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Good morning dear friends!

It’s a beautiful “Almost Spring” morning in Nicosia, how about in your part of the World? We had a very mild Winter this year, and Spring has had an early arrival as well. We knew it was going to be that way when the yellow flowers that fill the parks and unoccupied land plots all around the city started appearing in late January (instead of late February), and we spotted the first caterpillars a little bit after Christmas.

I was looking forward to the warmer weather this year, even if this probably means a longer, warmer Summer as well. A “warmer Summer”  in Cyprus normally means an exceedingly hot one, but after a bad round of colds and flu,  we are rejoicing in the longer, sunny days, the  just cool enough breeze and the discovery of new blooms and flowers everywhere.

Spring, for some of us, is not only a time for flowers and picnic dreams, but also a time for a big Spring Clean. To be completely honest, I normally do a big clean twice a year, in February (right before Lunar New Year) and in September (after Luka and Zoe start school). This helps me sort through old clothes and paperwork and get the apartment ready for the following season.  Living in an apartment, instead of a house, means that we cannot afford to have too many things and we need to keep everything in place and pretty much organized or our place ends up looking chaotic very fast.  But, despite this,  our little system was not working perfectly and I had reached the point when it was really beginning to bother me. So, right at the beginning of the year, I decided that 2013 was going to be the one when I was finally going to organize and simplify our house in a way that was easy to maintain, and when I was going to come up with a cleaning routine that worked for me and that wasn’t going to have me running like an exhausted  headless chicken every six months to try to compensate for the little things that I hadn’t managed to do before and that had been piling up since the last big clean. I wanted to develop a cleaning and organizing system that was efficient and worked for us and our lifestyle.

So, after our first big flu, I started my search for inspiration where I always do: Pinterest! I created an Organization and Home Ideas board (you can click on the link to go to my board) and started pinning there everything that I liked and that seemed doable on a tight budget or that I could adapt to be within my means. I knew I had to start where I always do: reducing and de-cluttering, and I knew that, this time, I wanted to be really thorough with this initial stage of the process. Up until this year, I had only managed to sort through bits and pieces every now and then, and whatever we didn’t use anymore had ended up in our storage room, downstairs, which was by now overflown with baby stuff. It was time to let go of all of that, donate what was in good conditions and throw away what wasn’t. I also knew that I needed to develop a simple and consistent cleaning routine that include, not only the basics (which I am fairly good at) but also deep cleaning areas, timed throughout the year so as to be able to have the house spotless doing just a little bit every day. And, most importantly, I knew it was time to stop trying to reinvent the wheel and look for help to be able to do all this because, while I probably would be able to develop all those plans and routines from scratch, that was also not probably the most efficient way to do it.  So I pinned and clicked and searched and came up with a system that uses a combination of free resources and paid ones and that  is working for me, and this is what I want to share with you today, because I thought that you may be in the same boat that I am and that we are all stronger together.

I still have things to figure out, tasks to complete and parts of this new system to test, of course. Houses grow and change as we, the persons that inhabit them do and, as this happens, systems need to be modified and adapted as well. Organizing and simplifying is an ongoing process. But I am happy to have taken this time (two months!), at the very beginning of the year, to begin doing it, to begin planning because I feel that a huge load has been taken off my shoulders and that I can now focus on new projects without the dark cloud of messiness blurring my thoughts and ideas.

So here is what we did so far:

1) We cleared out the apartment’s storage room. As I mentioned before, it was full of stuff our children had outgrown and, since we are not planning to have any more kids, it was time to give it all to someone who could make good use of it. We considered the idea of a garage sale, but then realized that we actually wanted to donate everything, so we asked our pediatrician whether there was a charity in Nicosia that worked with children and that may be interested in everything we had, and she recommended Alkionides Charity. We checked them out and saw that they do a wonderful work, so we gave them a call and donated everything, knowing that all those furniture and toys that we bought with so much love will go to people who need them the most. The reason I am mentioning this is simply to encourage you to donate, and to let you know, if you are in Cyprus, about the work of this charity so that you can lend them a hand too, if you can.

