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Posted on Aug 30, 2013 in How to simplify, My Journey

Simplify Your Living Area: End-of-Summer Cleanup Part 11



I left this room for last because I was hoping that three weeks of practice would help me prepare for this moment.  I’m going to address my books and two bookshelves.  Those two large bookshelves are too wide for the space on the wall, so they sit several inches out from the wall.  They take up more space in the room than they deserve, and who knows what has fallen behind there over the years?  They need to find a new home and be replaced by a smaller shelf.  Besides, it seems that stuff tends to build up to fill the space available, so having less space will help me accumulate less stuff.

It’s kind of silly to worry about this for a few reasons:

Since having to save for home repairs and a replacement car, I have stopped purchasing books, and started checking them out at the library.  The only new books I have added to my collection were gifts.

A lot of the things on the bookshelf are not books, but things that just landed there including a broken clock, a box of tissues and some candles.

If I love a book when I read it I ALWAYS give it away.  I want someone to enjoy it as much as I did, and I want someone to read it so they can talk with me about it.

Some of books on my bookshelf are there for reference.  This is fine, but for the most part, I have put them there and they stay for years without being needed.  Many are outdated computer books, or books about hiking trails for places I haven’t lived for almost a decade.

What’s left on the shelf are books I meant to read, but haven’t been interested enough, and books I read, but didn’t like.  Why keep those?  Like old clothes, they collect dust and guilt.

So why have I been dreading this room?  I think because I was brought up to see wasting or harming books and wasting food is a sin. This should not be a problem, right?  I’ll donate them.

First a couple of warm-up exercises:

  • Sort, replace and reduce CDs in the music binders
  • Then, update the monthly receipts and records in the files.  Shred the receipts from last summer’s files
  • Remove the clutter that has drifted to the bookshelf and put things away or give them away

OK, Here goes.  And done.

There is nothing gone that I will regret.

I still have my favorite books that I look at regularly.  I kept my old yearbooks, although I know I will be able to let go of them at some point.  I kept most of my cookbooks.

It’s much easier to streamline once you have decided to do it.  

Photo credit: bibliothekarin

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Posted on Aug 28, 2013 in How to simplify, My Journey

Simplify Your Bedrooms: End-of-Summer Cleanup Part 10

 8353755391_850f1998fe_nHow Dust Bunnies are Made 

In previous episodes, I decluttered the books, reduced clothing buildup, and removed excess baggage luggage.  What is left to do in the bedroom?  In my house, there are the dreaded dust bunnies, dusty blinds and dog toys.


Light under the bed

I like to have nothing stored under the beds.  There is a feng shui reason for this, but having a lot of stuff stored under the largest piece of furniture seems to bring a heaviness to the room.  Bed skirts have the same effect on me.  Maybe this is because of my dust allergies, but being able to get under there with the vacuum to collect all the dust bunnies is very satisfying.


I don’t like doing laundry.  I have to keep up with it, or it will take over my life.  Now that I have fewer clothes, this is very important so I have clean clothes to wear.  I have to fold it and put it away right out of the dryer or it will become bedroom decoration.  The good news is that now that there are fewer clothes, finding where to put them away is a lot easier.  Sound familiar?  Keeping up with it is way easier than looking at it covering your bed when you want to go to sleep.  I promise.  Give it a try while your dog is playing with squeaky toys (see below) and you will have something to entertain you while you work.

Dusty blinds

There are a lot of tools designed to dust blinds.  I have never had good luck with any of them, and they make more stuff to store.  Feather dusters and even the disposable versions mostly put the dust into the air where it is not needed.  I like to use either a series of microfiber cloths that can be washed and reused (have a few because they get full of dust quickly) or these disposable cloths coated with some sticky substance that collect the dust and hold it forever.  I learned about them from the janitorial staff at work.  They are not very eco-friendly, but they work brilliantly.  No, no one gives me any rewards for mentioning any products.

Dog toys

My dog loves squeaky toys.  So much, that many of his admirers send him toys of every color and sound.  He has a container of toys in the bedroom next to his bed.  Each day, he chooses a toy of the day to accompany him wherever he goes.  When he is happy, he squeaks his toy to express his joy.  If I squeak it and throw it in the air, he will leap up and catch it, squeaking it in celebration.  I only had to go through his toys to see which were no longer squeaking.  If possible, I replaced the squeakers, fixed holes, and discarded the ones that were past fixing.



Photo credits: bagsgrooveNakedsky
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Posted on Aug 26, 2013 in How to simplify, My Journey

Simplify Your Dishes: End-of-Summer Cleanup Part 9


I have a small dining room.  It seats 6 with the leaf in the table, but has only a small cabinet for linens and serving dish storage besides the table, chairs.  I store my everyday dishes in the kitchen, along with the glasses and cutlery, right next to the pass-through to the dining room.

Even though I have only room for 6 at the table, I somehow have dishes, cutlery and glasses for twelve.  I am going to live with this.  When I have more guests than that, I serve a buffet in the dining room and we eat all over the place.

What I can’t live with is all the linens.  When I first moved in here, I wanted to serve meals with cloth napkins, and reduce my use of paper products.  I had almost nothing.  I picked up a few things, people gave me beautiful things, and I inherited some heirlooms from my family.

For this room, I did the same as for my clothes:

  • Does it fit my needs?
  • Do I love it?
  • Have I used it in the past year?
  • Is it cracked, torn, stained or otherwise damaged?

This didn’t take long at all.  It might be getting easier after three weeks.

Photo credit: DaveCrosby
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Posted on Aug 25, 2013 in How to simplify, Menus and Recipes

Cooking from the Pantry: End-of-Summer Cleanup Part 8


The other day, when I cleaned out the clutter and tidied up my kitchen, I noticed that like the books that accumulate in my bedroom, I have a lot of interesting ingredients that I buy, and then never get around to cooking.  In the spirit of trying to reverse this trend, I set aside some items to incorporate in to this week’s menu.  It’s kind of like a challenge TV show, right?  Well, except no audience or prizes.

