Friday, April 30, 2010

The Competition Begins

My coworker and I have a competition during the month of may to determine who can get their office the cleanest and most organized. This is much needed, as my office has become quite the disaster zone. I have files that need to be purged, items that need to be stored in the students' space (not mine), and in general, a lot of clutter that just has to go. It's embarassing.

When I walked into my office today, I was overwhelmed at the amount of stuff that I am going to need to go through. It seems like an impossible task. However, my goal is to break it down into more manageable projects. Here's what I'm thinking:

Week One: Desk
  • Clear off top of desk.
  • Purge filing drawers (3) and reprioritize which files are in them.
  • Develop new filing system for short-term and long-term filing.
  • Reorganize top cabinets.
  • Take home mugs, other personal items.

Week Two: Floor/Table

  • Transfer stored items for students to their office space across campus.
  • Take home personal items.
  • Unpack boxes leftover from move (some of which are strategically hidden).

Week Three: Bookshelf and Filing Cabinet

  • Purge items that are old and no longer used (most of them)
  • Implement new filing system for cabinet.
  • Better utilize space.

Week Four: Final Cleaning/Organizing/Decorating

I may need to haul in a giant dumpster with the amount of stuff that I hope to get rid of. I'll be sure to take some before and after shots too.

Here's to a less cluttered work life!


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wash and Dry

So tonight is my laundry night.

Unfortunately, I do not have a washer and dryer in my apartment, or even in my building. My apartment complex has a separate laundry facility, located just around the corner. Because I have to drive to do my laundry, I do it about every 4-6 weeks. Basically, I do laundry when I run out of underwear.

After packing up my six loads (and my $15 in quarters), unloading them and getting them in the washers, I patiently waited until each hit the rinse cycle and I could add my fabric softener. I then waited a little longer until it was time to transfer everything into the dryers. I was fortunate that when I arrived there were six washers available. I was even luckier that there were six dryers when my wash was done.

See, I'm under the impression that most people in my complex have poor laundry etiquette. Our washers only take about 20-25 minutes, yet everyone just dumps there stuff in and leaves, sometimes for an hour or more. This means that wet laundry just sits there, backing up the cycle for the rest of us. And then of course, they come back, and leave their stuff in the dryers for even longer. I've timed it - the dryers take just over an hour. I too will leave while my clothes are drying, but I know when I need to come back. If your stuff is dry and the dryer is cold at the time that I arrive with my dirty laundry, you should at least make an effort to come back before my stuff is done in the wash. Because of course, there are equal numbers of washers and dryers, so when everyone is waiting for a dryer, which takes twice as long, it's really frustrating.

I long for the day that I will once again have my own washer and dryer. No more saving up quarters (because the machine is always out), no more guarding machines. The laundromat is a stressful place! It reminds me of the Friends episode where Ross and Rachel fight with the lady in the laundromat, and then Rachel turns her whites pink. Thankfully I have yet to do that!

Someday, someday.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's Time For....

A Mini-Makeover!

So both Saturday and Sunday were gloomy, rainy days, and so I decided it was time to do a mini-makeover on my living room.
I live in a relatively small two-bedroom apartment, that I have been in for almost three years.

That is actually the longest that I have lived anywhere, besides the houses that I grew up in. In three years, I've been fortunate to accumulate some different furniture pieces, most of which have been gifts from friends or hand-me-downs from relatives, which has meant that I've been able to save some money on furnishings.

I have also gone from living alone, to living with a roommate, to living alone again - which has impacted both furniture arrangements and decor. When my roommate moved out, so did some of her really cute stuff! (insert sad face) I replaced quite a bit last summer, including end tables, coffee tables, and a tv.

I also benefited from a friend who was moving and let me take his love seat, which was less than a year old. I've slowly tried to grow the space from college apartment to grown up apartment.

Almost a year later, it was certainly time for a refresher, specifically in the living room. The space was looking cluttered (read: messy) and really boring.

After cleaning up the space, I made a trip to Target, to make see what I could do to spice the place up, within my budget. Two hours and $250 later, I was hard at work in my apartment, decorating away while the tornado sirens blared outside (I'm such a daredevil, I know).