2) I started putting in practice the wonderful ideas that adorable Mayi Carles shares in the Life is Messy Bootcamp. This program has been a real life changer, in general, and I couldn’t recommend it more. The program comes with beautifully designed pdf planners (which you can buy independently of the program) that are great for getting organized, such as: a decluttering checklist, daily and weekly to do planners, monthly planners, monthly blog planners, fitness planners, weekly menu planners and more (you can see the full list HERE) . So I organized all important information in different binders and started creating a home-keeping one and using LIMB planners to put in practice Mayi’s teachings. If you don’t want to buy the program or the planners, you can still profit from Mayi’s videos and organizing wizardry for free. Just visit her blog, where she has tons of free resources that you can use to make your life less messy and more epic, as she likes to say. 

3)  I started reading Project Organize your entire Life, joined the Project’s Facebook group and started following some members on Pinterest for further inspiration. This is a community of people just like you and me, who are not afraid of saying that they don’t have everything figured out, and  who are all permanently offering help and inspiration to reach the common goal of a simplified life where there is more time to enjoy with those we love. What could be better?

4) I started following the Clean Mama blog and learning about efficient cleaning routines by watching the amazing Clean My Space videos on youtube. I am not ashamed to say that I never had these in place and that, when it comes to cleaning I only knew the very basic. So it was time to educate myself! I printed Clean Mama’s Free monthly cleaning calendar and her free deep cleaning printables and started testing whether they worked for me. They did. So I went ahead and bought her Cleaning kit to complement the free resources. Why did I buy these? Because, as I said, I was tired of trying to reinvent the wheel and I believe that it is worth investing a small amount of money in a system that can help us achieve what we want in less time. Time is money too, and I have learned this the hard way, after years of trying to figure out everything by myself and wasting precious time in the process.

When it comes to cleaning itself, especially how to do it in a greener and more efficient way, I am loving the youtube videos by Clean My Space , a Toronto based cleaning company whose founder, Melissa is the cleaning genie behind the videos. They cover everything, from 10 points of contact to clean after the cold and flu season, to how to clean pillows, how to remove mold from a shower curtain, how to make your own cleaning products with natural ingredients and many, many topics more. I have tested their tips and they are amazing!I also printed Martha Stewart’s Free Stain Removal Basics and added to the cleaning part of my home keeping binder, which is divided by seasons.

So now every morning, I open my binder as soon as the children leave for school, do what is planned for the day, check what I accomplished and 45 minutes later I am done, knowing that I don’t need to stress about cleaning anymore! (insert happy smile!). My most dreaded task, ironing, is done twice a week, in the early afternoon, while my children play next to me.  I feel so mature for having- finally!- accomplished this 😉 (You may laugh at me if you want!)

3) I Made a list of all the areas that were driving me crazy, specifying what was bothering me about them and then tackled them one by one: the towels in the bathroom that kept falling down, the under sink area in the kitchen where I could never find the product I was looking for, the overflowing plastic bags in the corner cabinet next to the stove, that kept falling on top of the bottles of oil, our children’s art supplies that were all mixed up, the bits and pieces of broken toys everywhere, the mixed up props for the blog’s pictures, the binders from my Master studies which had remained untouched since the last exam and were full of papers I was sure I was not going to need anymore….you get the idea. With the list in hand, and my pinterest board as inspiration, I started visualizing how each problem could be solved, what products that I already had could be used to accomplish this, and what I needed to buy. One very important point is that I was not aiming at pretty, but only at efficient. When we are on a tight budget, pretty is a luxury and, for me now, it was not a priority. “As pretty as possible, but make sure that, above all, it gets done!” was my motto.

Here is what I have done so far, room by room:

a) Bathroom:  

1) I went through all products and got rid of all empty bottles, expired products and everything that hadn’t been used in one year.

2)I corralled all towels in plastic containers: adult towels, children towels, hand towels and old burp cloths that we still use for small clean ups (Yes, I know baskets would have been prettier but they costed three times more, so they were out of the question). The sense of relief I felt at just not seeing those towels fall over each other all the time anymore cannot be properly explained with words. Suffice it to say that it was HUGE!

3) I put all hair styling products  (blow drier, iron, combs) in a basket, all bath products in another one, and used another plastic container for the kids’ bath toys. The advantage that I find in having all products classified in containers is not only that things are easier to find and put away but  that cleaning the shelves is also much faster.

