Inexpensive Solutions for Kitchen & Pantry Organization

The inspiration for this post came from week 7 of Home Storage Solution’s 52 Weeks to an Organized Home challenge.  Originally I challenged myself to go through each and every week, but here I am editing this post in May having only been able to get through 8 weeks of the challenge (whoops!). So clearly that didn’t work out too well.  I think I am going to officially declare myself defeated!  This post will discuss cheap ways to organize your kitchen!  I would like to think I am an organized person, but this house does not demonstrate that.  The kitchen especially.  After moving into the housey house, it took us over a year to fully unpack everything (notice I said “unpack” and not “organize”).  On the plus side, it makes for some very dramatic before and after pics…

When I wasn’t tossing bags of molding produce or 2014 pizza sauce from our refrigerator, or cleaning up a bag’s worth of frozen kale bits that had fallen on the bottom of the freezer 6 months ago, I realized there’s some good ways to save money here:

1. IKEA sells a great set called Fintorp for wall organization.  However, the cost of a rod, hooks, and buckets to hang stuff adds up.  To save yourself the cost of the $9 rod you could use a stick instead (plus it gives it a cool rustic look):

kitchen organization


2. Instead of buying a sponge holder, I substituted a mini corningware I was gifted and never have used for cooking (but that’s a different story)

sponge holder

3. Matchy matchy spice jars are really great, and essentially make you a better homeowner and person (not to mention your friends/family will think you have your life completely together), but it’s way cheaper to organize them without stressing about that.  Here’s what I did:

Figure out where to put your spices.  Do you want to store them in the cabinet, on the refrigerator with magnets, or in a drawer?  Our pantry is an ikea cabinet with drawers.  And of course we decided to put our most frequently used item in the pantry – the spices, on the highest drawer in said cabinet.  Hmmm:

spice cabinet before

Instead of cayenne (get it? crying?!) over my lackluster spice organizational skills, I decided in the spirit of the 52 week challenge to reorganize my spices and entire pantry.  I figured hey, no big dill, right?!  After removing all the spices and putting them on the freshly cleaned counter thanks to week 1-2, I realized I had a problem: spices in bags, expired spices, jars that had been cleaned out and thrown back in the cabinet, and duplicates of some spices (I’m sure the fact I could barely reach the spices in the cabinet had nothing to do with the fact there are duplicates).  I also found a few of my smaller glass and plastic tupperware containers I thought were long gone…

So many spices

After cleaning out the empty spice jars (amateur-but-pretending-to-be-pro-tip: soaking the jars and caps in white vinegar does a nice job of removing whatever residual smell of spices there may be), I used my leftover chalkboard labels cut to size to label each one.  Then came thyme to place each one in the drawer in alphabetical order, so when we needed one it would be easy to find…once you recited the alphabet to yourself.  Organizing them proved an interesting task.  Since I’m no sprig chicken, alphabetizing them at 11:30pm on a Sunday night proved to be an interesting debate between the husband and I.  Me: “Oregano goes after Paprika right? It doesn’t? What do you mean it doesn’t? A,B,C….L, M, N, O…oh…”

organized spices

organized spices2


4. Buying a set of mason canning jars is often a cheaper alternative to buying individual mason jars online or in the stores.  I went to my local Fred Meyer for those, but Target also sells them.  I used them to store food from our pantry, and labeled with chalkboard labels.  Here’s what the cabinet looked like before, and after organizing them:

smoothie cabinet before

kitchen organization


And here are some more organization before and after pictures from the first few weeks of the kitchen & pantry challenge!  Onwards!

top drawer before

top drawer after


flour before

flour after


5 Creative Uses for Chalkboard Paint

Ah, chalkboard paint.  A great excuse to draw all over things you wouldn’t normally.  The most interesting context I have seen chalkboard paint used in was a year and a half ago when the husband and I were out house hunting.  We walked into a charming craftsman to find that an entire wall spanning two floors – up the stairs and down the hallway – was covered in chalkboard paint, and the kids had drawn all over it.  For the open house someone (I presume the realtor or stagers) tried to clean all the scribbles off and then draw a pretty house on it.  The final product was a smudged wall with a shaky white picket fence house drawn on it.  I took one look at it and declared the house a hard pass.  Even though I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m ready to paint our walls in black chalkboard paint (maybe you need children in your life to get yourself to this point), here are some creative uses I have found for the chalkboard effect:

