Sep 15, 2009

Less Kitchen Mess Series, Part 2: "Messy Messes"


  • If kids are 'helping,' have them work right next to the sink, or IN the sink if they are tall enough. Scooping or rinsing a broken egg and other spills down the sink is much easier than cleaning it off the island or a faraway counter.

  • Peel veggies such as potatoes right into a plastic grocery bag and when finished, toss in the garbage without scraps falling all over the floor. You still may need a cutting board for chopping but it's definitely less messy this way. If you have good aim, peel them right over the trash can. Additionally, both methods work well for stripping corn-on-the-cob of leaves and silk.

  • Laying throw rugs in front of the sink, oven, fridge and where you do your food prep will keep crumbs in the places where they fall. The knobbier, the better - like a rag rug. Shake outside frequently, wash when needed.

  • If your kichen has an entrance outside, use two rugs: a heavy duty mat for outside and another inside. (Muddy footwear should be left outside until they dry. Bang the boots together and watch the dried caked on dirt fall to the ground where it belongs.)

*Pictured above is my friend, W. who is 3 and great helper to his Mom in the kitchen. He has a stool with his name on it that he eagerly pulls up the counter to assist in his job as Jr. Sous Chef. He gets to learn a little about preparing meals, and Mom combines a daily chore with some quality time with her little man. Sure, it takes somewhat longer than if she was doing it by herself, but they both have fun, and clean up is usually a snap. Will's 'station' is right by the sink :)

Aug 11, 2009

Pet Care - Pet Free Closets

Isnt it frustrating to pull out a pair of pants or a long coat and see globs of hair that your fuzzy buddies have left behind? Whether they are rubbing up against your clothes or curling up at the bottom of your closet, make desperate attempts to get the pesky pet hair off your clothing a thing of the past.

My friend is C. is redoing her closet, and her pets love the cozy space where the clothes end and the floor begins. However, this is frustrating for C. when she is trying to get ready for work and her clothes are covered in hair.

I suggested she get something to deter the cats from entering the closet - like a plastic runner, (you know, the kind all the grandmas use to protect their carpets) . . . . only you'll want to turn the runner upside down. I cant imagine those hard little vinyl bumps would be pleasant for kitty's tender little pads!

And old chair mat would accomplish the same thing. I've also heard that cats dont like the sound or feel of aluminum foil so you might try that too.

Dont worry about denying them this little hidey-hole . . . your critters will find PLENTY of other places to nap!

Jul 25, 2009

Paint: Color Choice Made Easy!

Deciding to introduce a new color to your home is easy. Deciding the actual color can be intimidating - there are so SO many choices!

The following process has been fail proof for me over the years.

1. Spend some time in the area you'll be painting. Decide the feeling you want to create in the room: cool/warm/neutral, calm and quiet, light and airy, bold and dynamic, fresh and clean, etc. Having an idea of the gestalt you want to bring to the space will help you focus when you're in front of thousands of choices. Think about the feeling you want in the rest of the house as well. Whether you are looking for continuity or diversity for your house as a whole, will effect your choices. For example: a cool-toned, bold and dynamic bathroom may be a refreshing change in a house that is primarily neutral. But it might clash with a home that is solely warm in tone. These are matters of personal taste, and only you can decide whether it is appropriate for your home or not.

2. Take a trip to the local paint store, armed with the fabric, art and/or furniture stain that the paint must compliment.

3. Take samples of your safe, obvious choices . . . . . as well as shades that are lighter and darker, less and more intense in tone and shade. This is because although many paint stores use color correction bulbs above their swatches, the light in the store cannot mimic how light uniquely plays in your own home.

4. If you still have the energy for it and your eyes aren't seeing spots, play a little. What if you strayed over to the complementary (opposite) side of the color wheel? What if you picked out a tiny splotch of color found in the fabric, and what would happen if you gave it new emphasis by putting it up on the walls or trim? What if you chose analogous colors to your fabric samples? ('Analogous' meaning any three colors that are in close proximity to each other on the color wheel, i.e. dark greens/lighter greens/yellow greens/, reds/orange-reds/bright pinks, etc. For a computerized versions of a few color wheels, click on these links:,

5. Don't buy any paint today. Take your swatches home and tape them up around the door frame to live with them for a day or so. You need at least a day to see the samples in daylight, bright sunlight, and evening lamp light. Each time of day you look at the samples, eliminate ones that don't work. Eventually you will narrow down the choices and you can feel confident that the ones that are left are the best of the best.

6. While you are choosing, glance at the rooms beyond. Do the colors work together, or will the new color create a Fun House effect? If you are changing all of those rooms eventually anyway, skip this step.)

