupboard is a balancing act an aerobatic team would envy and the food storage is a mess of tipped cans, squashed boxes in duplicate and triplicate (because I buy, lose in the mess, buy, lose again, buy – repeat). Behind each closed door is a new disaster.

And I'm ready for change.

My kitchen “hot zones” - areas that continually attract clutter – are:
  • spice cupboard
  • plastics storage
  • pantry/food storage

Other areas that in the clutter trap are:
  • lazy Susan's (x2)
  • the entire counter top right of the kitchen sink!
  • Bread box

The whole challenge has me feeling overwhelmed – there are 20 cupboards in my kitchen, 7 drawers, too much horizontal surface, a work station, our table and the “feeding” stations for our fur-kids. I keep reminding myself it is a PROCESS and to look at it in little bits but as the week is wrapping up and only three left to go, I'm overwhelmed. So I did what any good project manager does and made myself a schedule.

As you see, I spent several days procrastinating, another day cleaning another space and then I planned my month and have been shopping for clutter solutions. I'm not sure if that's the right method – I keep thinking if I find the right system, it will solve my problems... This week, I tackled my plastics cupboard.

Presently, I have no system in place for any area except the plastics. In this cupboard, I have two sets of Tupperware; they stack nicely and their lids sit on the shelf above. The remainder of the 'take and toss' plastic has had various attempts at keeping it together. Snapping the lids in place and stacking them, stacking the containers and placing the lids under them. The current system is to toss them all in, shove them back if you need more room and close the door quickly and run from the kitchen and hope you don't have to open the cupboard next!

Needless to say, this isn't working.

When I decided to tackle this cupboard, I still didn't have a solution in mind. I really have no idea how to manage the 'take and toss' plastic ware. I emptied the cupboards, sorting the 'stuff' by brand and type. Next, I thought about what we use, how we use it and the frequency we use it. 

This made some of the purging decisions simple. The 70's wood salad bowl set belonged to my grandmother – I've hung onto it all these years because I “thought” I needed a salad bowl set... Ask me the last time I used it (it wouldn't matter because I couldn't tell you the last time it was used). The corn holders – again, we have them and may have used them once last summer but there really isn't any reason the cobs can't sit on our plates like normal people! Odd plastics, lids, old mixing bowls and broken items are set and ready to find new homes.

When I reloaded the cabinet, I decided that the way I had it sorted made no sense. I never use vases, I did have about 8 at one time, but I started buying flowers and sending them home with our mother's in vases. It was perfect! I only have two left and they are perfectly happy at the back of the cupboard. Also on that shelf, I put the glass bowls and serving platter. I do use them but not more often then the things now on the second shelf.

The issue still is how to store the plastic ware. After a discussion with my husband, we decided on ONE brand and as we move forward, we will start purging the old and replacing it will all the same brand. In the interim, I've stacked them by brand with their lids sitting under them.

Sitting back and looking at the cupboard, it was a small project but I feel like I had large success. It is tangible and it looks a thousand times better! I have my path for the remainder of the month and although it will be busy, having the cupboards organized and done by the spring will leave me time to plan and design my kitchen improvement project for the summer!

Thanks for stopping by and remember to check out the hundred or so of us participating this month in the Org Junkie's 29 Day OrganizingChallenge!

My first purge pile of the challenge!


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