I'm not supposed to paint my walls, so I had to work with the cream/beige color. I first focused on brightening up the two big windows on the south wall of the living room. They are pretty icky windows (terribly drafty) and the mini-blinds don't look so hot either, so I thought it would be good to hide them with some bright white cotton panels. To avoid putting more holes in the wall, I got four bronzed-looking command hooks, and found two matching cafe rods. The curtains didn't come with tie backs, so I found some cheap grey organza ribbon in the dollar section, which I cut and tied back utilizing small white command hooks. I was able to iron and assemble everything in just about an hour, and already things were looking better!

My roommate had purchased two of them when we were living together that we utilized for coffee tables. I was so sad to see them go. I put my new ottoman underneath the left window, providing a new place to hide all of my board games, blankets and DVDs in the room. Plus it's an added seat if needed, which I also anticipate will be used by Bucky to get up into his favorite window. (He's not very brave when it comes to jumping - he currently jumps into the chair, then walks up and over the bookcase).
My second step was to add more storage to the room, to remove some of the clutter. I was ecstatic when I discovered that my favorite black storage ottoman was on sale for just $67.

I also got two cute seagrass baskets for the bottom shelf of the bookcase, and relocated the phone books and old magazines elsewhere. They provide some hidden storage, which is nice, and they lighten up the otherwise dark bookcase.

Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to get rid of the futon, that serves as one of the main seating areas in the room. While I'd love to buy a new couch, it just wasn't in the budget yet. I could do something about the worn black canvas cover that was covered in crumbs and white cat hair (one of the challenges of having a black and white cat). Unsure of what I was looking for exactly, I purchased two new futon mattress covers, a tan canvas cover from Target, and a beige suede cover from Bed, Bath & Beyond, conveniently next door to Target.

After much debate, I went with the suede, which seemed to look more put together than the canvas, even if it was a little too big. We'll see how it holds up to pet hair.

Two medium command hooks next to the front door also gave me a spot to keep my keys, purse, and other items. While there isn't room for a mud room in my little two bedroom, this was a nice, clean alternative.

After some additional attempts to style the room and clear out some of the clutter, I'm happy with the results so far. It's amazing how some smaller projects can really make the space look new again. I also moved things that I already had in the apartment, to avoid spending money on smaller decor items. I still have to add some art or mirrors to two of my walls, but I'm close to a finished product.

I'm now looking forward to some relaxing, just like Bucky!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What a Dream!

I mentioned that I made a Dreamsicle cake today for the BBQ that I attended. You might be wondering what that is...

Just like one of my favorite summer treats, it's bright orange, with a nice creamy taste. For those old schoolers, it's a variation of the Jello Poke Cake, where you make the cake, then poke the holes in the middle and pour in gelatin that hasn't yet set. After a few hours in the fridge, a delicious whipped cream topping finishes it off.

Here's the recipe:

1 package Lemon Cake Mix (doesn't matter what brand, I use what's on sale)
1 (.13 oz) envelope of Orange Kool-Aid (or similar unsweetened soft drink mix)
3 eggs
1 cup of water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 package Orange Jell-O
1 cup of boiling water
1 cup cold water
1 container frozen whipped topping (thawed)


1. In a mixing bowl, combine cake mix with drink mix, eggs, water, and oil. Beat on a medium speed for 2-3 minutes until all ingredients are combined and batter is fluffy. Pour into an ungreased baking pan (13x9x2 works best)
2. Bake cake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test.
3. Remove from oven and poke holes in the cake utilizing the handle of a wooden spoon.
4. Cool cake on wire rack for 30-45 minutes.
5. After cake has cooled, in a separate bowl combine Jell-O mix with boiling water. Stir until the gelatin is dissolved. Stir in the cold water.
6. Pour Jell-O over the cake, spreading evenly and allowing the liquid to settle into the holes of the cake.
7. Cover and refrigerate for two hours. Spread whipped topping over cake prior to serving.

Refrigerate leftovers.

A Little More Greenery

Since spring is finally here, I thought it would be the perfect time to bring some greenery into my apartment. For me, this is somewhat ambitious.

