Mission #5 Complete!

I can barely believe it - that is actually MY hall closet! Isn't it bee-you-tiful? :)

This mission took a lot longer than I expected because I have been battling a nasty stomach bug. But even if it took awhile, it was most certainly worth it! I can't wait for the cooler weather to set in so I can ask my guests if they would like me to hang up their coats. :) I put all of our hats & gloves in the fabric basket on the top right of the shelf (a fun Target find...gosh, I LOVE Target...). The big gray box is a good example of what I am doing with my extra space (now that I've thrown away the old notebooks and forgotten gym & beach bags that were stuffed in there). The box is a box of silver wine cups that my husband inherited from his grandfather. We have never used them, but both the cups and the box itself mean a lot to him. We were going to take the cups out of the box and put them in our china cabinet, but he really wanted to save the box as well. So with the extra space, they are now going to live in our hall closet. I think that's an important lesson from this project - sometimes, it's important to keep little things that mean a lot, and by getting rid of things that aren't quite as meaningful, we have the space to store them. I am excited for my husband to get home from work and see that his grandfather's cups now have a home.

There MAY Be Signs...

How do I know that I am way overdue to clean out my hall closet? Well, the duck boots from college were the first clue. My husband's college letter jacket is the second (no, I'm not going to get rid of it, even though he did recently celebrate his 15th reunion). Today's sign could not be mistaken. On the top shelf of my closet was a stack of notebooks and folders that I didn't even know where there.

The notebooks themselves weren't that upsetting. I mean, I DID already find a roller derby program from a few years ago (FYI - if you like to "people watch", go to a roller derby match). But the age of the notebooks...well, that may be the biggest sign I have a clutter problem. In the first notebook were notes from a class I took when I made the switch from teaching middle school to elementary school. In 2001. The second and third notebooks weren't as bad...mostly handwritten assignments that I needed to type for my students. Math quizzes, instructions for a research paper on insects, questions about a novel I was teaching, and the steps to making a database. Of course, there was the folder explaining the dental benefits I was eligible in 2002. But the worst was the notebook from the year I was the reading teacher at my middle school. In it are the names and notes on all of the high-risk kids in the sixth grade. From 1999. These kids are now seniors in college. I can't believe this is still in my closet. Or, more accurately, WAS. It's now in the box of papers to take to the community shred event next month. (because, even though these kids are no longer my students, I don't need any sort of law suit about letting their sixth grade test scores be out in the trash for anyone to see.)

Mini Mission: Backup Meals

The past few weeks here have been a little rough. I have been battling a sinus infection that just won't go away (I'm on my second course of antibiotics) and the stomach flu, and my husband broke his finger over the weekend (which, apparently, means that he can not do the dishes for the next three weeks). But even though we're both sort of out of commission, we still need to eat. And while ordering a pizza or Chinese food is yummy, it gets really expensive (and really unhealthy) quick. So today's mini mission, in conjuction with Works for Me Wednesday, is to have a backup plan for meals. Thankfully, this is something that I already do, and it has truly been a lifesaver. But I'll share with you how I do it so you can have some backup meals ready to go as well. Hopefully you'll use them because you're feeling lazy, not because you need them!

There are a few ways to go with backup meals. One way is to buy pre-made meals for your freezer. I have a friend who always keeps a Stouffer's lasagna in her freezer. There are also companies that are coming out with ready-made meals to keep in the freezer. Even though they can be pricey, they are still cheaper than ordering take-out. Another way is my grandmother's method. She would make her own "tv dinners" - you know, frozen plates with a piece of meatloaf, some potatoes, and some green veggies - and all she had to do was stick them in the oven. She would make an extra batch of meals when she cooked and freeze fully-cooked dinners that could be heated up at a moment's notice. My mom follows in this tradition, and always has containers of spaghetti sauce, chicken soup, and turkey in the freezer. If you want to cook ahead, there are phenomenal cookbooks that are specifically designed for freezer cooking - browse through a few at your local library, and freeze a few backup meals for the cold and flu season.