7. If you simply cannot choose after all the above, call in someone whose opinion and style you trust.

8. Take your sample(s) with you and get your paint!

(Check back soon for 'Paint: Choosing the Right Finish')

Photo courtesy of

Jul 17, 2009

Pets: The BEST Litter Scoop Ever!

If your cats treat the litterbox like a dig site to reach China, all that excavating results in a thick, sticky, definitely non-clumping mess that electronic devices like the LitterMaid cant handle. We use clumping litter, but it only works if they evacuate with a layer of litter below the puddles. Even the most sturdy plastic litter scoops are no match for this stuff stuck to the bottom. They crack and the handle breaks off, which can leave you in a pickle if you dont have an extra scoop.

When I was in Petco looking for cat treats, I saw the end-all-be-all scoop of scoops, with a light shining over like a beacon from cat heaven. Why hadnt I thought to look for one like this before? It's metal. It's tough. It's oversized. It has an eronomically designed handle. And for the last month has worked like a charm! It cuts thru the gooey messes like nobody's business, lessening your time spent over the box exponentially. It doesn't crack, break, bend or flip litter outside the box. This is Litter Scoop Nirvana.

The price at Petco is $14.95 but perhaps you can find it for less on the Internet, or at PetSmart. Compared to $1.99 plastic jobbies, it may sound a little pricey. But I can almost guarantee, it's the last scoop you'll ever need to buy!

(If you have this product/have a different product that works for you, readers could benefit from your feedback if you choose to leave a comment. )

Jul 12, 2009

Less Kitchen Mess Series, Part 1: "Crusty Stuff"

My husband and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. A LOT. We love trying new recipes and experimenting with cuisines around the world, but clean up can be brutal. Thanks to a few 'duh!' moments we've experienced along away, as well as helpful tidbits learned from Mom and friends who have worked in restaurant kitchens, we've found a few ways to cut cleaning corners. Our goal is to get out of the kitchen sooner, and on to something more interesting.

Some ideas are more for preventative maintenance and will save you chunks of time later . . . . other ideas will save a little time now, but it all adds up.

"Crusty Stuff" is dedicated to caked-on, baked-on, should-I-just-throw-this-out? kind of messes. See if any of the ideas below can help save you some time and trouble (and feel free to add your own tips and tricks in the Comments section!)

  • Soften baked-on goop on stove tops and pizza stones by topping it with a rag(s) full of hot soapy water . Let it sit for 15-20 minutes or longer, then scrape off with a scrubby pad or moistened steel wool or plastic scraper. Stiff brushes wont harm the surface of a pizza stone, and for ceramic cooktops, follow manufacturer's instructions.

  • Boiling water can break down baked-on and burned concoctions that stick like an epoxy. I'm not a fan of scrubbing a pan more than a few minutes, so I found the best way to tackle a tough one is to pour boiling water in the pan and let brew with some dishwashing soap to cut up the grease. It usually works on the first try, but sometimes requires repeated applications.
  • (Hint: if you're interested in efficiency, let the soapy rags and boiling water do their thing while you're cleaning up the dishes or other parts of the kitchen. By the time you're done with that, the offending ick should be sufficiently softened.)

  • Does your microwave look like This is Where Food Goes to Die? Spiff it up by filling a medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl half-way with water. Add a 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the water and set on high for 4-5 minutes. Leave the door closed for a few minutes while the steam softens the crud and the vinegar gets rid of the odors. The bowl will be hot, so be careful when you remove it. Wipe down with soft cloth and clean the glass plate. (The smell of vinegar dissapates in a few minutes but if you cant stand the fumes, a dish rag soaked in water and dishwashing soap accomplishes the same thing. The cloth must be dripping to avoid a fire hazard.) Oh, and if you can get into the habit of loosely covering dishes with paper towels, napkins, wax paper or food container tops turned upside down, you can avoid the mess in the first place.

  • Safe yourself a few minutes of scrubbing egg'ed up or starchy pans by throwing them immediately in a hot soapy sink, or by pouring hot water into the pans (with dirty utensils resting inside) to cool on the burner while you eat. The water breaks down the starch before it hardens into something worthy of the MOHS scale.

  • If your grill burners are so black with burnt food they look like foam insulation has been sprayed on them, it's time to get serious. Remove the burners from the grill, knock the biggest chunks off, spray copious amounts of oven cleaner outside, and let them sit for a half day or so. Rinse with the hose and cleanup the stubborn parts with a wire brush. This also works on gas grill burners and oven racks. Stay ahead of the game by oiling your grill burners before throwing on the meat. Clean gas grill burners frequently with stainless steel wool pads to avoid the big mess later on.

