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

leeks

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!

 

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 smartgardener.com 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!

lavender

 

leeks

 

pineapple strawberry

 

artichoke

 

sunflower

 

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 🙂

~*Kristen