5 things we did to love our apartment kitchen

 Organizing, Small space  Comments Off on 5 things we did to love our apartment kitchen
Mar 252015

The hardest thing about last year’s move was adjusting to the kitchen.   It was grungy and offered only one stretch of countertop to the right of the sink.

Here’s what we did:

1) Paint inside the upper cabinets and remove the doors.

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It made the space feel cleaner and brighter.  Most landlords don’t mind if you paint inside the cabinets.  They may not even notice.

2) Add a temporary island.

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We bought this one, painted the legs, and stained the top.  It was a big investment, but we can take it with us or sell it.  We ran an extension cord along the wall so that it could house our toaster, microwave, and coffee maker:

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3) Use the walls.

We use these ledges as spice racks.  (White for baking, and black for cooking.)

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We use this rail with these hooks to hang our utensils.

In the dining area, Zach built an alcohol shelf with hooks for his prized cast iron pans which he stole from his Dad.

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In this space there are two built-in bookshelves…

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…which brings us to number four.

4) Keep food visible.

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When we moved in, we threw our dry goods into the bottom cupboards. For months, I didn’t know what food we had, and I avoided checking at all costs.  You want to eat potatoes? I don’t want to know how much rotting food is down there. Let’s just go buy fresh ones.   It was wasteful and expensive.  Finally one day I emptied and cleaned every cupboard and moved all the food to the bookshelves.   Now I’m wondering how I can incorporate a shallow pantry like this into our new main floor.

5) Embrace imperfections.

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We love straight modern handles but the quirky dated ones here complement our crooked doors and drawers much better.  So we added the words “charm” and “character” to our vocabulary and called it a day.

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Mar 112015

Each person in our family has their own hamper.  But the things in any given hamper are not all washed as one load.  We sort lights and darks, we hang anything we can, and we keep heavy duty stuff separate.

Once a week I gather all our laundry and take over the living room carpet, wondering why we sort it by person only to re-sort it by load type.

I would love for our new main floor to incorporate something like this:

Laundry closet

There will be five hampers for the whole family to share.  The “muddy” bin is for Zach’s work clothes and the kids’ rugby uniforms.  Zach intends to have eight sons so I’m just preparing.

Everyone will have to walk a few extra steps to the hallway to put their laundry in, so we’ll all get skinnier too.  If the kids don’t want to do this, they won’t get dessert for a week.  Actually that’s too soft.  No protein or carbs for a week.

A nearby linen/cleaning closet will hold things that need mending and ironing.   And the bathroom will double as a laundry sink.

Mend, iron, remove stains

When our kids are older, they will help.  We like the idea of a communal system rather than each person just doing their own.  It’s humbling to wash someone else’s clothes, and it’s humbling to have someone else wash your clothes.  Another way that Madonna House is brilliant.

Mar 052015

I’ve been bathroom-spoiled for most of my life.

Last year I kissed my ensuite goodbye and wondered how I’d manage without its vast countertop and deep drawers.

Fortunately, what our apartment bathroom lacks in storage, it makes up for in walls.

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Walls: The one asset almost every bathroom boasts.

Hang it all

Zach hung the round mirror so that he can shave in the shower.

If you need shelves, go to Home Depot.  We bought a plank of cedar and had it cut into two shelves for free.  Zach stained them with Varathane “Early American” and mounted them with $2 brackets.


The top shelf holds makeup, Q-tips, and bobby pins.

Baskets hold daily essentials like facecloths, moisturiser, and hairbrushes.  In the spirit of over-sharing, I keep a few feminine products under the facecloths.

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The fly swatter is a necessary eyesore because I prefer to execute at arm’s length.

Zach talked me into hanging these baskets for my hair dryer and straightener:

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I’m so glad he did.  They are metal so I can use them at 400 degrees sans fire hazard.  I wish I could share a source, but I’m pretty sure I stole them from my Mom years ago.

Inside the medicine cabinet, we keep our toothbrushes (because I’m terrified of toilet germs swirling up into them) and a few extras that didn’t make the shelf cut (because they aren’t used every day).

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I keep my face wash in the shower, so it’s right behind me when I’m at the sink.

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This magazine holder is well worth the 18 dollars.  It mounts easily and holds extra-wide glossies.

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Since we only have one plug, I use this while getting ready:

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At other people’s houses, I’m always grateful when it’s obvious which towel I should use to dry my hands.  So we hung a hand towel near the sink and on the way to the door (seen in the first photo).

Our bath towels hang on the wall behind the door.


Laundry that needs a bit of pre-treating is scrubbed in the sink and hung to dry on the shower rod and extra hooks before going into the hamper.

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So that’s how we use our pedestal sink bathroom.  This post was mostly about me because I am remarkably more high maintenance than Sam and Zach.

I have a very different plan for our next home:  I will get ready in our bedroom so that the bathroom can be available for what it’s really needed for:  toilet, sink, shower.  Even our towels will be hung in our bedrooms.  This is my foolproof plan to ensure that we plus our 8 future kids will happily share one bathroom.  No one will ever fight and we’ll always arrive early for Mass.