My backup meals fall somewhere in the middle. I go to a local meal prep chain where I make 8 or 12 meals that go in my freezer to be cooked at a later date. For those of you who don't have a meal prep chain in your area, they are amazing. Everything is chopped and sliced - you just follow the recipe and put everything into large ziploc bags to cook at home. I love it because I can control what I put in (we are sort-of health conscious around here) and I go with my friends so it's also a social night out. There are many chains - Let's Dish, Super Suppers, Dinner Done, etc. - and they all work on a similar principle. Look at the menus before you sign up, especially if you have more than one chain in your area. I go to Let's Dish, not just because the dinners are tasty, but because the meal selections are fancier than I would make on my own but not too fancy that we wouldn't eat it on a Tuesday night. Some chains are pretty fancy; others have ham and cheese sandwiches on their menu (which I don't need to go to a meal prep place to make). Call before you go and ask if you can take a tour and make a sample dish. That way you'll have a better sense of flavors, portion sizes, and cost before you sign up. If you are in the Virginia-Maryland-DC area, I can't recommend Let's Dish enough. (and if you are in the area for Let's Dish, drop me an email or leave me a note in the comments and I'll be happy to send you a referral email with a coupon code)

Having a freezer full of dinners has been a lifesaver for us this week. And it's really helpful for my regular weekly menu planning as well to have some variety without much work (there is a certain joy of knowing that even though both of us are working late we will be able to have a nice dinner that no one has to make).

Mission #5 - Hall Closet

I blame the mess in my hall closet on the people who owned my house before us. Yes, you read that right. I have lived in this house for nine years, and the blame for the mess rests squarely on the shoulders of the previous owners. You see, they were nice enough to install two decorative coat racks in the entranceway of the house. And with just two of us, that's really all we need for our day-to-day coats. Even though it has been swimming pool weather for months, our lightweight coats, winter coats, and my favorite windbreaker live on the pegs year-round.

So, what's the problem? Well, because of the well-placed coat rack, we rarely need to use our hall closet. For awhile, it was holding a wealth of coats that we no longer wore. (my mom was shocked one day to open the closet and realize that the coat she had bought me in high school was in there) A few years ago we bought new coats, and donated most of the old ones to the elementary school for kids who needed a coat for recess. But while the hangers are mostly empty (great for when we have company over), the shelf and floor is a catch-all for everything that doesn't have an actual home. My gym bag and pool bag belong there, but I can't say the same for everything else. When we emptied the bottom part to put the new floor in I found every beach bag I have ever purchased, along with their contents (and, strangely enough, a program from a roller derby event we attended a few years ago). The shelf is equally random - there are hats & gloves stuffed up there along with a frisbee and old backpacks.

Now, I know that my hall closet problem is way better than most. If you actually use yours for coats, yours is probably way worse than mine. But I would like to reclaim the space, especially now that the shoes in the bottom are all neat and organized. And the thought of knowing where to find my pretty pink Red Sox knit cap as it starts to get colder makes me very happy.

So...mission #5 is simple - clean out the hall closet. If you have old coats, donate them. Schools are great places, since they often have kids who show up without one. Hopefully the shoes are already organized from last week. And take a good look at everything else that's in there and keep only what you really need. Good luck...I think I'll need it!

Mission #4: Complete!

Once I got all of my magazines recycled, I thought that no organization mission could be quite as embarrassing. That is, until today. Today I both finished Mission #4 to organize my shoes and realized just how disorganized we really are. Including the eight pairs of sneakers that I recycled last week, I got rid of a whopping 29 pairs of shoes. Yes, you read that right. 29 pairs. What makes it even worse is that there are just two of us in my house and that we have enough shoes left to need all three shoe racks. Yes, they are much roomier now, and the shoes actually fit on them. But still, it is pretty sad that it got to this.