1. On the inside of cabinet doors – I have to give credit to the prior owners of the house on this one.  When we were touring the housey house and I excitedly swung open the doors to the pantry cabinet (Ikea drawers are really cool), there was chalkboard paint on the inside.  I continued this trend by writing on it a smoothie recipe that my husband uses often (it’s just so dang complicated), and these measuring conversions that we can never seem to remember.

chalkboard paint measuring equivalents

2. Garden markers – read my tutorial on that here – Turning regular rocks that you would find in your backyard into something useful thanks to chalkboard paint is another creative use for chalkboard paint.  All you need is a can of chalkboard spray paint and a permanent white sharpie paint marker.

chalkboard paint garden markers


3. Organizational labels & Food labels – Labels for everyone!  I love labels.  And thanks to chalkboard paint it makes it easier to change out the label if the contents change.  I used chalkboard labels for the items in our pantry cabinet, and for organizing all of our my bathroom products (let’s be honest the only thing of my husband’s in these baskets is his shaving cream).  The labels for the bathroom baskets I made by just painting a piece of white cardstock paper with chalkboard paint.  The food labels I was too lazy to make, so I bought them off of amazon, here.

food labels

face label

4. A chore calendar – Because our housey house has half the square footage of your house (seriously…), our laundry room is located in the northwest corner of our closet.  Here is where I keep a chore calendar, reminding me when I have cleaned everything.  I found this chalkboard in our basement – we had purchased it a few years ago for our wedding – and hadn’t put it to use since.  I used this marker, which is great because it’s not permanent like my white sharpie I used for the garden markers, so I can wipe it off with a damp rag and write the new date for each chore.  And for those with hawk eyes, yes, there are some items that don’t have dates…that means those desperately need to be cleaned!

chalkboard chores

5. Bachelorette gifts – When my BFF had her bachelorette party last year, I made party favors out of mason jars, painted the lids with chalkboard paint, and wrote each girl’s name on top with my trusty white sharpie paint marker.  Inside among the favors was a recovery kit, which was a tin that I also painted with chalkboard paint and decorated.

chalkboard paint bachelorette party favors

chalkboard paint recovery kit

I also found this fun article on Buzzfeed which shows 31 useful ways to use chalkboard paint.  I love the wine and cheese label idea!


Tips and tricks to save money each month

money flying2After we bought our housey house and started paying that thing called a mortgage, we realized that our current level of spending just wasn’t sustainable, unless we wanted to declare bankruptcy the same year.  Since I wasn’t particularly in the bankruptcy-declaring mood, that meant we needed to cut our spending, and do it fast.  A little over a year later, we are saving money each month while still maintaining a good quality of life.  Below are categories of spending and ways I have found to tighten the budget a bit on each.  I hope you find this helpful!

what if i told you

1. Restaurants/coffee shops/eating out budget:

  • Limit yourself to one drink (or better: no drinks!) – Seriously, drinks are $$$$ at restaurants.  If you must order a drink, limit yourself to just one, and try not to make it the expensive top shelf cocktail.  As I have found, if you are a married woman of ripe age for child bearing like myself, people will immediately think you are pregnant if you don’t order a drink, so lately I’ve been either splitting a beer with my husband or getting a drink for myself :)
  • Pay attention to the price of that dry aged NY cut you really want with the side of dungeness crab and fresh maine lobster.  Honestly I didn’t realize I would order some of the most expensive items on the menu until my husband called out my expensive taste one night at dinner, and mentioned I had done that the past three times we went out to eat!  There’s nothing wrong with splurging every now and then, but for us trying to cut our spending, it was necessary for me to just start being aware of the prices.
  • Ask about the corkage fee.  We recently went out to eat for my mom’s birthday, the corkage fee was $25, and every bottle of wine on the menu was in the way-too-expensive-and-overpriced price range.  To save a few bucks, we bought a bottle from Trader Joe’s and had the restaurant cork it.  The cost of the wine + corkage fee was still cheaper than buying a bottle off the menu.
  • Nix the $5 daily 107-degree-double-tall-two pumps vanilla-latte, and go for the drip.  Or better yet, brew yourself a cup at home.  I cut coffee entirely and switched to this tea to save more money
  • Browse daily deal sites (groupon, living social, amazon local, etc) for coupons to restaurants or coffee shops you frequent