But for now, I’m enjoying our last few months using this happy little hard-working space.

Main floor plan

 Floor plan  Comments Off on Main floor plan
Mar 032015

I thought we’d buy a fixer-upper and gut it.  But our future home has a functional layout and beautiful finishes.  So instead we’d just like to make a few tweaks…

Main floor BEFORE and AFTER

1) Open concept: Move the fridge and attached cabinet to the blank wall.  Knock down a few walls and replace them with a big island that will open from both the kitchen and living room.  Pots on one side, toys on the other.

2) Separate units: Enclose the stairs for a separate basement apartment.

3) Master closet: Steal the kitchen pantry to enlarge the master bedroom closet.

4) Laundry: Steal space from the current linen closet and nursery to allow for a wide laundry closet.*

5) Kids’ closets: Steal the nursery closet to enlarge the kids’ bedroom closet.   We envision two kids sharing that bedroom.  (Surplus kids can go in the basement.*)  The nursery will hopefully become a computer room for teenage kids to do their homework.*  Babies and computers don’t need closets.  Although I might be a bit naive considering Sam doesn’t own any fluffy pink dresses.


*More on these things later.

Feb 262015

My love affair with candles has ceded to my desire to clean the bathroom more easily.  Last month I tackled our dumping ground for all things home-related:

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That photo doesn’t even show the bottom shelf brimming with empty frames.

It was a little arrogant of the out-of-rotation décor to take up four whole shelves.  And the living room carpet had been clutter-free for a bit too long.

So I cleaned the closet and took the carpet down a peg.


After a good purge, the surviving décor was sorted into boxes (Candles, Keepsakes, Containers, Glass) and stashed with the frames on hard-to-reach shelves in the living room.


Then I set up the closet to reflect the way we live.

My weekly cleaning supplies and other useful things sit at (my) eye level:

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Above the bookshelf are tape (duct, packing, and measuring), screws, trash bags, and light bulbs:

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The top shelf is for our detergent, watering can, and paper (toilet, towel, and tissue):

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The ladder holds our dust pads, tool box, and Dirt Devil:

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The level, Swiffer, duster, and ironing board are hung:

Level swiffer duster

And the door holds laundry things like clothespins, Bounce sheets, and loonies and quarters:

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But the real improvement is two whole shelves for “refills” and bulk purchases, which was the whole point:

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The vacuum and laundry basket fit in easier too now:

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Like the linen closet, it doesn’t look dramatic.

Before and After just basket

But it’s a game changer.

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Reaching for supplies is so much more pleasant now.  I almost enjoy cleaning the toilet.

With our “home” refills here, our “people” refills (like shampoo and diapers) can breathe a little easier in the linen closet.

Our monthly Costco trip is much smoother.  No more buying stuff we already have.  As Emily Henderson says, “not being organized actually costs you money because you are constantly re-buying what you can’t find.”

And no more running out of toilet paper because we were “pretty sure there’s some in the closet.”

A prodigal gift

 Life  Comments Off on A prodigal gift
Feb 242015

Hello again!

I took a longer break than expected because something wonderful fell into our laps.

We saw a “Coming Soon” sign on our dream house in our favourite neighbourhood.  Four days later, we had made an offer before it even went on the market.  Sam was in the bath when the phone rang.  The owners had accepted.  We called our families and baked celebratory cookies.

We’ve been in planning heaven.  We’d like to tweak the main floor and turn the basement into an apartment.  (More on that soon.)

Here’s how it looked when Google drove by last summer:

Google street view

After raising their family there, the owners are retiring to live full time at their cottage.  They took excellent care of the house and made many improvements over the years, so we will inherit the fruit of their labour.

We can’t believe what a wonderful surprise God had ready for us.  He took our exact wishlist and checked off every item in abundance.  It’s a bungalow with a functional layout, which we can easily make open-concept.  There’s a massive window over the kitchen sink.  We can walk to daily Mass.   We’ll use the same door to access the front and back yard so we can keep all our outdoor stuff in one spot.

And He gave us things we hadn’t even thought of.   Attached only at the carport, it offers the advantages of a single at the price of a semi.  A corner lot with a side entrance is perfect for tenants.  We’ll be able to go for bike rides along the river.  And best of all, my hair-vanity will be kept secret because the front door is under the carport, saving me from ridiculous 10-second umbrella use.

Dec 172014

When Zach put an end to Mount Linen, I giddily tackled the floor space and three shelves of toiletries below it.

The plastic drawers were great but a few were nearly empty.  The floor beside our donation bin was not being used to its full potential.  And while the bottom shelf looks fine in the “before” photo, without a camera flash it was a dark hole where products went to expire.