Now that they are organized, it's much easier to see what we have, and find the shoes I am looking for. I found more than one pair of black flats - I'm guessing that one pair was purchased because I couldn't find (or didn't realize I had) the other. And hopefully I have learned my lesson and will get rid of a pair whenever I buy a new one.

Way Too Many Sneakers

Most of my friends have two or three pairs of sneakers. One "gym" pair - you know, the nicer ones that you wear to exercise in - one "everyday" pair, and one "old" pair. I usually just shift mine along the spectrum...get a nice pair to exercise in, then shift them to wear for day-to-day stuff, then put them in the closet as a spare pair for when I know it's muddy out or if I'm going to be doing something messy like painting. It's a great system...in theory. In practice, I never throw away the "extra" pair when I get a new one. Apparently, I just put them in the closet with all the others. Which is why, even though I only get new sneakers every year or two, I pulled out EIGHT pairs of sneakers to recycle. Yes, you read that right - EIGHT. I don't even entirely know how this is possible. But you should have seen the look on the face of the woman at the Nike store as I walked in with three bags of sneakers for the recycling bin. (sneakers can be recycled...I went to the Nike store to do it, but other big sporting goods stores often do sneaker recycling as well, and you can always mail old sneakers to Nike...check here for details.)

Mission #4: Shoes

As I have already admitted, I am not like many women who are addicted to shoes. My addiction lies squarely at the feet of pajama pants. Or so I thought. When we had to empty out our hall closet to put in the new floor, I was horrified. Apparently, even though I thought I only had a few pairs of shoes (that I wear regularly, plus a few more that are for the occasional dressy event), I was wrong. I easily own 2 or 3 (ok, 4) times more shoes than I thought I did. This is NOT good. Where did they all come from? And why are my duck boots from college still in my closet?

A side note on the duck boots. Yes, I own duck boots. No, I haven't worn them since college. But yes, I did wear them in college. Regularly. I loved all four years I spent at William & Mary, but it rains there all the time. Remember learning in high school about how the founding fathers of Virginia moved the capitol of colonial Virginia from Williamsburg to Richmond because of how wet it was? Well, it still is. And the only way to survive living there for four years is a good pair of duck boots. Everyone had them - nothing like needing to write your initials inside of your duck boots because on an especially rainy day there are so many pairs lined up on the porch of the sorority house you need to be able to tell which are yours. So don't judge my lack of fashion sense.

Anyways, every pair of shoes that I have ever owned is in my house, and stacked on three shoe racks in my entranceway, hallway, and closet. The insanity ends now. Mission #4 is all about shoes. I know that you can do it too.

Shoes are fairly simple - I feel like it's one of those things that isn't hard to do, once you find some time to do it.
  1. Sort shoes - I am planning on doing this a few times...once by person (my husband can sort his own shoes), once by type (sneakers, flip flops, dress shoes, etc.), and again by size (I have a few different sizes, due to my feet growing as an adult...why doesn't anyone tell you that this happens??).
  2. Pull out all the shoes that I don't wear anymore or that are too worn out to continue to wear. This means you, pair of adorable brown sandals whose straps have fallen apart. These can be thrown away, donated, or recycled.
  3. Pick out the shoes that I actually wear and get rid of the rest.
  4. Keep fingers crossed that I get rid of so many pairs of shoes that I will need to go shopping for some new ones. :)

Mission #3 Complete!

Mission #3 is completed, and, quite frankly, not a moment too soon. I can't believe how good it feels to walk into my bedroom and see six closed dresser drawers. Yes, for a normal person, this always happens. But for me, my drawers were all stuffed and overflowing so they couldn't be closed (Don't believe me? Check out my before pics.). I had no idea that this was a big deal until they were all closed. That, and the fact that I probably have shown my husband my neatly organized drawers about twelve times today (that will teach him to work from home on a Wednesday). So what that he isn't impressed - I'M excited.