2. Bills:

  • Cell phone – How much are you paying?  Is there a cheaper plan out there?  Compare options
  • Insurance – Car insurance can be a big monthly expense that doesn’t need to be.  It’s relatively easy now with online quotes to shop around.  Ask about safe driver discounts, military discounts, good student discounts, etc (you’ll be surprised how many discounts companies may offer!).  In my experience I have found Liberty Mutual offers nice discounts, or if you live in the Seattle area, Pemco for us was the cheapest once I bundled my home insurance in with the car insurance.
  • Garbage – Evaluate your garbage collection bills. My friend lives close to the dump and just drives her garbage there instead of paying for pickup.  When we first moved in to the housey house we downsized the size of our garbage can to save money.  It doesn’t seem like a grand gesture I know, but here at this blog I amass cents so I’ll take anything I can get!
  • Thermostat – Turn down the temperature and throw on a sweatshirt.  And if you won’t be at home during the day, crank it down also!  Don’t heat an empty home!
  • Hot water tank – Turn the temperature down on it.  This seems like a no brainer but it took us 6 months and multiple $300+ monthly heating bills before we realized our water tank was pumped up to the maximum heat (oh, so that’s why I was burning myself washing the dishes), and we were barely using it.

3. Downsize:

  • Go down to one car.  If you have 2+ cars, can you get away with one?  Or if you live in the city, no car?  We are a one car family (due to three accidents in the past two years, but that’s a different story…), and after we realized we could make it work (I take the bus or car2go), we have stayed that way with no plans to change.  Car insurance is also cheaper now that we are only insuring one vehicle!
  • Get a cheaper apartment.  Is there an apartment out there that will still work with your lifestyle that costs less money?
  • Cut the cable – We don’t have a TV, and honestly don’t miss it.  Between Youtube, Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, we have everything we would ever want to watch.  If you must watch your favorite sports team play, go to a bar (but don’t order more than one beer!)

4. Shopping Online:

  • Two words: Promo Codes.  Before buying ANYTHING online, do a google search for a promo code (like this example for Target).  I rarely buy anything online without a promo code.
  • Is it cheaper at another site you might not expect?  For instance, I recently purchased some shoes for my mother-in-law for Christmas.  I googled the name of the shoe, and searched around a handful of shoe sites for coupon codes to compare pricing.  Just to be sure, I compared pricing on and found them $5 cheaper with free shipping.  Sooollld!!
  • Be patient.  If the purchase isn’t time sensitive, be patient, often times as stock rolls through a store they will start marking things down.  Or if you are a member of amazon prime, consider their subscribe & save option that ships out once per month.
  • Buy used.  Besides craigslist and goodwill – ebay, poshmark, and twice are sites I have found with great steals on like new or gently used clothing.  It’s online thrifting!

5. Personal care budget:

  • Paint your own nails.  Since we have started budgeting tighter, I have dramatically cut down on the amount of times I go out and get a mani/pedi (in the past year I only got two)
  • Do you really need a cut & color every 8 weeks? – I went from spending $150+ on my cut and color 4 times a year to spending $50 at a training salon 2 times a year.  Yeah there are times during the year when my hair isn’t perfectly highlighted and my roots are showing (accidental ombre hair yes I am so in style!), but if it saves me $500 I’ll take it.
  • Check daily deal sites – I know I’ve mentioned deal sites before with regards to restaurants, but I am constantly checking to see if they have deals for local hair salons (I also check for spas, nail salons, etc.)  Also before purchasing a deal, cross check it with yelp reviews to make sure you get a good deal at a decent salon.  That last thing all of us need while trying to save a few bucks is a bad dye job, let’s be honest.
  • Eyebrow waxing for free – If you go to the Macy’s Benefit Brow Bar on your birthday, your eyebrow waxing is free!  Score!