Some of the ingredients were pretty normal, like dried  tortellini, beef broth ranch dressing mix and pudding mix.  Some were a bit less common, like crushed ginger snaps, almond milk and short grain brown rice.  One item, panna, is downright exotic.   Oh, and I ate the kale chips and applesauce plain.

Here is what I came up with:


Tortollini with asparagus and creamy pesto sauce

  • 6 oz tortellini, cooked according to instructions
  • One container panna (panna per cucinare, or cream for cooking)
  • 12 stalks of asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1 inch pieces and steamed
  • 3 T basil pesto

After draining pasta, add panna and pesto to the warm pot.  Heat slightly and mix to form thick sauce.  Pour over asparagus and pasta.

This was very easy to make with the cooking cream already thick.  I made the pesto with basil from my container garden and served this with my own cherry tomatoes.  It didn’t look like much, but this was delicious.



Chocolate-ginger pie

  • 1 ½ c crushed ginger snaps
  • 1 c sliced almonds
  • ¼ c butter, melted
  • 1 small container instant chocolate pudding
  • 2 c cold almond milk

Mix cookie crumbs, ¾ c almonds and butter, and press into pie pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or until slightly browned.  Cool to room temperature.  Mix almond milk and pudding mix, and pour into prepared and cooled pie crust.  Chill, and sprinkle with remaining almonds.

The filling in this pie was fairly predictable, and a little soft for a pie, if you ask me.  The taste of the cookie crust, almonds and chocolate was unexpectedly great.  I served it sprinkled with cocoa nibs, my new obsession.  If I make this again, I will use a glass dish and a home-made pie filling with good chocolate.  Maybe some candied ginger on top with the almonds.  That would be not as simple, though.


7 layer dip

  • 1 1/2 c shredded chicken breast
  • 1 can black beans (I used this pouch, but that is not important!)
  • ¾ c shredded cheddar cheese (Monterey Jack would be even better)
  • ¾ chopped tomatoes
  • 1 c guacamole
  • 1 c salsa
  • 1 c sour cream

Layer all ingredients in a straight-sided glass dish in order from bottom to top.  Serve with tortilla chips.

I had avocados and these black beans, so I thought I would share some dip with chips this weekend.  This was as good as it always is!


3 ingredient banana-oatmeal cookies

These are the same as before.  I wanted to use up the oatmeal, and had the ripe bananas in the freezer.  This time, I made them as bars (sort of) for breakfast.


Brown rice dinner

  • 2 c short grain brown rice
  • 1 container beef broth
  • 1 lb ground turkey, browned and broken up
  • 1 lb fresh broccoli, chopped or broccoli slaw
  • 1 packet BBQ ranch dressing mix

Bring to a boil, then steam brown rice with broth instead of water for 50 minutes.  Mix with turkey, broccoli and dressing mix.  Reheat and serve.

This made a lot, so I froze most of it.  That way I could eat tortellini for lunch every day.

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Posted on Aug 23, 2013 in How to simplify, My Journey

Simplify your kitchen and pantry: End-of-Summer Cleanup Part 7


Whatever your pantry looks like,  a shelf, a walk-in closet, drawers or cabinets like mine, you can take stock of what you have by taking it all out and looking at it.  If there is not enough counter space, organize by food type first and bring it out one section at a time.

  • Grains/beans
  • Canned foods
  • Baking supplies
  • Spices
  • Condiments
  • Tea/coffee and other drinks

First do the easy part, then make some decisions:

  • Consolidate things that are alike
  • Throw away expired items and things that have gone bad
  • Donate items you know you will not use (food pantry or grocery store food drive)
  • As with your clothes and books, declare amnesty on things that you bought and never used.  Waste as little as possible, but you don’t need to judge yourself. Just take stock and take action today.

Finally make a plan for using what is left.

Use up things first that:

  • Are duplicates
  • Are near expiration
  • Are bulky and take up too much precious space
  • Are interesting and excite you to be creative right now

The idea is to consistently incorporate these items into you menu for the next few weeks until you have reduced extras.  Don’t buy more until they are needed, unless they are used often in your kitchen.  Unless you are stockpiling for disaster preparedness.  Then you need to incorporate a plan to rotate your food supplies into your regular meals.

When replacing things into the pantry, remember to use the appropriate containers to avoid pests, organize like items together, and place things you use most often in the easiest shelf to see and to reach.  I have a narrow, deep cabinet for my pantry, so I use plastic bins to collect baking items and grains and beans for cooking.  I can take one bin out whenever I bake, and have everything I need safely in one place.  This also encourages not over-purchasing, as the bin is not huge.

Make a quick run through your other cabinets and drawers.  Are there items in there that have not been used in the past year?  Do you have a whole set of dishes you only use for Holiday dinners or duplicates of every Tupperware item?  Consider releasing these items to someone who will use them often and be grateful for them.

How did I do?  Well, I did not have much that was expired.  I did find some condiments that I purchased for a party that were never opened.  These can easily be let go.  I found a meat tenderizer and potato ricer that have been hiding in one drawer since the moving day, over 6 years ago.  Those were easy to release.  I found many unmatched coffee mugs that seemed to proliferate in the cabinet above the stove.  I am sort of ashamed to see that I have 5 kinds of rice, all in opened containers:  Short grain brown and white, as well as long grain for each, and black (forbidden!) rice.  That’s not all. I found couscous, quinoa, and cornmeal as well.  These will feature in my menu for the next few weeks.


I set aside a few items to prepare and eat this week.  I have a few things in mind.


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