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Monday, November 28, 2011

Organized Cleaning: Carpet Stain Removal

I have a large off-white area rug in my living room.  With a toddler, a baby, and a dog around the house, I am always finding stains with unknown origins on my rug (and some with known, but unpleasant origins). In the past, I would always put off cleaning them with the carpet stain remover that comes in a red squirt bottle (it shall remain nameless).  It does work just fine for most stains, but I can't STAND the smell of it, and the smell lingers for hours in my house, even with the windows open and fans going.  And if it bothers my nose that much, I don't really want to use it around the kids.

I consider myself fairly chemical conscious, using natural cleaning and laundry products, and for that matter, mostly vinegar and baking soda.  But for carpet stains, I hadn't found anything that worked all that well.  Until now!

The all-natural wonder stain remover: BORAX!

I had tried everything else with so-so results when I decided to give this a try and wow, it works great!  I can't smell it at all, and the stains come right out.  It is quick and easy and I have no more reason to live with stains on my rug!

This is the process that works great for me:

 Using Borax to remove carpet stains

1.  Mix 1 to 2 Tbsp. borax with ~ 1/3 cup water (I didn't measure) in a small bowl

2.  Stir together - you could microwave for 15 seconds to help dissolve (it will not all dissolve - it will be like a thick paste at the bottom of the bowl with water above it - see the picture)

 3.  Scoop the paste onto a damp washcloth with your fingers.

4.  Rub paste directly onto stain (don't soak the carpet).  

5.  Let sit for 15 minutes and rinse with clean damp cloth (don't soak the carpet).

6.  Vacuum area when dry.  Note: keep kids and pets away from the area until after vacuuming.  While it is all-natural, borax isn't good for kids or animals to ingest.

Here are some of my latest results:

Unknown Stain: Before
Unknown Stain: After

Unpleasant Stain: Before
Unpleasant Stain: After
What do you use to remove stains from carpets or upholstery?? 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Holiday Shopping: Organizing the "Plan of Attack"

My family usually travels on Thanksgiving (since we always stay home for Christmas), but this year we will be home, so we are enjoying some unexpected perks.  The annual Christmas Tree hunt - selecting and felling our family tree with good friends - is made into a day-long event with lunch and some four-wheel vehicle play.

And I have decided to do the Black Friday thing.  I am usually happy to skip this event because I don't do well with crowds of chaos, but since we're in town, some girlfriends and I are going to brave it this year. 

Even though I'm sure it's altogether impossible, I will try to thwart some of the chaos with a game plan.  For the sake of our budget, I stick to gifts for the kids and a handmade something for my close friends and family. 

Here are some tips for approaching Black Friday (and Holiday buying in general):

Make a list of recipients.  This way I am sure not to forget anyone on accident and I can match gifts up with recipients while shopping.

Jot down some ideas, but stay flexible.  This won't be helpful all the time, but if I have a rough idea of what to get someone ahead of time, it seems easier to find things.  At the same time, I don't like to be too specific, especially for the kids, because specifics can be hard to find, or keep me from seeing a great deal or option that would make the recipient equally happy.

Don't forget the stuff for handmade gifts.  I also list the supplies I need for my handmade gifts and pick them up if there is a great deal.  iHeart Organizing recently posted a wonderful set of inspiring handmade gifts if you need great ideas.

Remember where you've been.  I try to get a few things, especially for my own kids, before the holidays arrive to spread out the spending.  Include a list of the things you've already purchased on your plan of attack list so you don't repurchase anything or overbuy.

Plan your budget too.  Speaking of avoiding overbuying, along with all the recipients for whom you'd like to buy, list a ballpark budget amount.  Then add it all up prior to shopping to make sure you are staying within your means.  No one wants you to sacrifice important things for the sake of giving gifts!  We are all going through these tough times!

Look for ads online.  Most of the big stores already have their Black Friday ads posted one their websites.  Most stores seem to be opening at midnight this year, but a few are opening at 10 PM on Thanksgiving, which should allow for some staggered shopping.

Bring along some extra patience.  Remember that it is supposed to be fun!  A few deep breaths here and thinking of this happy place will probably help me!