And this probably goes without saying, which means I’ll say it anyway.  If you are a Christian, trust God with your money.  Seriously.  In the end, He provides for you.  Ask yourself, “am I stewarding the money He has lent me for my time on earth correctly?” I found just merely asking myself this question was helpful motivation to back away from unwise purchases.  Every single debit or credit card swipe, check written, or money handed over is an act of worship.  What are you worshiping?

Don’t do these things, and you’ll be just fine

In honor of us living in our house for a little over a year, I decided to make a top ten list of the dumb things I have done as a new homeowner.  Because, what better way to spend a Sunday evening than laughing at yourself?  So, without further ado, I give you: particularly dumb things I did in the first year of owning the house, that I will try very hard never EVER to do again:

1. Spray painting on the back deck during a fall windstorm. We used to have a gray deck, now we have a gray and black splotched back deck
2. Leaving keys in front door lock overnight, with the porch light shining straight on them.
3. Setting the thermostat to 71 degrees…and leaving it at that 24/7…turns out in a house with single paned windows that rattle in the wind, that’s $300+ worth of heat per month
4. Don’t ever use black chalk spray paint for a touch up job when the following conditions are true: you have not taped the things you don’t want painted, and you haven’t checked where the nozzle of the can is pointing.
5. Leaving the back door unlocked. For three weeks.
6. Spending an entire Saturday afternoon raking the fall leaves up when there is still half of them left on the trees.
7. We have a cute old fashioned claw foot tub. When the rod that carries the water upward to the showerhead becomes detached, sending water spraying all over the bathroom, the proper response is to calmly turn off the water, not scream for your husband’s help while you stare at it.
8. I decided to hang some pictures. So I grabbed the necessary tools and began hammering the nail into the drywall. Except it was plaster…not drywall.
9. I pulled an electrical outlet out from the wall and proceeded to shock myself. Turns out you shouldn’t go yanking those things out of the wall, or touching the metal bits on them
10. And finally, #10, when you are throwing queen size box springs off the second story balcony and want to avoid the baby apple tree in the middle of the yard, I would suggest overcompensating with your aim and going WAY far left, or WAY far right. Otherwise, it may just go sailing straight into said fruit tree, killing it instantly.

A Summer’s Vegetable Garden

First off, WOW where did the time go?!  I have a lot of posts from the summer in the works, but for this one I wanted to keep it straightforward and share with you some pictures from our vegetable garden this summer!  Since this was our first summer in our housey house, this is version 1.0 of the garden – the year of learning what does and doesn’t fair well in our yard, how big certain plants get, how much to plant, and how the vegetables fit into our diet.  Here is how we tackled the project, and some helpful resources I found:

Turning Ugly into Tolerable

Our backyard was bad.  It’s part of the reason we were actually able to afford our housey house.  It was an awkward combination of grasses, ground cover, bulb flowers, weed sheets, and an air mattress pool (we’ll get to THAT later…).  We opted to plant directly into the soil instead of making raised planter beds (we have, in general, decent soil here in Seattle that is conducive to growing), and we wanted to just get rid of the randomness in the yard and put what little square footage we have to a productive use.  So we rented this tiller from Home Depot, and dug up about 300 square feet of the yard.  Looking back on this project now that we have a functioning garden, I would say it was worth our time, but it was a LOT of work each weekend in the spring trying to get this yard ready (I was the most boring friend during those times: “Sorry, no, I can’t go to that super cool Ballard bar with you that has killer cocktails because I’m digging up my backyard so I can plant a vegetable garden that may or may not grow.  Do you want to help me weed the yard?…hello?  Hello?!”)