My goal was to free up the floor space and bottom shelf to hold bulk purchases.  Sure enough, after sorting and tweaking, I was left with plenty of room for Costco:

Linen closet BA

Sometimes the most satisfying projects involve no surprise twists and produce the least exciting Before & After photos.  If these shots were people, they’d be the characters on Klaus’ favourite sitcom about a neat-freak living with an ever bigger neat-freak.  (Video clip contains partial nudity.)

Please humour me while I chat about the invisible improvement.

These two shelves now act as an extension of our bathroom:

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We have a pedestal sink (read: no counter, no cupboard), so here we keep the things we don’t use every day, like extra hair clips and bobby pins.  Zach really appreciates having these handy.

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Our medicine and vitamins also live here, which works well because I’ve heard that pills shouldn’t be stored in the bathroom anyway.  And it’s nice to have a place to toss the goodies we bring home from the dentist, for our semi-annual flossing ritual.


The floor and bottom shelf now hold our bulk purchases and “refills.”

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When I see my favourite shampoo on sale, I stock up, stash it somewhere in the apartment, and forget about it.  Now I will know where it is.

Linen closet - AFTER

This closet was a fun little project to end the year.  For the next few weeks, Zach and I are off to enjoy Christmas and his sister’s wedding.

May your days be merry and bright, and a very Happy Christmas to you and yours.

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Confessions of a control-freak

 Life, Organizing  Comments Off on Confessions of a control-freak
Dec 122014

I’m your textbook Type-A meticulous perfectionist whose idea of a perfect evening is tackling an organizing project.  I still remember the glorious day I stumbled upon iHeart Organizing and discovered I wasn’t alone.

I easily take it too far.  I need to relax.  But how?  I found that answer when I went to Madonna House for a day.

Madonna House Apostolate

Madonna House is a community of men, women, and priests who live together as a family, and follow a simple schedule that includes work, prayer, and recreation.  This little post explains it beautifully.

If you are like me and you go there, you’ll first notice the natural beauty and the warm sincere people who offer you some pumpkin pie and a comfortable place to nurse your baby.  Then, you will be captivated by the architecture and interiors.

In the main house, there is a huge library that also serves as a dining room.   It is beautiful.  But my little heart was doubly enamoured because it is organized.  One floor below, there is a mail room with supplies neatly labelled.  Even the envelopes are sorted by purpose.  In a nearby staircase, four or five dust pans sit on a wooden ledge labelled “dust pans.”  It seems there is a home for everything.

I gushed about this to Zach and our friend André who was there with us.  André laughed and said that if I described this to someone who had never been there before, they might imagine a horrible, controlling, oppressive place.  And yet it isn’t.

Of course!  I thought.  This is what I’ve been wanting!  For my home to be beautiful and organized, but also relaxed and comfortable.  But I couldn’t figure out how they achieved that perfect balance.  Fortunately, my friend Ruth could.  When I told her about this, she pointed out that at Madonna House, organization isn’t the end goal.  It’s simply a means to an end.  The end is a peaceful space.

That may sound obvious to you, but it was a light-bulb moment for me.  So now I remind myself daily that the end goal is a peaceful home.  Keeping it organized is simply a means to that end.


* Photo found here.

No more Linen-Jenga

 Organizing, Small space  Comments Off on No more Linen-Jenga
Dec 102014

As I mentioned here, we want our “people” closet to work harder for us.  The easiest place to start was the leaning tower of linens.  Any time I reached for a towel, I’d brace myself for the probable avalanche.

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Last night  Zach put an end to this madness by adding an extra shelf on top to hold our rarely-used linens.  This improvement cost all of two dollars (the price of two Ikea brackets) because the shelf came with the apartment.  Can you spot it being lazy in the above photo?

Linens organized

Now I can’t wait for laundry day.

The top linens will be enjoyed by our (hopefully) future larger family.  I don’t mind giving them that shelf because it’s a lot like Rockland or Stittsville:  Wonderful on its own, but hard to access from where I am.  That same shelf at eye level?  Way out of linen’s league.

Dec 012014

When we sold our house, we had exactly twenty days (offer date to move date) to purge just enough to squeeze ourselves into the new apartment.  Now, it’s time to tackle each space one at a time to evaluate what really belongs here and make room for new priorities.  Case in point, we’ve recently decided to buy everything in bulk to save the planet by reducing packaging let’s be honest: to save money.

The Costco life is tricky in a small home.  Most people wait until they have a basement with a chest freezer and storage shelves.  My strategy will be to use our two hallway closets:

Cleaning and linen closets on floorplan

These closets already work pretty hard for us.

The cleaning closet holds everything home-related such as cleaning supplies and out-of-rotation decor.

The linen closet – which I will tackle first – is for anything people-related…

A messy pile of linens:

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Birthday and Christmas gifts:

Gift shelf - hidden

Toiletries, medicine and our donation bin:

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And wrapping paper in the door:

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The gift shelf and wrapping paper are fine.  But the rest of the closet needs to work a little harder so that we can store bulk purchases in there too.   More on this soon, hopefully!