A few extra gifts don't hurt.  I buy several neutral gifts for the gift-stealing parties and a few extra kiddo toys for unexpected gift-giving opportunities.  If you stick with non-holiday related items, you can always give them as gifts at other times of the year (or return them later).

Small Business Saturday.  I also plan to support small businesses and boutiques in my area this Holiday season.  We get a special themed gift for each of our children every year at a WONDERFUL local toy and everything store, Bird in Hand.  I would be crushed if they ever went out of business, so I am sure to support them too!

Please comment and share your Holiday Shopping Tips!!!

Enjoy your Thanksgiving Holiday!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Simplified Week - Jarring Veggies

When I posted previously about using clear glass jars for Pretty Organized storage (pantry items, craft supplies, etc), a reader posted a comment with a link to a blog post about salads in a jar.  I have since become quite hooked on this and wanted to dedicate a post to spreading the word about this ingenious idea.

I have expanded the salad idea to all refrigerated vegetables.  After grocery shopping I wash all the veggies and get them cut and ready for meals ahead of time.  Vacuum sealing in jars allows me to save money by buying in bulk for things like lettuce and carrots, and the time it saves during dinner prep is invaluable.  For me, items prepped and stored vacuum sealed have lasted two weeks in the fridge without signs of going bad, but that is how long it took us to eat the veggies I prepped; I have not left something in there to test the length of time they could last.  I should say that this may not work for all veggies (I'm not sure if mushrooms would hold up to this type of prep, for example).  The shelf life of different veggies is also probably different -I've only tried lettuce, carrots, bell peppers and broccoli.  I wouldn't mix different types of veggies together in the same jar, either.
While we had a ton of jars around the house, we didn't have a vacuum sealer.  After researching the options, we chose the Pump-N-Seal vacuum sealer because it is affordable, versatile, and it had stronger vacuum power than other options.  I purchased the Food Saver jar sealer and accessory hose separately, and they connect right to the side-port and tubing that came with the Pump-N-Seal.  You also have to option to use the Pump-N-Seal with your own food storage bags or non-canning jars, which is a nice feature.

When sealing jars, the pump suctions onto the counter and makes pumping easy, and it only take a few pumps to seal a jar.  And because it is so small, the Pump-N-Seal doesn't take up much space in a drawer when it is not in use.

I did not receive any products or compensation from Pump-N-Seal or FoodSaver.  The opinions expressed here are my own and were not solicited. 

How do you store veggies to help them last longer in the refrigerator?  For what else can vacuum sealed jars or containers be used?

This post has been linked to:

Impromptu Best Organizing Posts Link Party

Friday, November 11, 2011

Teaching Kids Organization Skills: A Happy Balance

Since I started this blog, I notice just how often (several times a day) I embark on an organizational project.  Some of the smallest, most regular tasks boil down to re-organizing to cut the chaos around the house.  I insist that my 3-year-old daughter participate in cleaning up her own things, and lately I have noticed that some organizational concepts are really starting to make sense to her.  Here are some thoughts about teaching organizational skills to young kids.

The other day my daughter and I were playing with her magnetic dress-up dolls and the clothing and accessory magnets were strewn all over the floor.  It made finding a matching outfit challenging for both of us and I suggested we line up all the clothes and separate them into like items.  We made a game of categorizing them and then once they were all lined up, like a nicely organized temporary closet right there on the floor, we went back to changing the outfits around so the dolls could go to various events and errands.  When I saw the clothes all lined up there on the floor I had two thoughts simultaneously.  First, I thought how awesome, now we can really play, and at the same time I wondered if I was going to make my daughter obsessive about organization (like I can be)! 

Finding Balance
As with anything, the key is a healthy balance.  While I am grateful for my excellent organizational skills, I have had to learn to accept things are not always perfect, especially in a busy household with two working parents.  I hope that my kids will learn organizational skills without obsession or pressure that things always need to be orderly. 

Messes and Mistakes are Great (Sometimes)!
It has become much easier with time, but I’ve had to consciously reassure myself that it is okay and even great for my daughter to make a mess of the dining room table (or even the whole room) painting or playing with Play-Doh and mixing all the colors together.  We’ve already discussed that there are no mistakes in art – a concept I wasn’t taught until I was in high school, when my perfectionism was already engrained.