Below are some before and after pics:


After tilling the yard we started raking out the bits of grass and weeds left in the soil

After tilling the yard we started raking out the bits of grass and weeds left in the soil


You find odd things when you start digging up a yard with 100+ years of history. This is a pool that one of the previous owners sized to her air mattress so she could float in the backyard.

You find odd things when you start digging up a yard with 100+ years of history. This is a pool that one of the previous owners sized to her air mattress so she could float in the backyard.


Digging up the pool proved to be a bit more of a bicep workout than I had bargained for with layers of rotting wood beams stacked on each other

Digging up the pool proved to be a bit more of a bicep workout than I had bargained for with layers of rotting wood beams stacked on each other


Here's the garden at the height of the summer

Here’s the garden at the height of the summer and me testing out if we wanted a brick patio at the bottom of the picture (answer: eh, maybe someday, but I’m too lazy right now to start that project)

backyard garden2


Planning the Garden

I found the website incredibly helpful.  This website helps you plan out a garden and gives you a weekly to-do list of when to plant, tend to, water, and harvest the various fruits & veggies you plant.  It also tells you a TON of information on each type of plant you have (e.g. light and water requirements, length to maturity, length of germination, plant height stats, and hardiness ratings).  You input measurements of your garden, what shape you would like it to be, and what plants you want to plant, and you can either automatically or manually generate your own garden plot.  The icons of the various plants are either large or small to give you an idea of how much space they will take up in your garden once they reach full size.  Here’s the plot of what our garden looks like (note: we ended up deviating from this quite a bit, partly because I can’t read a map…so just in case you are wondering why the picture above doesn’t match this…):

garden plan

Here is what we ended up planting (and in parenthesis my best excuses on why things didn’t work out exactly as planned):

  1. Lavender
  2. Leeks
  3. Three kinds of strawberry: pineapple crush, alpine, and quinault
  4. Red Bell Peppers
  5. Two kinds of cucumber: lemon, and a pickling variety
  6. Cauliflower (which has yet to flower…)
  7. Broccoli (if you let a few of the stems bloom, the honey bees LOVE these flowers)
  8. Two heirloom tomatoes: Black prince, and radiator charlie’s mortgage lifter
  9. Two carrots: atomic red, and lunar white
  10. Kentucky green pole beans (which grow SO tall!!)
  11. Green globe artichoke
  12. Lettuce, spinach, and a couple types of kale (siberian, and lacinato)
  13. Teddy bear sunflower (it’s a dwarf sunflower plant with multiple flowers – see picture below)
  14. Miscellaneous herbs: basil, oregano, thyme were the ones that survived (there were lots more of other varieties…whoops)
  15. Eggplant (which we made the mistake of planting next to the pole beans – the pole beans won and stole their sunlight, so I transplanted to various other parts of the garden and we have yet to see an eggplant let alone a flower…)
  16. Sugar snap peas (see #14, same scenario, pole beans won, and we had a grand total harvest of about 12 snap peas)
  17. Sweet potatoes (we’ll see if we get any – above ground the plants are growing…!)
  18. Asparagus (year 1 so we can’t harvest any – we had three shoots coming above ground)
  19. Garlic…didn’t work out so well…need to plant in fall instead
  20. A jalapeno-like pepper whose exact name I can’t remember but that is very tasty
  21. Walla Walla onions (they need way more sun I think…currently tomatoes are blocking their sun and I’m too lazy to do anything about it this late in the season…)
  22. A small potato fingerling from Trader Joe’s I left too long in the cabinet and decided to plant last week for the fun of it…

Here’s a few pictures of the plants and my garden markers in action!





pineapple strawberry






Saving Money on the Garden

Here’s some tips we used to help save a bit of money in this process:

1. Buy seeds online (we used eBay), or buy in bulk if you can

2. If your planting zone will allow it, try to grow as many fruits and veggies in your normal diet so you don’t have to buy them from the grocery store.  We have been able to cut our grocery bill on average about $100 per month since we started harvesting

