crafty · DIY · el cheapo · goodbye clutter!

Day 163: Closets Big and Small

Apparently my kids are interested in cleaning up their closets; all it took was a few bags of new clothes, and suddenly I had both R and N asking me to help them sort out their closets. If I had known that was all it would take I’d have dragged them to Value Village years ago.

They filled up a total of four laundry baskets full of stuff they can’t or won’t wear anymore. N’s closet went from being an avalanche every time we opened the doors to a neat and orderly wardrobe. He asked for hooks for his ties and hoodies, so I made him some s-hooks out of a nice blue coat hanger I had, and attached them to his pull-down closet rod.

I used up a couple more wire hangers in R’s room, but not for her closet. It seems that her dolls were jealous of R’s tidy wardrobe and wanted a place to store their clothes neatly — or so R told me. It just so happened that the ends of the wire hangers fit perfectly into the pre-drilled holes in the bookcase that we’ve been slowly turning into a doll house. Two hangers and a bit of duck tape later, I had fashioned some little shelves and installed them in the dolls’ bedroom. Have a look:

This dollhouse has been one of my proudest IKEA-hacking moments. R desperately wanted bunk beds for her dolls, but the ones for sale in the stores were upwards of $120 each. On top of that, they would have taken up the entire room in her dollhouse — the proportions would have been all wrong. I mulled over it for a couple of days and then, after looking very closely, I realized that there’s an extra row of holes in the sides of the bookcase about six inches from the back. I realized that IKEA had very shallow shelves for these units too, and that two such shelves could be dressed up to look like bunk beds.

I bought some doll bedding on sale and then cut it in half, creating two sets of bedding that fit the narrow shelves perfectly. Then, Because my motto is (according to my best friend since childhood) “Go big or go home,” I went a step further: I cut and glued some very small pieces of trim to make a bunk bed façade that attached to the front of the shelves.

There are six dolls and three bedrooms, so I still need to build two more of these façades — not to mention some more of those neat little shelves. I look forward to seeing whose rooms stay neat longer: R’s or the dolls’?

DIY · education · goodbye clutter! · Homeschool · Kids · love and marriage

Day 147: The Evolution of our Homeschool

Hey, wanna know what I admire most about Mr. December? It’s his willingness to change based on data and experimentation. I don’t know anyone else who can so quickly change his mind when presented with incontrovertible evidence. Well, he’s pretty immovable on rowdy horseplay at bedtime no matter how many experts I throw at him, but otherwise he’s open to changing things up when the need arises.

I’ve changed a few things about how we homeschool starting today. First off, we actually have a daily schedule/routine posted. I’m not sure how the kids feel about it, but it certainly helped me stay on task today. I’m sure we’ll be a bit flexible with the times, but I think the structure could be a winner. As Mr. December always says, we’ll try it and see.

Remember our checklists? I’ve revamped them. They now have separate sections for daily and weekly tasks, a space for appointments and special events, and a space to record the kids’ own personal or academic goals for the week. On the weekly task section there’s space for me and Mr. December to write each day’s assignment or lesson next to the check box. Alternately, if we do something that we hadn’t planned on, we can write it in so that we know what we did. Ontario’s Ministry of Education doesn’t require any documentation or reporting from homeschoolers, but I’d still like to keep some records. I plan to file these in a binder when each week is over.

Finally, I’ve organized K’s materials so that they won’t be all over the library. Since she’s very distractible and sensitive to sound, she has claimed the library (with its sound attenuation and two doors between it and the rest of the house) as her study space. Unfortunately, that means that the entire window seat, her retractible desk, and the small ledge in front of the instrument cabinet were littered with her papers, binders, and pens… until today.

I can understand why: although she has her own cubbies where her binders and books should live, those are in the living room. Who wants to have their materials so far from their workstation? So I liberated a wheeled cart from the Makery, brought it upstairs, and set it up so that there’s space for her binders, workbooks, clipboard with her checklist, pens and pencils, pencil box of supplies, and whatever book she’s currently reading. Oh, and her timer happens to have a magnet on the back, so it sticks right to the side of the cart.