  • Avoid tedious poking around with dirty muffin/cupcake pans: use paper/foil cups, and spray the top of the pan with cooking spray for easy removal and cleanup.

Now get out of the kitchen - life waits for no one!

Jun 26, 2009

Finding Time to Organize

Few people thrive on chaos - I mean, who in their right mind likes spending time looking for lost keys, important papers, or the ice cream scooper (when there is a hot, hot date on the line with Ben and Jerry?)

Each day is already jam-packed with so many things to do, we may feel there is no time or energy leftover to get things in order. But the next time you spend 20 mins looking for Bobby's left shoe, think about what is NOT working with the current system and how you can come up with a solution that does work. If there's always one shoe getting lost, do you need to tie the laces of the shoes together so they stay together? Do you need a large tray for shoes near the entrance to the house? Would a container with sides work better? How about a low lying rack with multi teired shelves? Cubbies for each child? Would it help to have a little bench or stool there for the kids to sit while shoes come on and off? A well thought out solution could save you oodles of time and frustration down the road.

Sometimes it's a matter of stealing a minute or two from another task. For example:

  • While you're waiting in line at the grocery (or on hold with Muzak) you can organize your coupons, clean out your purse or wallet, meditate, file a chipped nail, etc.

  • When the toddler is splashing around in the tub, you can wipe down the mirror or counter.

  • While the coffee is brewing you can do mindless chores such as throw in a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, water the plants, prepare breakfast.

  • When in a waiting room at the Dr. or sitting in a parking lot waiting for your kids to get out of school, read an article in the paper, plan the next day, make an appt.

Sometimes getting organized is about rearranging the ORDER of your tasks. For example, I have a life long habit of being late for appointments. I tend to do things around the house, and put off getting myself dressed until the last minute. I'm not sure why I do it. But I'm always early and relaxed for the appointment if I get ready first.

You can choose to live life with your adreniline pumping, always running behind, careening from one fiasco to the next. But why live in a constant state of crisis management? Every little step you take towards some semblance of order is an investment in the peace of tomorrow.

P.S. Here's an example of what 10 mins of stolen time can do: while on hold with the utility company, our medicine drawer went from this . . . .

. . . . to this . . .

Chip Clips

No matter how many of those chip clips I buy, they dwindle down, apparently disappearing into the black hole of missing socks and ink pens.

Target had these colorful plastic as well as stainless steel clips to offer at $9.99 in the kitchen gadget section:

But I went to the laundry section and bought a package of 50 wooden clothes pins instead for $1.56:

And believe it or not, there is a How To out there on how to get FREE chip clips:

I cant imagine that the money saved is worth the time, but it's clever!

*Photos courtesy of

Jun 24, 2009

This is for the Birds!

One of the things we like about our neighborhood is that it's home to lots colorful birds. Cardinals, blue jays, finches, nuthatches and doves will grace your yard every day if you tempt them with food they like. We go through so much birdseed that we buy it in 40lb. bulk bags that are too heavy to take out to the feeders. Bringing the feeders inside the garage where the bag is kept is not the most efficient of methods either.

I like efficiency. So I’ve been keeping an eye out for a container to transport the seed out to the feeders. There are lots of Tupperware/Rubbermaid products that we've used, but more seeds fell on the ground than made it into the top of the feeder.

While in Lowe’s yesterday I came across this birdseed dispenser made by Garden Treasures. For $10 you get two containers – one is smaller and perfect for thistle seed. They are made of durable plastic with a tight seal, and each has a cool little pouring spout so that there’s less spillage. Like their tag line says: ‘No scoops. Less mess.”

Jun 21, 2009

Tiny Baths, Big Fluffy Towels: Can They Co-exist?

My sister and I shared an apartment for almost seven years in NY, and it seemed no matter where we hung our hats, we could not find bathrooms with enough storage. We put organizers over the toilet and on the shower head. We installed a Pogo-like stick with shelves in the shower corner. We hung hooks everywhere. But it still wasnt enough.

It wasn't until my husband and I moved into our home last year that it hit me how to eek out just a little more space from a bathroom with inadequate storage. And it's so obvious, I'm almost embarrassed to write about it. I should have thought of it long ago . . . should have been inspired by old movies with passenger trains, and the dozens of hotels visited over the years. Those big, fluffy towels are rarely kept on the counter, never stacked up on the toilet seat, and never stored in a closet in some other hall or room. They put them on the wall - high and dry, leaving that valuable real estate available for other bathroom sundries. If trains and hotels can do it, why cant we?