A couple of the drawers were easy - the pajama drawer was fine (and the only one that closed), and once I weeded out the older bras (ladies - if the underwire pokes you, throw it away), that one looked good too. My t-shirt drawer didn't need any weeding - it just needed to have some of the shirts re-folded and put back neatly. The other drawers were more of a challenge.

As I wrote before, I only work out of the house a few days a week, so short sleeve shirts are a staple of my wardrobe. I have a drawer that just has short sleeve shirts (and my tshirts - anything with print on it, like Red Sox shirts, W&M shirts, souvenir shirts, etc. - have a drawer of their own), and it was overstuffed. I ended up pulling out an entire bag of shirts to be donated to our local thrift store - some that don't fit right, others that are just not my style any more, and one that would look great on an 18 year old...I am 33. And I threw away a couple of favorites away that were just too worn out to wear anymore (a side note: please do not donate clothing that you don't wear anymore because it is worn out - donate the stuff that would look good on someone other than you).

The drawer with the exercise/sports clothes was also crazy. I couldn't figure out why I never had space for my sports stuff - turns out it's because all of my old sorority shirts were at the bottom of the drawer. I don't know why. I can't even make up a reason. So they are all neatly put in the back of my closet, waiting to be made into a memory quilt, and there is plenty of space for the exercise stuff I wear. And once I weeded out my pajama pant collection, that drawer was easy to close.

So, what am I left with? A super organized dresser with drawers that close, two bags of clothes to donate to the thrift store, and a serious feeling of accomplishment.

Mini Mission: Baseball Caps

Sometimes, organization missions take a few hours. Sometimes they take a few days. But sometimes they can be super quick. I like to do a quick project now and then, partially because it means that I get something done, and partially because I get something finished. So, in conjunction with Works for Me Wednesday, I give you the first mini mission. Today's mini mission - baseball caps.

Now, I know that some of you just looked around your house, saw that you own exactly one cap, and smiled smugly knowing that your mission is complete. Good for you. Seriously. There was not one bit of sarcasm there. But for those of you who are sports fans (or are married to one), you know how the caps can start to add up. I am a huge Red Sox fan, and while I own enough Sox shirts to attend each playoff game wearing a different one, I thankfully don't have THAT many caps. But I do have a bunch, and I needed a way to keep them neat. I also had a random piece of wall (our townhouse was designed and built in the 70s, and each room has these strange corners that don't really make sense). So a quick trip to Target, a package of mug hooks, and a few minutes to screw them in to the drywall, and I have baseball cap organization. It took no tools to hang - they screw right in. And while I could have been more careful about how I hung them (putting them into a straight line and spacing them evenly), once the caps are on the hooks, you can't tell. This would work great in a kids room as well - just make sure you are screwing your hooks into drywall - otherwise you will have a much harder time putting them in (you can also use 3M Command hooks...they are more expensive, but won't put tiny holes in your wall and can go on any wall/back of a door).

I *MAY* Have a Problem

You know how most women are addicted to shoes? Well, I am addicted to pajama pants. Yes, you read that right. Pajama pants. I consider it a victory when I walk into Target and walk out without a new pair. I have a serious problem. I'm really lucky that my husband puts up with my addiction. The first few years we lived together I got up and went to work before he got up, and by the time he got home I was already in my tshirt and pjs for the night. I was convinced that he didn't know that I actually had work clothes. Now that I don't work full-time it's even worse. So I shouldn't have been but so surprised to pull out nearly 30 pairs of pajama pants today. No wonder I couldn't put the clean ones away - the drawer was already stuffed to the gills.