She was pleased when I showed her the new cart this afternoon. “You don’t have to clean up or organize your stuff,” I told her, “I did that part for you. Just put things back at the end of every day and it’ll stay neat.” For the first time in months, our library is tidy this evening. I can even see the windowsill. I wonder: will the neater space help K focus and work more efficiently? I’ll keep you posted.

DIY · el cheapo · goodbye clutter! · Work-in-progress Wednesday

Day 59: Procraftination (a DIY tutorial)

I procraftinated today.

Yesterday I spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out how to organize the paper drawer in our living room. We use this one drawer to store four or five different kinds of paper: GOOS (Good On One Side), lined 3-hole looseleaf, graph, and plain printer paper. Up until now we’ve just piled the different papers on top of each other and sifted through them every time we needed something that wasn’t at the top of the pile.

I thought about plastic paper trays. I tried a few that I had in the house; didn’t work. I have a three-tiered IKEA mail sorter, but it was too tall for the drawer and doesn’t have enough sections for what we want to store. I searched online and found a wall-mount magazine file that could probably just be laid flat inside the drawer… for $100. Nope.

So I started thinking about how I could make something like that magazine file by myself. Thin plywood seemed to be the obvious answer, but I would want to use my miter saw which is still in a box in my parents’ house. After a few more failed ideas (corrugated cardboard held on a slant by thick cardboard wedges? Hanging files?) I decided to try using wire hangers, cardboard, and some fabric to make a slanted paper organizer.

(In case you didn’t know, I love wire hangers. They’re a cheap source of wire that’s strong but easily shaped with pliers and a good strong wire cutter. I used them for my violin and viola hanging rack that we’re still using. I’d use wire hangers more often, but we don’t use the dry cleaners often enough to have a big stash of them. I had to raid my kids’ closets just to come up with four hangers.)

Once I started working on it, I realized this plan could also be used to make a drawer organizer to hold cookie sheets and muffin pans, or anything else flat.

Here’s how to do it:

DIY paper divider

First, cut your dividers. I used corrugated cardboard for strength and rigidity. Make sure that the corrugation lines are going to be vertical in the drawer instead of horizontal; this will keep your tray from sagging under the weight of the paper.

You’ll have to do some trial-and-error here to find the right shape and size for your drawer. My drawers have slightly rounded sides, so I had to figure out the right shape. If your drawers are square, you can just cut a rectangle. Either way, your dividers should be the width of your drawer by 11 inches high. If you don’t already have a fold in your cardboard, you’ll need to score it 2 inches from one side. If you have cardboard with a fold, make sure you cut it so that you have 2 inches above the fold and 9 inches below.



Second, decide whether you want them to look nicer than plain old cardboard. I decided to cover mine in fabric, which I think is better than paint in this case because it won’t rub off on the paper.  Fabric also provides friction so the paper doesn’t slide around.

Cut the fabric to the exact size and shape of the cardboard divider. Then brush ModPodge or clear school glue mixed with water all over the front (the side that will be facing up). Smooth the fabric over the glue and then brush another layer of glue on top of the fabric. Set it aside to let it dry. I moved mine to the front porch so they could dry more quickly.


While the dividers are drying, make the wire rods that will support the dividers. Use pliers to straighten out the wire hangers and wire cutters to cut them to the width of the drawer plus 4 inches.

Create a 90-degree angle 2 inches from one end of the hanger. Rest that corner on top of one of the drawer sides and pull it tight. Mark where the bend should be on the other side, then bend it into a 90-degree angle. My drawer sides are actually square rods, so I was able to wrap the ends of my wires around underneath as well. Do your best to keep the wires in place (if your drawer sides are wood, a staple gun could be useful here.)

Here’s how I determined the spacing for the dividers: I took one divider and held it so that the bottom of the divider was touching the back bottom corner of the drawer, and the fold of the divider was flush with the top of the drawer sides. That gave me the position of the first wire (closest to the back of the drawer.)

Then, measure the distance between the first wire and the front of the drawer. Divide it so that your wires (however many you want) are evenly spaced. Alternately, decide on the spacing you want between the first and second dividers, and then mark that same distance along the drawer sides for all of the rest.

In order to get a sense of how wide the gaps between the dividers, I hung pocket folders from the wires. I chose to have 3 inches between dividers.