3. Let some of your plants go to seed so you can save the seeds for next year’s plant

4. Make compostable garden starters with items already around your house



I hope you enjoy, and this inspires you to plant your own agricultural hub in your space :)



Homemade Cat Repellent Recipes

Let me preface this post by saying I love all of our neighbors’ cats (basically all of our neighbors have cats…).  I grew up with two cats, and really have nothing against cats.  I am pro-cat.  However, I am not a lover of cats when they use my garden as a litter box.  There’s nothing worse than digging up a fresh one while weeding, or realizing that damp spot in the soil isn’t actually from your drip irrigation system.  Previously I have purchased cat repellent from Home Depot, but that can add up (especially since the rain in Seattle washes everything away so I’d fly through the bottles of the stuff).  Enter: cinnamon, lemon essential oil, oranges, pepper, rosemary, and boiling water.  Here are three recipes I tried, and a technique that didn’t work.  So far, so good – I will update this article if anything starts not working, for now…no cats in sight.  The frustrating thing is that every cat is different, so in general these are scent recipes that they don’t like.  Hope you find luck in this and it makes your cats skidaddle:

Some scents that cats don't enjoy - let's mix them together and see what happens!

Some scents that cats don’t enjoy – let’s mix them together and see what happens!

Recipe One | The Pepper Spray

{I should note with this recipe that when making it, don’t stick your face in the fumes – you might mace yourself accidentally – and we don’t want that}

1. Boil 1 cup of water
2. Add 2 tablespoons of ground pepper
3. Stir until dissolved
4. Filter (with a cheese cloth, or nylon) into a spray bottle.  I clogged my spray bottle because I didn’t filter it (ummm, whoops), so this step is important.
5. Spray desired areas where no feline friends are welcome!


Recipe Two | The Rosemary-Citrus Spray

1. Boil 1 cup of water, and while boiling add the following ingredients:
2. 1 tablespoon rosemary
3. Add peels of one orange (I cut up the orange into slices and put them in to also get some juices as well in the liquid)
4. 1 teaspoon lemon essential oil
5. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Filter into a spray bottle and spray away!


Recipe Three | The Cinnamon Dusting

{After making a homemade mace, and then following it up with some sort of concoction that seemed like something I’d marinate a chicken with, I decided I needed something easier.  Enter: cinnamon.  Good ol’ cinnamon.  I had bought a Costco-sized container of it a few years back that I still had yet to use up, so I was good to go.}

Essentially all you do is just sprinkle the cinnamon wherever you don’t want the cats to be.  And when I say sprinkle, I dumped it.  I’m sure sprinkling works just fine, but let’s be honest, I’m dealing with multiple cats here, and I really would like to successfully grow a tomato plant this year.  

And as a positive: it apparently doubles as an ant deterrent – excellent!

Lots of cinnamon!  PS Those forks will be explained if you keep reading...

Lots of cinnamon! PS Those forks will be explained if you keep reading…


And just as an FYI…

Something That Doesn’t Work | Forking Your Garden

Yes, I’m serious.  I saw this on Pinterest, people forking their garden beds with plastic forks to deter cats.  Made sense in my head – I usually don’t like to dig or poop close to spiky things either – so I decided to give it a go.  So I went out and forked our garden where the cats were…

…and it was a good conversation starter at a graduation party we threw “Oh I see you are growing forks, that’s great how long before harvest? Did you plant any spoons?”

…but unfortunately the cats proceeded to give me the proverbial middle finger, and go on using it as their litter box…moving the forks aside with their furry little paws…


This lone fork got pushed aside from his other fork friends to make way for a litter box

This lone fork got pushed aside from his other fork friends to make way for a litter box


Now since I’m feeling slightly guilty for writing an entire blog post with various ways to get rid of our feline friends, and to further demonstrate that I do love cats very much, here is a picture of me snuggling with one of my favorites.

me & cat

Hope everyone has a safe and fun 4th of July