I have had plants before, some more successfully than others. In graduate school, before I had Bucky, I had two lovely plant roommates that lived in colorful pots on my windowsill. Unfortunately, both were toxic for pets, so when Bucky moved in, they moved out. Back then, I also grew my own cherry tomatoes in large
planters on my deck, which were a delicious contribution to many salads before they got too fried in the August heat. My apartment in Saint Louis only has a small shared patio, so those were also left behind in Iowa.

There are two big considerations in my search for plants:

1. They need to be easy to care for. With my crazy schedule, I cannot own anything that needs a lot of time or attention (minus Bucky). I also need plants with fairly explicit care instructions. I'm not really going to sit and time how many hours of sunlight a certain spot gets, to make sure it is a good fit for the plant. I'd like to see a plant that says "No matter where you put me in your'll still probably kill me." That's probably more accurate.

2. They cannot be toxic for cats. As I said earlier, B ucky is a chomper. He chews on everything, especially plants and flowers (not to mention paper towel rolls per our morning adventure...).

I don't trust that he's smart enough to not eat something that will hurt him, so I had to double check a few safety guides before purchasing anything. I found this helpful resource from the ASPCA.

I ventured out to the grocery store this morning to get ingredients for a cake, and wandered into the florist section. Two new friends came home with me - a phalaenopsis orchid (for just $13.99), and an African violet (just $3.99). Now, orchids are often known to be tricky plants to take care of. But after reading through the care instructions, this one seems very doable. African violets are a very common house plant, so I think I'll be okay. I'm hoping to get some additional leafy plants to add to the collection, they didn't have any at the grocery store today.

Of course, the minute that I set the plants down, Bucky's face was immediately in them. I'm not sure how long they'll make it, but I'm willing to give it a shot.
I originally put the orchid on top of my bookshelf in the living room (on which I'm currently doing a little mini-makeover...more info and pictures coming soon).

As that is one of Bucky's favorite places to sit, I began having visions of it scattered across the floor, and immediately relocated to a coffee table.

A similar situation arose with the African violet, which would be adorable on my nightstand (as per the picture), but Bucky frequently walks back and forth over it to get to the window. It's
still awaiting it's permanent location.

I love how bringing some plants in can really liven up the space though. Now if only I can get "you-know-who" to appreciate them from afar.

This last picture is of another amazing find from the grocery velvet cake donuts. YUM! This made an amazing addition to my morning coffee. Now off to a cold, rainy BBQ with my Dreamsicle cake!


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Flower Girl

If there is one thing that brightens my day, it is fresh flowers. I am so thankful for having great friends and family that like to send them as gifts. I thought I'd share some of the pictures of my beautiful bouquets.

Sorry about the grainy quality of the photos - most were taken on my iPhone.

I have the best boyfriend. I really do. He is so incredibly sweet and he likes to send me flowers. For special occasions, when I'm having a bad day, and my favorite - the "just because" flowers. I love the multicolored roses. So does my cat - he chewed them all up, so unfortunately they didn't look like this for too long.

I love fresh vibrant colors, so I was so excited to receive the bouquet at my office from the BF. The colors match the yellow accent wall in my office perfectly. I really miss those flowers...they certainly brightened up the place.

Within the same month, I received this bright bouquet from my mom, who also likes to send "just because" flowers. (Don't you love the beading around the vase!) I kept these in the office to keep them away from Bucky, the chomper.

This next gorgeous arrangement arrived last summer after I had a minor surgery. What a fantastic way to say "get well soon." Thankfully my mom was on hand to do the arranging!

What's even better than being sent flowers? Arriving home to find them! After a long weekend of working, I came home to my apartment to find a lovely fall arrangement on the shelf. What a sweetie!

Flowers are a great thank you! One of the student groups that I advise sent this really artistic arrangement following a successful event. Isn't it amazing?! (please ignore the piles of work on my desk...that just shows how hard that I work, right?)

If you haven't sent anyone flowers in awhile, think about doing so. It will really brighten their day!


Thursday, April 22, 2010

All that Glitters

I am a girl with expensive tastes when it comes to makeup. A good friend introduced me to bareMinerals a few years back, and I've been hooked ever since. It certainly isn't cheap, but I've always felt that makeup (especially foundation) is one product that is worth spending a little bit more (minus mascara - I will forever be a Maybelline Great Lash girl). I started out with the basics of their Get Started Kit, and have since collected additional brushes, eye shadows, complexion enhancers, etc. When I receive birthday or holiday money, it's quickly spent on something glam and fun. And now that I have the "swirl, tap and buff" system down, it has become part of my daily routine. I just love it.