To keep the wires in place I used what I had: clear silicone bumpers, the kind you might put just inside your cabinet doors so they don’t slam too loudly. I placed one bumper on either side of each wire and tested to make sure the wire wouldn’t jump out of place when the drawer is opened or closed.



With all of the wires in place, I brought the now-dry dividers inside and installed them. First I hung each one by the fold on its own wire. Next, I used double-sided mounting tape to stick the folded portion to the back of the main part of the divider. When necessary, I used my pliers to bend the wire so that it would fit between the two layers of cardboard.

That’s pretty much it. Some of the dividers look a bit bubbly or wrinkled, but I figure that once they have paper in them I won’t see it anyway. Another minor detail: see how the second divider from the top looks a lot less neat across the fold? That’s the only one where I used an existing fold in the cardboard. All of the other ones I scored and folded myself, and they look a lot cleaner.


I think it looks pretty great when it’s filled with paper. Most importantly, the days of a massive jumble of different papers are over!


education · goodbye clutter! · Kids · parenting · waxing philosophical · whine and cheese

Day 58: It gets worse before it gets better

After I posted my tour of the living room I decided it was past time to take everything out of the drawers under the window and get them organized. Today I worked my tail off for 6 hours, and the drawers look great.

The rest of the living room does not.


As Mr. December came out of his office this evening I met him as he walked through the Makery to get to the stairs.

“I spent today throwing out papers and reorganizing,” I said.

“Wow,” He said, looking around the makery with all of its surfaces covered in stuff. “Well, I guess it has to look worse before it looks better!”

“I wasn’t cleaning up in here.” I said flatly. “I did the drawers upstairs in the living room.”

“Ohhhhh…” He said. “I think you should probably do down here, too.”

Thanks, Captain Obvious. Once again, you have saved our village.


We have a wonderful, unique opportunity this week to focus our attention on K. All three of her siblings are staying with grandparents for a couple of weeks, which means she’s an only child. Last night she thought that was a good thing. Today she seems less sure.

When I’m running between four children’s academic activities I don’t have time to sit and deal with the resistance K puts up every time something is difficult. I mostly say something like, “Sulk if you want, but get it done,” and then I leave the room to check on someone else. Very often she spends the next hour listening to music, swinging to calm down, or reading her current book until I check on her again. Then we repeat that cycle until dinnertime.

But now I have time to sit on her. As the excuses roll off her tongue, the tough love rolls off mine: “Nobody cares about excuses. You have to get your work done. If there are problems, try different things until you solve them, or ask us for help. But get your work done. I’ll sit here and wait.”

In a way, K making academic progress is like decluttering and organizing my drawers. It initially looks like everything is ok because she’s sitting at a desk in the library with a pencil in hand. Then I get involved and start to ask questions and see what’s actually going on. Now we’re at the stage where it’s all a mess: she’s getting worked up about the uselessness of an assignment and nothing is getting done.  That’s where we’ve left it for tonight… just like the living room.


bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · family fun · goodbye clutter! · Jewy goodness · Kids · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 22: [insert clever title here]

This morning I led a passover-themed music program online. Wanting to look professional (I do want to work for this synagogue again in the future), I had to clear a space that looked professional and didn’t have my kids streaking through it.  The library was the obvious answer, since it has not one but two doors between it and the rest of the house. I straightened up the books on the shelves, adding a few children’s passover books, and cleared the floor in a four-foot radius around me. Outside my circle, chaos still reigned; inside the circle I sat serenely in front of neatly-organized bookshelves.

Photo on 2020-04-05 at 10.01 AM

It looked good enough that I finally replaced my old profile picture of me and K in my parents’ pool when she was a baby.

While biking to a friend’s house to pick up some Maror (horseradish, for the seder) from her mailbox, we had a bit of an incident. E was on the tandem trailer attached to my bike, and when I heard her shout, “Wait! I’m off my seat!” I stopped quickly. Mr. December couldn’t stop, and ploughed right into her.

As it turned out, his rear brake cable had snapped, making it harder for him to brake. When we got home I produced an assortment of tools and an extra brake cable and we got to work. Putting away his now-repaired bike, Mr. December asked me to please do something about all the random pieces of wood and drywall that blocked off part of the garage. This was not a new request; I think he’s been asking since we moved in a year and a half ago. What was different this time is that he actually offered to help. Ten minutes later, the garage floor was clear (except for bikes) and we could easily access everything.