Fortunately, retail stores are not as slow on the uptake as me, and train racks are available at Bed, Bath & Beyond,,, Restoration Hardware, and home improvement stores. They come in many finishes
and styles, ranging in price from $21
to $300. I, of course being a frugal homeowner, was scouting for a $300 alternative, and just so happened to find styles to complement our bathrooms at TJMaxx for $50 each. These particluar products are from The Hotel Collection.

We also put one over the tub in the master bath, with a shiny chrome finish to match the other hardware.

These train racks have been such a great find, I tell everyone about them. A friend who is settling into her NYC studio this month, found that The Home Depot carries train racks for about $20 each. But because they are on the small side, I suggested she buy two and install them side by side on the long shower wall. She's going to love how much space she'll create in her closet that is currently bursting at the seems (even though she'll have to tip toe to reach the racks - she's petite!)

If you have tile all the way to the ceiling and must utilize other wall space, a train rack could still work as long as its placed high enough so that no one bumps their head. Another option is this type of chrome towel rack, also utilized by hotels:

It looks a little industrial without the towels inserted, but softens up quite a bit once the towels are fitted into the slots. If you have more towels than this rack can hold, try installing one on top of the other, or placing them side by side. The important thing is find a solution that makes your life easier! (find this product on by a retailer called YouRemodel,

Photo for Chrome Hotel Towel Rack - 3 Guest Size is courtesy of YouRemodel.

Jun 19, 2009

Renew Rusted Metal Cabinets

Have an unsightly mess under your sink? Even rusted metal cabinets can get an inexpensive makeover with little elbow grease and fresh coat of paint.

Cabinets in post-war apartments are often metal, such as this one pictured below. After years of neglect from the previous owner, the kitchen cabinet was was dirty, rusted and unsightly. The new homeowner was depressed by its dingy appearance every time she opened the doors. Rather than have her renew her Tetanus shot just yet, we improved the condition of the cabinet with a few simple steps.

1. Empty the cabinet of all items. Purge or giveaway what isn't being used.

2. Using sandpaper with a rough grit (the lower the number, the rougher the grit) remove as much rust as possible, or use an electric sander or screwdriver with metal brush. If there is not a great deal of rust, skip to the next step.

3. Thoroughly clean the sides, shelves and bottom with TSP, a heavy duty cleaner found in the paint section of most home improvement stores. It comes in either liquid or powder form. Be sure to wear gloves to protect your hands.

4. Buy Killz for heavy stain coverage or similar primer. The primer seals in the old stains so they don't bleed through the primer or a top coat of paint.

5. Paint all the awkward areas with a bristle brush, then apply two coats of primer to shelves, sides and bottom while watching for drips. Dry according to manufacturer's instructions. Paint a color over the primer if you want to take it to the next level.

6. Measure the space under the sink, taking note of the clearance above, below, in front and in back of the pipes.

6. Install or insert products under the sink that maximize the space, such as garbage pails and baskets that slide out, or adjustable shelves that work around pipes.

7. Most products will require a few holes. To drill holes in a metal cabinet, you will need a drill bit made for metal. Pick one up just barely smaller than the width of the screw. (You should still be able to see all the threads of the screw if you hold the screw and drill bit over each other. )

8. Most metal cabinet doors are hollow, and you don't want your drill to go through to the other side. Be careful not to punch through.

The homeowner was very pleased with the change from cave-like and scary, to bright and clean!

Jun 12, 2009

Small spaces and TVs

A friend just moved into a NYC studio apartment where her TV can be seen from the couch but not from the pull down Murphy bed on the other side of the room. Because the TV sits on an antique console, twisting and turning the TV could mar the marble inset. A simple swivel under the TV will make it easy for her to view her favorite shows from anywhere in the apartment without scratching the surface.

By Googleing "tv swivel," you'll find there are plenty of mounting options . . . from swivels that sit on a base to wall mounted swivels. They are also available for purchase at stores such as Circuit City, PC Richards & Sons and HHGregg. (There was a time there was a Best Buy on every strip mall corner, but those stores are few and far between now.)

For my friend, I suggested an oval swivel made specifically for flat screen TVs such as this one from Stacks and Stacks http://http// It's easy to put together, has rubber feet to keep it stable, and will not hurt her console.
Even if you don't want a swivel but need more space in a small area, take a page from some upscale European-style hotels. They sometimes mount TVs on the wall or ceiling, which not only solves the furniture congestion problem, it keeps visiting children from messing with the equipment. Simply type "TV wall ceiling mounts" into your search engine, and voila! newly found space is at your fingertips.

Pictures courtesy of and