And then BAM, I lose my makeup.

On a busy day when I was running late, I put my two cosmetic bags in my purse, intending to put my makeup on at work. Somehow in transit during the day, my case of bareMinerals disappeared. Cars, lawns, and hallways have been searched to no avail. At this point, it's just gone. While it's certainly not the worst thing that could happen, it was definitely disappointing.

I waited for awhile hoping I'd find it (meaning I went without makeup for about a week - frightening, I know). Last night, I finally decided it was time to replace at least the basics. I was about to head to the mall, when I paused to consider "do I really need this?" I was pained at the thought of dropping over 100 bucks to replace what I had. In my effort to save more money, I figured it was worth checking out what Walgreen's had to offer first before splurging on more bareMinerals. Although I didn't want to go back to a heavy liquid foundation, I knew that some of the drug store brands had recently jumped on the mineral trend, and might have a comparable substitute.

After much debate, I finally settled on the Maybelline Mineral Power Powder Foundation. At just $10, it was less than half the price of the bareMinerals Foundation of the same size ($25). Plus, it came with a cute mini kabuki brush. The one drawback was that I didn't have the opportunity to test the different shades to see which best matched my skin tone. A clear benefit of Bare Minerals is their customer service and free consultations, if you are fortunate to have access to one of their boutiques. I picked the tone which seemed to be the closest, and hoped for the best. I was also fortunate that Walgreen's had a "buy one, get one 50% off sale on Maybelline products" this week, so I was able to get an eye liner too!

The Big Test: I tried the product this morning, and so far so good! I did a pretty decent job with the color - although it is a little pinky, I don't have streaks or noticeable foundation lines. The kabuki brush is a little small, but it got the job done. I fortunately still have my bareMinerals kabuki (which ended up missing it's way into the makeup bag that disappeared), so I will likely use that instead. It's only lunch time, so the jury is still out on durability throughout the day.

I can't say that I won't eventually switch back to bareMinerals, but for now, this is an affordable substitute.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Office Organization Challenge

While I am working on my organization and clutter control at home, I also need to gear some of my efforts towards work as well. My office is in need of some serious time and attention.

In order to provide some extrinsic motivation, my coworker (who also has a cluttered office) and I have entered into a challenge. For the month of May (or at least the business days of May), he and I will compete to have the cleanest and most organized office by the end of the month.

We've determined the following rules:

1. Only $50 may be spent on additional organizational supplies.

2. We can consult with other staff members regarding organizational tips or ideas, however we must do all of the actual work ourselves.

3. We cannot intentionally make our office messier now so that it looks cleaner at the time of judging.

We still have to determine judges, but the loser will have to buy the winner lunch.

I'm excited to see the progress that we make!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

From 2 to 1: More Cost Cutting

Netflix has been both a pro and a con towards saving money. When I actually watch my DVDs, it's a great deal and fairly affordable entertainment. But then there are those months where I'll have two discs for the entire month and end up sending them back without ever watching. Problem.

I've debated for awhile cutting Netflix all together, and have put my account on hold several times, especially during those busier months when I'm never home. Lately though, I've been watching a lot of their Watch Instantly movies and tv seasons. The availability has increased significantly since it first started, and with some series offering all of their seasons, it's just as convenient as Hulu (unless it's something you want to watch weekly).

After talking to a friend tonight, I made the move to cut back my Netflix to one DVD at a time. This means I can still watch everything on Watch Instantly, but I can also save about $5/month on the mailed DVDs. Yeah, $5 isn't a ton, but it's something. And if I find I'm still not watching it, then I'll cut it completely.

I think my next step is going to be canceling my cable that I never watch. If only I can make it through the phone call with the Charter Retention Department...