Meanwhile, the three younger kids were building blanket forts in E’s room. I was invited up to see them and eagerly agreed (which is unusual for me; I often have to be dragged.) When I got to E’s doorway I saw that the only empty space was on her bed, which was still expanded to a king size from last night’s sibling sleepover.

I guess I could have shouted and yelled about the mess, but instead I was drawn to a tempting patch of sunlight on the bed. “I’m going to just be a cat for a while,” I told the kids as I lay down and closed my eyes. One by one they crawled over to me and snuggled into my side; I rubbed their bellies. It was sweet.

It was the kind of sweet moment I should have tried to remember an hour later, as I yelled at them for fighting, for not having cleaned their paintbrushes, and for touching the paint tubes before I was ready. We worked together on painting our seder plate and I made peace with the fact that it’s going to look like a cross between preschool art and a sloppy henna tattoo. One day I’ll get to design and make my own projects again. One day… but not today. IMG_3045

Tonight being movie night, we watched Airplane with the kids. Do anybody else’s kids ask questions about a movie like they need to know everything upfront?

“Hey, why is he leaving the taxi running?”

“Wait and find out,” we murmur.

“Why are they covered in seaweed?”

“Because it’s a parody,” I said. Now shut up, I thought.

“What are they doing?”

“You know what?” I whine, “You’re supposed to extrapolate from incomplete information! The movie will tell you what you need to know, when you need to know it! Now stop talking and watch the movie!”


“Ohhhhh… I get it! Am I right? Did I get it?”


They didn’t stop talking, but they did enjoy the movie — so much so that we promised to show them Airplane 2 next time.

Guys, I’m tired. I’m too tired to come up with a witty ending. Today was good on the whole, with brief moments of despair. Not ideal, but I’ll take it.


DIY · goodbye clutter! · Renovation

I know this great hole in the wall…

No, seriously. It’s a hole… in the wall. Or it was. See?


In my eternal quest for more space in our little house, I started thinking about all the wasted space between the walls. The more I thought about it, the more I pined for a shallow pantry in which to store our canned goods. My longing turned into a burning desire, which turned into the above hole. Seeing that empty cavity inside the wall made me sigh with contentment.

Then I got to work.

After enlarging the hole and building wooden carcasses for the cabinets, I slid the carcasses into the wall:

IMG_3733As you can tell in this photograph, they’re not level. That’s okay, though – neither is anything else in my house.

At this point, Mr. December frowned and complained about the gaps between the carcasses and the edge of the wall. I tried to explain the magic of trim and quarter-round, but he didn’t seem to get it… until the trim was all in place:

IMG_3839Suddenly it looks like something you might actually want in your kitchen, right?

I painted the trim…


And added doors to match the rest of our kitchen (thank God for IKEA)…


And then filled it up.

IMG_4039Oh, and we painted the inside my favourite colour… so now I smile every time we open our pantry. And you would not BELIEVE how much stuff it holds! The shelves are only deep enough to hold one can, which means we can always see everything in there. This pantry has freed up three whole drawers in my IKEA pull-out pantry, which now proudly house the small appliances that were cluttering my countertop. I love this thing. It’s the best hole in the wall ever.


And now I’m eyeing a huge expanse of wall in the hallway where our bedrooms are. With no plumbing and no electricity running through it, that wall is wasted space just waiting for a purpose. I can’t wait to build floor-to-ceiling cupboards there to store toilet paper, lightbulbs, cleaning supplies, extra toiletries, craft materials…

If you could have a cupboard like this anywhere in your home, where would you put it? And what would you fill it with?

crafty · goodbye clutter!

Finally, an HST we can all get behind.

The decluttering and purging continues unabated. Today somebody bought our old 27″ TV for $50, enabling me to clear some space in the basement and brag that “my house just lost 100 pounds!”  I’m also keeping up with my “five minutses”, and after three weeks of one small task a day, the difference in our home is striking. I love my new system.

I haven’t been doing much sewing lately (aside from N’s pants,) but I do have a backlog of photos to share with you. So, without further ado, may I present…

My very first HST* quilt!

*HST=Half Square Triangle. NOT Harmonized Sales Tax. FYI.

