Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Grocery Organization with a Little Help from Martha

Our pantry is one of those places that I continually have to organize, but nothing really seemed to stick. I think I finally made some of the right changes to keep it in some semblance of order as the contents constantly change.

One of the problems was that we weren't utilizing the door storage very well, as we had tea boxes and other random items in there, while having a lot of bottled condiments on a carousel which wasn't easily visible or accessible for those kind of items.  I removed the tea boxes (finding that many were empty... an annoying habit that SOMEONE in my household is guilty of doing) and used the door space to house the bottled items.  I divided them into categories such as sweeteners, cooking oils, and so on.  I then labeled the shelves with Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery Adhesive metal book plate labels that you can purchase at Staples.  The nice think about this type of labeling is that the labels slide in and out, so that you can change them when you rearrange.  Although it's pretty obvious to they eye what one is looking at, the labels can be a helpful prompt to make sure things get put back where they belong to keep the order.

An item I highly recommend for pantry organization and food storage is OXO Pop containers.  They are clear (so you can easily see the contents), come in many sizes stackable, and airtight.  We received a starter set of various sizes as a wedding gift, and I've acquired more because they are so practical.  They are a little on the pricey side, but they are a good deal if you can find them at Home Goods or TJ Maxx.

One of the things I recently found they are great for is cereal storage.  It is helpful because you can see how much cereal is left (no more empty cereal boxes left in the pantry) and know when you need to purchase more.  Also because they are airtight the cereal stays fresh (the same person who is guilty of leaving empty boxes is also guilty of not rolling the internal bag of cereal, making it quickly become stale).  I also like the larger containers for flour and sugar, (and protein powder).  The smaller containers are great for the variety of nuts and dried fruits we always have on hand for salads, cooking, and snacks.

I recently came upon an ingenious pairing for the OXO Pop containers with Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery chalkboard labels also available at Staples.  These labels are not only attractive with their flourish die-cut design, but practical, as they are nonpermanent in that you can erase and change the label to match the contents as needed.  And you can include the expiration date as well!  I also used these labels on clear bins, which are good for wrangling things like beef jerky pouches, seasoning packets, and sprinkles.


Now that the pantry was organized, I was ready to go shopping which inspired me to organize my coupons.  Yes, I use coupons, but I am not a crazy coupon lady by any means.  The reasons why:
  • I don't use many of the products the manufactures provide coupons for
  • I have a certain degree of brand loyalty for certain products
  • I don't have a stockpile and have no desire for my home to resemble a grocery store
  • I don't dumpster dive for coupons
  • I don't subscribe to the paper
  • I don't need 500 candy bars
I do however use coupons somewhat regularly on the things I buy, and need, and I am able to save an average of 25% on my grocery bill, which really adds up.  Some people are snobby about couponing, as if it's below them.  Just because you have money doesn't mean you shouldn't save.  Who doesn't like free stuff?  Every time I save a few hundred dollars, it's like getting a pair of shoes for free!

Because I am not a crazy coupon lady, I don't need a jumbo binder that weighs 50 lbs.  However my old system of envelopes divided by category wasn't working so well and if you can't find what you need you won't use it (before it expires).  So again with items from Martha Stewarts Home Office with Avery line at Staples, I created a little coupon binder I could take shopping.  One of the things I love about her line is that a lot of the accessories are robins egg blue, so it matches my office!  I purchased a small robin's egg blue binder that can fit in my purse and some dividers, and clear pocket pages.  I also added some filler paper in the front that is perfect for composing shopping lists.  For me, I kept it simple (no subcategories) and divided them into grocery/food, household/cleaning, personal, pets, and other.  Each category has a few pages of various size clear pocket pages, so I can flip through it and easily find the coupon that I need.

A few of my tips about couponing:
  • Online shopping: did you know there is almost always a coupon code for most retail websites?  You can just Google the name of the retailer and coupon code and see what comes up.  Retail Me Not seems to have the most valid codes.  Depending on the retailer you can sometime use up to 2 different codes on an order.  You can usually save 15-30% and get free shipping, just by typing in the coupon code in the field at checkout.
  • Bed Bath and Beyond: you know how they send out mailers constantly with 5 dollars off one item or 20% off one item coupons?  You can use multiple coupons on one purchase, one coupon per item, AND although the coupons have expiration dates, they except expired coupons (and competitior coupons).  So if you shop there, don't ever throw your BB&B coupons away!  You can use them on the OXO Pop containers!
  • Pavillions/Vons/Safeway:  There Just for You program is great.  They give you special offers on the things you frequently buy.  I love berries, which are usually pretty expensive compared to other fruit, but because I buy them all the time they give them to me at prices like 77 cents a pound.  Because I get good deals on them I continue to buy them, and they continue to give me the deals!
  • Pets: If you sign up for Petco Pals rewards, you get coupons every month.  Also many of the dog treats you buy have coupons inside the bag for those products, don't throw them out!
  • Extreme Couponing tactic: I don't take it to that level, but I have figured out how people get the extreme savings, or even cash back on items.  Basically you try to combine your coupons with sales and other promotions.  For example:  I had a sunday paper coupon for 1.00 off these mashed potatoes my husband likes.  When I looked at the ads I saw they were on sale for 2.99 (regularly 3.99) with my club card.  And when I went on the Just for You site I was able to load to my club card, a store coupon that was also for 1.00 off.  So with my two coupons and the club card sale price I purchased the mashed potatoes for 1.00.  A good deal, but I don't need 500 tubs of mashed potatoes... I was happy with the one.
  • Keep your coupons (like your reusable grocery bags) in the trunk of your car.  That way you can never go to the store and forget them.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

DIY Throw Pillows with Envelope Opening

I fell in love with this steampunkish/nautical sailing ship print fabric from Ikea and so I bought a yard and a half so I could make some pillows for our bedroom.  This is a great project for beginners, and really simple.  I purchased the pillow fills from Ikea as well, and the total cost of the project was about $26.00 for the pair.  Pretty good considering fashionable throw pillows from Z Gallery and other home stores are often upwards of $80.00 a pillow...  

The great thing about envelope pillows is that the covers can be removed and washed.  You can even just cover over old pillows instead of purchasing the fills, if you you are on a budget, or want to make a change with what you already have.  There are several different kinds pillow fills at different price points, but I prefer feather or down for throw pillows, because poly/cotton fills can be lumpy, and they aren't as plush, fluffy, or of substantial weight.  That's why I went with the Fjadrar fills, because they were nicer and the finished product looks more expensive.  I tend not to sleep with down, for allergy reasons, but these are the type of pillows you toss onto the floor before getting into bed anyhow.

Below are illustrated instructions I put together so you can make your own.  You don't have to use the same size pillow, as the instructions illustrate the formula for figuring out panel sizes for any size pillow, with 20" x 20" as an example.  Keep in mind that if you go larger, you may need more than 1.5 yards of fabric.  Also as a beginner it will be easier to work with a random repeat, rather than one that only goes one direction as I did, because it takes some thinking and consideration to make sure that things match up, and that you don't accidently sew one panel in upside down.

The photo above shows the back side of the pillow, you can see the overlap envelope opening  for getting the cover on and off of the pillow.  If you follow the instructions, the repeat should match up, not perfectly, but close enough for the opening to be very subtle.  Of course when you put the pillows on your bed or sofa, this side won't be the side to show anyhow... but if done right they will look like they were purchased from a high end home store!

Once you complete your first pillow, you will want to make more.  The pleasure of DIY is highly addicting.  I'm already on the lookout for the right fabric to update our living room seating with some new throw pillows!