Monday, May 9, 2011

Organizing with what you’ve got… Free ideas for organizing!

We’ve all got a house or apartment full of stuff, right? I’m sure that if you put your creative cap on and take a gander through the house you can come up with some pretty good stuff to use to assist you in being more organized. This might be a tall order, but let me take you on a tour of my house and show you what I found.

Yes, that is a box. A cardboard box. It is the easiest thing I could think of in terms of organizing so that’s why it comes first. A box is perfect for storing just about anything, and chances are high that you’ve got one somewhere in your abode already.

Do you have what seems like a million half empty travel size shampoo and conditioners? I do! And I have at least 5 toothbrushes that I received from the dentist over the last couple of years. My idea for organizing these and other travel size toiletries was simply to use a gift bag. I keep this under the sink in my guest bathroom.

Another obvious. This is indeed a bag. And it is a bag of bags. Makeup bags to be exact. I love the idea of using a large bag to store makeup bags. Plain and simple.

I’ve blogged here about recipe organization but this is my new file folder for keeping recipes that need to be filed or stored somewhere. File folders have so many uses I could probably write an entire blog post about them and their many uses.

How about this one – I think I got this mesh container in a 5-piece set with a waste paper basket, a business card holder, a pencil cup and a mail file when I was a freshman in college. I still have all 5 parts of the set. This one happens to hold my pens, pencils, rubber bands, kitchen post-its and Costco coupons. It lives in my pantry. I can’t think of anything better to use here.

This one is really genius. This is a cookie tin that I got from my aunt for Christmas one year. Its job now is to hold miscellaneous granola bars and snacks. I really don’t like keeping the entire box of granola bars with one measly bar in it, so when I get down to one or two bars I transfer them to the cookie tin and recycle the box to better utilize the space. This tin also lives in my pantry.

Let’s move to the bathroom. I have all sorts of organizers in my bathroom and they all came from somewhere else in my house. This shot here is below my sink – I used three votive holders to hold various items – cotton swabs, cotton balls and my makeup brushes; randomly one year my “gift with purchase” from Clinique was the organizer I use to keep my bobby pins, headbands, hair binders and other hair gadgets in. I use a big ole’ basket to keep my hair dryer and assorted curling irons and brushes in, and finally I have another simple plastic basket to hold my lotions, hair goo and clips. These were all things that I had in my house.

Last stop is the bedroom. I’ve got shoe boxes and a cigar box hanging out in the bedroom. Shoe boxes can come in handy for so many things – tools, photos, recipes, kids’ school or art supplies, or even your shoes. The cigar box is more of a memento to me than anything, but clearly it could be the perfect home for some cigars, otherwise photos or small memorabilia.

I hope this inspired you to go fishing in your own home for some creative ideas to keep you organized without spending so much as a penny!

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Meal and Menu Organization

When you make a grocery list do you do so with a menu in mind for the week? Or do you just spontaneously buy what is fresh or looks good? Do you go once for the whole week or run to the supermarket each day to buy dinner? How do you prepare for a trip to the grocery store? Let me tell you a couple of my secrets for meal, menu and grocery organization.

I spend about an hour each Sunday preparing what I am going to cook for the upcoming week. I try to incorporate meals from various cultures and select recipes that will utilize food that I already have in my refrigerator or pantry (money saving tip!). To go with every meal, I try to come up with new ways to prepare vegetables and throw in some bread, pasta or starch every now and then to make the meal more well-rounded. I make every effort to have a vegetarian meal each week and limit the amount of red meat I eat, as well as limit the amount of chicken each week because it can get old quickly. As I am selecting the meals and their accompaniments I mark things on my grocery list that I need. I wouldn’t be able to keep track of all of this if I didn’t have some form of menu organization.

My new favorite menu organizer is a member-only feature of All Recipes, but I’ll give you a sneak peak! Another menu organizer is offered by Epicurious, which I have not yet tried. I have to tell you I was very skeptical about trying All Recipes’ menu planner, but I jumped in with both feet and love it.

Above is an image from All Recipes of a menu I planned for two days of the week recently. The planner allows you to select various dishes either from the website or you can type in the title and/or ingredients from a recipe you found elsewhere. I get a lot of my recipes and meal ideas from All Recipes, but as mentioned in earlier posts I am subscriber to numerous food magazines and read several food blogs to get inspiration. Oh, and I have a cupboard full of cookbooks. Because my recipes come from a variety of sources I need to keep track of what they are and where they came from so that I can find them again when it comes time to prepare the meal.

What I was looking for in a menu planner was something versatile that I could easily access and modify as necessary. Until I started using it, I didn’t think that All Recipes’ Menu Planner was going to be able to offer that. Thankfully, I was wrong. A few of my favorite things about this helpful resource are: for each meal the nutrition facts are calculated per serving which help me make smarter choices (sometimes), all of the ingredients can transfer to an online shopping list and the recipes I have already stored in my online recipe box can be easily accessed and dropped into my menu for the week. Lastly, the menu planner also features pre-created menu/meal ideas for one specific meal or a week of meals, usually based on a common theme, such as BBQ, entertaining, Cinco de Mayo, or $10.00 dinners.

Before using the online menu planner feature I simply wrote out my meal ideas on a large sticky note and mounted it in my pantry for extra easy access. Alternately, there are a few cute notepads on the market to aid in menu planning if you’re after something flashier. Another idea if you get your recipes online would just be to print them out and arrange them in a file folder for the week. Be sure to file them away in their home after the week is over, though. Any of these options will work equally well I just wanted to share with you my recent findings and the change I made in the way I organize and keep track of my weekly meals.

Bon Apetit!

All Recipes has not endorsed this blog post in any way. I happen to be a faithful All Recipes user and hope that you will check out their website for some awesome recipes created by people like you (and me!).

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