Check Out: Groupon.Com

If you haven't heard of it yet, you need to check out Groupon.Com. Groupon is a web site that offers a new coupon each day for a restaurant or service located in your city. You might pay $20 up front for $50 worth of services. It is basically Restaurants.Com meets Woot.Com (also good sites to check out), with the caveat that a certain number of people must opt into the deal for it to be active that day (although I've never seen the minimum not be met here in St. Louis). Typically there is one main deal for the day, as well as a side deal. Services that I've seen have varied from salon and spa treatments, acupuncture, gardening and landscaping supplies, just to name a few. There are often restaurant coupons, which friends have said are actually less restrictive in their use than some featured on Restaurants.Com or other sites.

Worth saving some money!


Saturday, April 17, 2010

DIY: Hemming Jeans

As a short person, it is frustrating to constantly be buying jeans and pants that are too long. I've become fairly comfortable with hemming khakis over the years, and repairing hems to dress pants utilizing stitchwitchery, but I've never attempted to hem my own jeans before because I was too freaked out that I'd wreck them, or that it would look obvious that I'd done them myself. I actually have had two pairs that have been sitting on my dresser with the tags on for about two and a half years.

Although I'm a beginner at Do-It-Yourself projects, I found this really helpful online tutorial from Dacia Ray with directions on how to hem jeans while utilizing the original hem. It sounded so easy, I was willing to give it a shot with a pair of jeans that I got from Target (yes, Target...they are really cute). I figure with a price tag of less than $30, I couldn't really do that much damage.

I followed the directions exactly and my pair turned out really well - I've been wearing them all the time, and I've gotten a few compliments! It's definitely worth a shot, especially to save some money.

Nine Months Later...

So apparently I need to do better about keeping up with my blogging. It's amazing how both work and life in general take over. I'm now 27 years old, and still trying to figure out what this whole grown up thing is all about.

One of my current goals is to eliminate the clutter from my life and to live more simply. I had the opportunity to go on a service trip about a month ago that was really impactful for me. Our group traveled to Jonesville, Virginia to assist in repairing homes for low-income families through the Appalachia Service Project (ASP). ASP focuses on making families homes warmer, safer and drier. Unlike Habitat for Humanity, the organization does not build or rebuild new homes for the families, but rather improves the exisiting structures. This can provide unique challenges where you never know what you might find after pulling up a floor - the boards underneath could be rotten, the joists could be uneven (in our the walls also uneven, which made cutting new floor pieces a challenge as each was a custom fit). Our group certainly ran into obstacles along the way, but in the end, we did some meaningful work for some really great families.

Through the trip, I reflected on the way that I live, and was inspired to find opportunities to live a rich, but more simple life. I have found that to be much harder to do back in my own environment, surrounded by chaos. I don't work regular hours, which contributes to some bad habits like eating out more often and leaving my apartment looking like a hurricane blew through. I'm not the most frugal person, and I live in a sea of clutter - both things that I want to change. I am generally not a neat person, and have struggled for some time to find new methods of organization that work for me and that I can maintain. I am committed to clearing out the physical, mental, and emotional clutter from my life so that I can be a happier and healthier person.

One resource that I've found to help with the physical clutter is The Clutter Diet. I found it at some point last year through Real Simple or another similar magazine. It is this great organizational web site that treats eliminating clutter like losing weight. You get a newsletter each week with different action items that break down organizing into specific areas of focus each week. You weigh in each week, with "weight loss" measured in putting time towards the different action items and eliminating bags of trash, or boxes of items to be donated. There are additional online tutorials and trainings for different types of organization methods and for specific areas of the house, as well as cleaning manuals and other helpful items. I first utilized the site for a period last spring and found it to be really helpful. Not everything applies to me (i.e. I don't have a garage), but I've committed that time towards other areas. I just re-registered (for $14.95/mo), and am excited to begin making progress on my apartment.

As a side note, I had an unexpected major purchase this past month when I had a tire blow out one night. Note to self: Don't hit the median. It's expensive. I ended up having to buy two new tires, which certainly isn't cheap. The reality is that my car really needed all four replaced, and so I'll likely be getting two more before next winter. Ahh, the expenses of being a grown up.

I'm thankful for springtime the beautiful weather that we are having, and I look forward to the pool opening at my apartment complex in just over a month. There's no better way to spend a weekend afternoon than laying out by the pool with a good book to read.
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