This quilt began as a promise. For her birthday last July, I told my old nanny (as in, she came to live with us when I was 2 years old, and she’s still with my parents) that I’d make her a quilt as a birthday/Xmas gift. I googled some quilt patterns and showed her the pictures, and she chose a fairly traditional HST pattern.

I thought it would be fun. I thought it would be easy. I started with pre-cut squares, for heaven’s sake. How hard could it be?

Apparently, very. HST triangles need to be sewn, then cut, pressed, and then trimmed to a uniform size, making sure that the diagonal seam is precisely in the middle of the square. It’s exhausting.

But it was worth it. Behold!

Maureen's christmas quilt

Relevant details: the HST’s are made from Cuzco and Ticklish by Moda, along with Kona white. I used more batting than usual, and in addition to the thin cotton batting, there’s a layer of fluffy polyester batting. I really wanted that puffy look and feel. Adding to the puffiness, I tried to keep the quilting pretty minimal.


The backing is a cuddly pink minky. I love how defined the quilting is on this back.

Maureen's christmas quilt back

The binding was problematic. Well actually, it’s my procrastination that was problematic. I was racing against the clock on December 24, and I absentmindedly started sewing the binding on the front, instead of the back. After experimenting with a bunch of things (all of which looked terrible) I decided to embrace the flaw and machine-finish the binding with a zigzag stitch. It actually looks kind of cool. Not cool enough to make that mistake again, though.



maureen's christmas quilt binding


Finish it off with one of my labels…


maureen's christmas quilt label

And Voila! A finished HST quilt, ready in time for Christmas.

maureen's christmas quilt 2

The entire time I was cursing the HST’s and swearing I’d never do this again, but I already have plans for a quilted duvet cover for my bed…

crafty · el cheapo · goodbye clutter! · radical homemaking · waxing philosophical

We want for nothing

For a complicated variety of reasons, my sewing room is overflowing with fabric. It’s not exactly clutter, but there’s just too much of it. In the spirit of drastically reducing clutter, and having adopted the old rhyme “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” I decided to sew a few pairs of pants that N desperately needed. He’s a tall, skinny boy – any pants that are long enough in the leg have to be cinched in all the way in the waist, and the resulting ballooning looks kind of silly – so I figured making his pants also carried the advantage of giving him pants that fit nicely for a change.

It was while sewing his third pair of pants that I started thinking that I should have just ordered a few pairs from Old Navy online. I reminded myself that in order to avoid shipping charges I’d have to order at least $50 worth of merchandise, most of it stuff we don’t actually need. What N needed was three pairs of pants, and now he has them. The temptation to buy a little more, or to buy something cute on impulse, is completely absent when I make my children clothing. It just takes too long to make something if we don’t have a need for it.

It occurred to me the other day that I haven’t spent time in a mall in a very long time. I don’t like malls these days: I always leave with a severe case of what I call the “wanties”: I want some new pretty t-shirts, I want new throw cushions for the couch, I want that awesome floor lamp, I want another travel mug, some costume jewellery, a more coordinated wardrobe. None of these things are things I need. None of these things are things I wanted before I went to the mall. It’s just impossible to spend time in a place dedicated to consumption and to novelty without succumbing to the shopping bug.

Grocery stores offer similar pitfalls, though not on such a grand scale. I was just saying yesterday at a Weight Watchers meeting that planning my meals and shopping only once a week reduces the number of times I have to be tempted by food that I want but don’t need (and, arguably, shouldn’t have.) Last time I went shopping I handed over a bag of pecans, a bag of Craisins, and a chocolate bar to the cashier. “I changed my mind,” I told her, “I don’t really need this stuff.” I saved myself thousands of calories (yes, thousands. No joke.) I saved myself about $15. I also saved myself from a bit more kitchen clutter. I don’t know if I’d have the strength of will to do it three times a week, though. Stores have a way of convincing us that we need things.

When K was younger she liked to tell me that she needed things: “Mummy, I need a balloon. Mummy, I need a twirly dress. Mummy, I need chocolate!” I made a point of telling her – each and every time – that there was a difference between “need” and “want.” She doesn’t confuse the two very much anymore, but I don’t know that we can say the same for most adults in our society.