We spend a little time together every week getting things put away in her room, learning about where things go, but otherwise (for now) I let her room be as she wants it.  And I’m proud to say I can (almost) always see most of the floor!

Opportunities to Introduce Skills

I accept that almost every day my living room will at some point look like a tornado hit it.  While I try to teach that we put away one toy before we start playing with another, I’ve also accepted that it almost never happens that way.   


About once a week we take some time to re-organize all the contents of her living room toy bins.  Each time, we will categorize the toys in different ways, which helps her recognize that the same set of toys can fit into different categories: animals, things with wheels, green or red toys, etc.  

Not only is she learning and participating in organization, she is also learning to recognize patterns.  Last night when she was coloring before dinner, she separated out all the greenish crayons from the rest of the bunch all on her own!

Please share your thoughts and techniques for teaching kids how to be organized!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Clutter to Good Homes

An important part of any de-cluttering purge is having a final destination for the items that will make their exit from your home permanently.  This post is put together at the request of a reader to help you in finding homes for your unwanted items.  If you have a topic about which you’d like to read, please let me know.  Email me - Julie at customexcelspreadsheets (dot) com.

Throughout the year, I keep a thin box in my laundry/utility room that collects items destined for donation.  I deliver these items to their destination whenever the box gets full.  My semi-annual purge also yields boxes and bags of items for immediate donation.  As part of the purge, I plan time for dealing with the donations because I don’t want to look at the clutter once I’ve decided to part with it!

Get a Little Back

Many folks are happy to buy things second hand (I know I am!).  Second-hand children’s stores are becoming quite common and your community is likely to have a place you can get a little money for your children’s clothing, toys, and decorative items that are still in good condition.  Many of these places may also have incentives for trading in out-grown clothing for credit toward the purchase of clothing and toys your kids can use today or in the future.  Also check for local second-hand or consignment stores that may buy adult clothing, movies, music, and other items, or help you sell them.

Household items, clothing, and electronics in good condition can be listed online at sites like or eBay for free or a small fee relative to the selling price.  If this is too complicated for you, there are businesses out there like “iSold It” that will sell things on your behalf for a commission. 

Websites to Aid in Donating Household Items

If you don’t have a favorite charity in your area that accepts donations (I usually go to the local Hospice Thrift store with mine), or you have donations too large to take somewhere yourself, you may benefit from one of the following means of donating household items.  Please see the appropriate website to see if the service is available in your area.  Sign up for free.  You create a list of items you have for donation.  They'll match the items up with local non-profits and provide tax deduction receipts.
The Vietnam Veterans of America group takes clothing, housewares, small appliances, toys, and tools.  You can schedule a pick-up online (if this service is available in your area) and the driver will pick-up your donation and leave a tax-deductible receipt. 

Other Items

Cell Phones for Soldiers Donated cell phones are sold to recyclers and the proceeds are used to purchase calling cards for troops stationed overseas.  The charity was started by a young brother and sister with $21 of their own money and has raised millions of dollars and sent more than a half million prepaid calling cards to soldiers serving overseas.  There are now more than 3000 collection sites across the country, or you can mail your phone to them directly.  Each donated phone equates to an hour of talk time for a soldier.

Computers: The National Cristina Foundation matches computer donations up with local not-for-profits that can take them.

Eyeglasses: Donate your old prescription eyeglasses so the frames can be reused to provide eyeglasses to those in need all over the world.  Many eye doctors, as well as LensCrafters, Sears Optical and Target Optical locations have donation boxes for Lions ClubsInternational, or you can go to to donate your old glasses to that program.

Figuring your Tax Deductions

The Salvation Army puts together a list of common donated items along with low and high values for calculating the appropriate tax deduction based on your donations.  You can click here to see this list, or you can email me – Julie at customexcelspreadsheets (dot) com – for a free Excel spreadsheet to easily calculate your deduction!! 