The shirts weren't quite as bad, but that is clearly a relative term. Yes, that is a Flip Fold in the picture. I am not one to buy things that I see on infomercials, but I am the proud owner of two "As Seen on TV" items that I adore - the ShamWow and my Flip Fold. I bought it at Target years ago, and it may have been the best $15 I have ever spent. I love that my shirts are all folded so neatly into nice little squares that fit perfectly into my drawers. I'm also not one for pushing a product, but if you see one of these, you should totally buy it. :) Anyways, there were a lot of shirts in my drawer that I could get rid of...I decided earlier this year that I am done buying the cheap shirts from Old Navy, since they are super cute but show wear so much faster than the nicer ones from Ann Taylor. So I sorted out all of those, plus a few that I never wear (could someone explain to me why I owned TWO shirts with horizontal stripes?). This is also the point that I wish I could call Tim Gunn. How many shirts should one person own? Seriously. I wear plain short sleeve shirts all the time - a huge joy of doing mostly freelance work - how many do I really need? For now I've gone with the number that I can reasonably fit in one drawer...but perhaps I need to expand.

Two drawers done, four more to go...

Mission #3: Dresser Drawers

Organizing my dresser drawers was not my plan for this week. Yes, it was on my list of things to do soon, but not right away - I figured it could wait, since no one but me and my husband see our bedroom. (In case you couldn't figure it out, I am one of those people who never lets anyone off of the first floor in our house, and certainly not upstairs - that's where I hide all of the clutter!) But life has a funny way of intervening - I folded my laundry last night, and when I went to put it away I realized that my dresser had gotten so bad that I couldn't. That's right - I couldn't physically put my shirts away. More than a little depressing. For a few minutes I thought that I could just live with having the rest of my clothes live in my laundry basket - I mean, they're all folded - how different is a stack in a basket from a stack in a drawer, right? But as I looked at my poor overstuffed drawers, I knew what I had to do. Mission #3 - dresser drawers.
Now that you've seen what I'm talking about, you know why. My goal is not just to organize everything, but to make it so my drawers can close. I have a feeling that this means I will have to get rid of some things, but that's ok. Those shirts at the bottom of the drawer never get worn anyways.

The plan is (relatively) simple for this mission:
  1. Determine what goes in each drawer. I've already done this - believe it or not, the clothes that are stuffed into drawers are actually stuffed into specific drawers. I've organized mine based on what I own - 1) underwear/socks, 2) pajamas, 3) tshirts, 4) short sleeve/polo shirts, 5) exercise/sports clothes, 6) shorts/pajama pants.
  2. Within each drawer, go through clothes and sort into stacks - items I wear all the time, items I sometimes wear, and items I never wear. Items I never wear go immediately into the donation box. Items I always wear go back in the drawer. Items in the middle pile get tried on and narrowed down to a number that fits in the drawer.
  3. Fold the "keepers" neatly and put them back in the drawers.
And, of course, the last step is the same as always - pat self on back and pretend the "before" picture never existed. :)

Mission #2 Complete!

Finally - all of my china is organized, in their safe little containers, and put away. Never again will I be storing my antique handpainted china with party napkins. I didn't get a good "before" picture" because I had already moved it upstairs (you can see the china stacked with party napkins here) but look how pretty it looks now!The stacked plates look all crooked in the picture, but they're not really - the darn containers are so much taller than they need to be that there is a ton of extra fabric at the top (which makes them look all funky in the picture). And I decided to leave the mystery china in its box (seriously...I will be so happy if someone can identify it...when I asked my dad, all he remembered is that there are two sets of it because one was damaged...so NOT helpful...) and the tea pot out of the container. The holder for it was so oddly shaped that I think it made the tea pot less safe. It will be fine just on the shelf. Now, to have a dinner party...

What ARE These??

Seriously. Does anyone know what these are, and why my Nana had TWO sets of them?

Other than being completely confused by my mystery pieces of china, getting it all put away has been a slow process. My china holders are not the right sizes - they are all just a bit too big or a bit too snug, and they all are far too tall (even though they say that they hold 12 plates, they are big enough for 18 or so...who has service for 18??). The felt dividers have also been tricky - they aren't really the right size, and they didn't send enough. I went to the craft store and bought a yard of the cheapest felt they had on sale ($3 well spent), so I am making my own, but still...why would you only send me 9 dividers for some sizes? Very strange. Hopefully I will get this all put away by tomorrow...it will be nice to be able to walk into my spare bedroom again!