enjoy life, simplify

Simple Living

You’d think with all the great technology and gadgetry available today, we’d have more time to enjoy life. After all, aren’t cell phones, leaf blowers, cappuccino makers, and computers supposed to make our lives more convenient? In theory, they sound like time savers. But somehow, they just seem to create the need to “do” more, and they often make our lives more complex. What would happen if you put away these time savers for a weekend? Imagine two days without the blaring ring of your cell phone. Imagine raking leaves by hand, enjoying the sounds of crispy leaves and nature sans the roar of the leaf blower. Imagine warming water for a cup of simple herbal tea, rather than dragging out that huge coffee-making contraption. Imagine reading your favorite book cuddled on the couch rather than hunched over your computer. Living simply sounds inviting and compelling!

By paring life down to its essentials — the things, activities, and relationships you either truly need or genuinely cherish, you unburden your life and live with fewer distractions. When you live simply, you determine what is important, or enough, for you, and discard the rest.

Millions of Americans are consciously practicing this “new” way of living. Reasons to move away from complexity and over-abundance and toward simplicity vary. Some people want to save money, eliminating their debt and living within their means. Others want to help the environment by reducing and reusing things rather than purchasing more stuff. Others simplify to find more time — less stuff to maintain means more time for family, friends, and hobbies. Some see it as a spiritual journey.  Others view it as a way to reject consumerism or embrace social justice. No matter what the reasons, simplifying your life makes simple sense. Research shows that the more people fill their lives with things, the emptier they feel. Give simple living a try instead and discover its life-changing benefits.

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kitchens, Organizing

Creating a Functional Kitchen

As we head from Spring into Summer, now is a great time to do some reorganizing (or organizing for the first time) of our kitchens. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time in my kitchen all year long. Here are some tips to help you assess and organize the central part of any home.

STEP 1: ANALYSIS

As you ponder where to place your kitchen things, begin by analyzing your old storage systems. Were some things working well? If so, don’t change them! If you love storing your mugs by the coffee maker, stick with it. If it’s convenient to have your recipe books on the countertop, keep it up.

Now ponder anything inconvenient. How could you make those things work a little better? For example, if you hate having piles of cans and bottles littering your countertop as they await a trip outside for recycling, then make a new plan. Clear space under the sink to install a pull-out trash can to capture those recyclables immediately after use. If you hate reaching to the top shelf to get your favorite, frequently-used mixing bowls, make a plan to house them in a more convenient location like an eye-level shelf. Where you put your stuff is as important as what you own. If you can’t find it when you need it, or it’s inconvenient to reach, you’ll likely not use it!  (Here’s a tip from my kitchen: my trashcans sit out in the open in the kitchen since we do not have cabinet space for them. I purchased two slim trashcans – one black and one white – and sat them side by side. The black trash can is for trash; the white trashcan is for recycling. You can choose any two colors that would work for your kitchen but this is a great way to have a sleek look while gathering recycling. We use paper grocery store bags in the recycling can and when it is full, we lift it out and put the bag in the larger, trash company provided recycling bin.)

STEP 2: PLACEMENT

As you look over your groupings of kitchen items, start pulling aside the things you use most often. Then store them where you use them. For example, your everyday dishes might work great directly above your dishwasher or close to the table. Perhaps your pots and pans and cookie sheets could go near the stove.

Keeping similar things together will help you navigate your kitchen more easily. For example, store everything related to cooking in one area. You might group your pots and pans, bakeware, hot mitts, and cooking utensils in one area. Create a food preparation area by grouping cutting boards, knives, and mixing bowls. If you love to bake, consolidate cookie cutters, mixers, measuring cups and spoons in one area.

There are many helpful organizing products available to keep your kitchen orderly. Baskets and bins come in a variety of sizes and hold foods, like onions and potatoes, as well as cleaning supplies. A wall-mounted spice rack saves cupboard space. Inside cupboards, double-decker wire shelf stackers double storage space. Wooden cookware racks keep pot lids tidy. An attractive vase or crock near your stove top corrals utensils. (Here’s a tip from my kitchen: I have stainless steel appliances and bought a stainless steel ice bucket and use it to hold the stove top utensils on the counter next to the stove – it is easy to wipe clean and keeps the stainless steel look flowing.)

If you use something frequently, keep it close and convenient. Put infrequently used items way up high, down low, or in the back. Place anything you use daily (such as everyday dishes) at eye level, so you’re not stooping down or reaching on tip-toe. Keep heavy things down low and lighter things up high. For example, if you use your turkey platter or punch bowl only once or twice a year, place them on a bottom shelf.

STEP 3: MAINTENANCE

Once your kitchen is organized, pat yourself on the back. Job well done! But you’re not quite finished… Establish an “in/out” system where some purging takes place before you purchase a new item. If you buy a new set of plastic storage containers, toss out an equal amount of your old storage containers. If you come home with a new mug, an old one must go! It may be helpful to stash a donation box somewhere nearby as an easy reminder of this rule. Also, take time once each year to review your kitchen and all its accouterments. Discard anything broken, donate  anything unused in the past 12 months, and make sure the storage systems still make sense for you and your housemates. Consider your kitchen a work in progress, and like fine wine it will only get better with time.

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