Most of us have what we need: shelter, some functional clothing, food, heat, family, friends. I’d hazard a guess that we also have most of what we want: stylish clothing, gourmet food, tastefully appointed homes, cars, iPods. We should be able to say that we want for nothing. But don’t we keep on wanting and wanting?

Thankfully, with no TV and no trips to the mall, I manage to keep my list of wants to a bare minimum, and I have no trouble saying “no” to myself if necessary. The kids are fine too: their wants aren’t many, and so we’ve avoided accumulating a lot of stuff. I wouldn’t say that we want for nothing, but we definitely don’t want for very much. I can say that we need for nothing. And if we did need something, there’s a very good chance I’d make it myself. It’s the best way I know to make sure that we have as much as we need, but no more. And besides, I want to make room for some pretty new fabrics…

goodbye clutter! · lists

Out of hibernation: my organized life

Whew. I’ve made it through winter break with my sense of humour mostly intact, sailed through Chanuka with enough time and energy to make my own sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts,) ran a princess birthday party (for K) that didn’t make me want to hurl, and I even had time to read. All the while I was thinking, “I should blog this!” but we all know how that went. Sorry.

So anyhow, I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Have you read it? I loved the idea of determining small, concrete actions to take each and every day. And since I’ve had it up to here with feeling overwhelmed and underproductive, I decided to take (small, concrete) action.

I’ve tried to get organized using apps and websites, only to discover that in this realm I’m a low-tech kind of person. I bought myself a massive calendar with big squares for each day and started writing everything on it: menu plans, recurring tasks (pay the bills, for example,) and – my favourite – my “five minuteses.”

Five Minuteses are tasks that take very little time to complete, but keep getting put off. Changing a particular lightbulb, for example, or fixing a broken toy. Sending an email or making a call. Instead of promising myself to do them “sometime” I write them on the calendar, only one a day. Right now I’m booking my Five Minuteses about nine days ahead, which sounds like a long time until you consider that some of these tasks have been on my mind for months. So far I’ve done ten of those tasks and I have nine more penciled in. Isn’t that exciting? The stuff’s getting done!

It’s amazing how much calmer and more organized I feel, just from being able to know exactly when a task will be done. The lack of procrastination feels good. And boy, do I love seeing all those checkmarks on the calendar!

In other organized news: the great basement purge is going great guns and the basement rec room will soon be kid-safe (no more batteries or coke-can sculptures lying around.) I can breathe a little. I may become addicted to purging my stuff… but only if it’s scheduled on the calendar.

So… if you’re still reading… whether or not you celebrate the new year in January, do you often use this month as a fresh start? What are you going to start doing? Tell me in the comments, please!

better homes than yours · goodbye clutter!

What comes after purging?

Mr. December and I have decided to put a moratorium on buying things (actually, on bringing anything new into the house, consumables being the exception) until all of the clutter has been purged. But decluttering is only the beginning of the battle. Our plan of attack looks like this:

  1. Ruthlessly purge all clutter. We covered this one a couple of posts back.
  2. Fix all the broken things. You know how it is. Once you’ve been living in your house for a few years it’s easy to overlook the cracked tile in the kitchen, the doorknobs that have to be jiggled and lifted at the same time in order to work, the rust on the bathroom light fixture (seriously, who looks up there?). By the time we’ve done this step, everything in our house should be whole and in perfect working order… for about an hour, right before the kids come home from their time with their grandparents.
  3. Thoroughly clean everything. I’m not an exceptional housekeeper, and thus there are many things in my house, from the glass shades on light fixtures to the moldings above the doors to the windows themselves, that have never been properly cleaned. That’s going to change, though. Once the house is clear of the clutter and everything is working properly, we’re going to give it a really good, top-to-bottom clean.

Why are we doing all this? Right now the clutter is not only depressing, it’s costing us money and time. And our house is feeling a bit crowded, but I have a hunch that it’s the clutter that gives that impression. Well, the clutter and the mess. And the stuff that doesn’t work is just aggravating. Those things combine to make living in our house less pleasant than it could be (although we do love our home.) I hope that by really thoroughly organizing our home we’ll discover that it’s a bright, open, welcoming place that we’ll be happy to live in for another five years… or more. And if it’s not… well, our house will be uncluttered, in good repair, and ready to put on the market.