Proper Disposal of Dangerous Household Items

Expired or unused medications can be dangerous if disposed of improperly.  Many pharmacies will take these and properly dispose of them for free.  Inquire with your local pharmacy or search for one in your area at

Batteries, many home electronics, CFL light bulbs and other household items have chemicals in them that are dangerous to the environment (and us!) and should be disposed of properly (not in the trash).  Most waste management facilities will have a means to dispose of these.  They also take used motor oil at any time (many auto parts stores will also take used oil).  Designate an area in your home to store these items until they have accumulated enough to warrant a trip to the disposal facility.  For example, I keep a large zip-top bag labeled “dead batteries” next to the stockpiles of fresh batteries and empty it when it is full. 

Other household chemicals such as gasoline, paint and other chemicals that pose an immediate danger such as flammables or explosives should be disposed of at special household hazardous waste facilities.  Ask your waste management company or visit the following website for more information:

If you have other donation or disposal tips or ideas, please share them!  Happy decluttering!!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Whoa - Christmas is 7 Weeks Away!!

As usual, time is flying by this year, and the Holidays are around the corner.  One side of my family is having our Thanksgiving next weekend, so they are starting even earlier for us this year.

One plus of a super-tiny house is that I can never host a gathering of more than a few people when it is too cold to do it outside.  I have successfully declared that I want my kids to wake up in their own beds on Christmas morning, so we don't go out of town right at Christmas.  As a result, my holiday organizing is somewhat simplified because we have a few predictable family gatherings in town every year right at Christmas and some spread out visits with out-of-town family.

Inevitably the months of November and December will have extra tasks to our Things-to-Do lists, while taking away from our time to get things done with parties and trips out of town on weekends.  We can all use some organizational tools to help worry a little less and enjoy ourselves a little more during the Holidays.  The wonderful I'm an Organizing Junkie blog has posted a great collection of Holiday Organizing tools entitled 6 Holiday Resources to Help You Keep Your Sanity this Season.  Check it out!!

More Holiday Organizing ideas coming soon here as well...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

One thing is for sure.  Life can be overwhelming and it’s hard enough just to get through each week to attempt some relaxation and fun on the weekends.  Who has time for overhaul-type re-organization?  I try to do a major purge twice a year, and with the fall time-change coming up this weekend, it’s that time of year again.

Plan well:  I start with a list of all that I’d like to accomplish.  It is easier to prioritize and stay on task with my thoughts written down and formed into a game plan. 

Two small kids don’t allow for much focused project time, not to mention two working parents that want to savor some family down-time each weekend, and big projects can often get put off for so long that before we know it, it isn’t worth putting the summer clothes away anymore because it’s almost spring again!

Break it up:  The key to successfully tackling a big project is to break it up into manageable pieces.  When I make my list of goals for my semi-annual purge and re-organization, I leave room under each goal to break it up into smaller tasks that can easily be completed in about 20 minutes.  The length of the task could vary, depending on what kind of time increment works for you, but the idea remains the same. 

I have found that doing the same with the weekly household chores works better for me than trying to barrel through all of them at one time during the week.  I end up frustrated because I get interrupted after about 20 minutes every time.  Incidentally, this is how I settled on 20 minute tasks.

Factor in the follow-through:  When planning or breaking up tasks, remember time needed to clean up from an involved project, time to take donations to their destinations, or any other important parts of the project that might get neglected.  The hardest for me is when I have a pile of little things leftover from cleaning out a drawer or cabinet that I don’t quite know what to do with and I’m too tired to make good choices.  I’m likely to just stick them somewhere random.  I gather up these leftovers and put them in a basket to deal with as a separate task when I’m fresh. 

Reward yourself:  For me, continued motivation to complete the big project is dependent on my ability to get a sense of accomplishment from conquering the small tasks along the way.  I consider this sense of accomplishment in planning tasks, because I know that if a task is lacking in reward, I will procrastinate or not do it at all.  If a task has no silver lining, reward yourself in a different way, such as allowing for some guilt-free alone time with a good book or a special family activity.

Don’t let your expectations outpace reality:  This one is always a challenge for me.  I have a lot going on in many areas of my life, and I expect a lot from myself.  If your planning reveals 65 20-minute tasks to get through a big project, don’t expect it to be done in a week.  This is another benefit of writing down your goals, along with the tasks involved.  You can not only have the satisfaction of physically crossing off items, but you also have a reminder of what is still left to do and you can re-adjust your expectations as life bumps your projects to the back burner.  

How do you get through big projects on little time??
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