4) I also placed all bathroom cleaning products in a plastic container under the sink, so that I can just take everything easily with me when cleaning the other toilet.

b) Kitchen:

1) Same as above, the first step was clearing out everything that was expired, not used for a long while, and throwing the cleaning bottles that we store under the sink and which were empty and had remained there for some strange reason. This also included getting rid of most of the plastic bags that were overflowing the cabinet next to the stove and keeping only those ones that we may actually use, in a pretty fabric bag container which is now hanging next to the kitchen towels.  Then I cleaned deeply and disinfected all cabinets, counters, as well as the oven (which broke two weeks after that!), the refrigerator and the freezer.  This took two whole days.

2) Next, I organized the spice cabinet.  I labelled every container and classified the shelves according to use: baking, asian cuisine and hot spices and spices for everyday use (in the lower shelf). I also added a set of small spice containers for the most commonly used spices in our household and placed it next to the stove. This makes it easier to use them while cooking. The labels I used were free printables from The Twinery, but Martha Stewart has free ones as well.

3) I put all cooking products in Ikea plastic containers and labelled them. I then stored them in the shelves according to how they are used: sugars, gluten flours, gluten free flours (in a separate cabinet), nuts and seeds, breakfast products (coffee, tea, cocoa, etc), pasta, rice, beans, etc. I used plastic baskets to put the food that comes in small envelopes, like dry soups, and labelled the basket to know what is inside. I did this because those products always ended up in the top shelf and, since I am very short ( 5″2, or 1.58 mts) I ended up never using those products because they were difficult to reach. So, now I just need to look at the label and pull  the desired basket out without fearing messiness. I also used these plastic baskets to organize and classify all oils, vinegars and sauces that go in the cabinet next to the stove, as well as the cleaning products that go under the sink (also classified by usage).

3) I put all  foil, baking paper and freezer bags in magazine racks, for easier storage.

4) I placed all food in the refrigerator in plastic baskets (except for bottles, of course). When I was making the list of things that was driving me crazy, I realized that one of them was the fact that cleaning the fridge took ages because I had to remove each and every one of the products and then put them back. Then I saw THIS picture and knew that this was the perfect, affordable solution for us! So I went to Ikea, bought these baskets and classified everything in them: milk, yogurt, cheese, jams and marmalades, and fruits (vegetables are placed in plastic bags in the refrigerator’s bottom drawer). Easy cleanup, and easy to see what we have and what we need!

5) Finally, I cleared the counters, by placing all appliances that are not used daily (except the KitchenAid) and all attachments, in their boxes, on top of the kitchen cabinets.  Clear space, easy cleanup, peace of mind!

c) Study/guest Room:

This is the room of the house where I spend most time when our children are at school, where my desk is and where my craft material, my camera equipment and the props I use for food photography are stored. It is also our guest room, so it is important that it is always organized in case someone comes visit. And it normally is, but I needed it to be more functional so that my work there could also be more efficient.

So I took everything out, cleaned the space and starting re organizing. I would like to note that, in doing so, I re cycled and reused furniture and boxes I already had, such as the Antonius wire basket system that used to be where we stored diapers and wipes and that is now the home of my linens, photography equipment and most of my craft materials. Then I classified all props according to usage and color, which makes it easier to plan photoshoots, and placed all ribbon and twine in a makeup organizer that I had gotten as a gift over ten years ago and which was lying dormant since the old days in Ivory Coast.

The rest of the craft material which is dangerous in little hands (craft knives, inks, stamps, embossing powders, washi tape and punches) were stored in two different plastic boxes in the upper cabinet of the room’s closet, as are the camera, lenses, the sewing machine and the medicines.

I also went through all  the documents and materials stored in the chest of drawers that is located next to my desk. I  tested all pens and pencils that I had in the pencil holders, discarded those which didn’t work and classified by color those which remained.

Finally, I cleared my desk and left on it only that which was indispensable: the computer, the lamp, a desk organizer, post it notes,  and a pencil case which actually holds a few cables and the screen cleaning spray. And I make sure to leave it like this every night, before I go to sleep.

d)Children’s room and Toys:

The organization of our children’s room and toys started last July, when I painted their room ( I as in myself, yes,  because I am the official house painter!) and we changed their furniture to fit their needs as children (not babies anymore). Up until then, the toy situation, as I call it, was complete and utter chaos and it was maddening not only for us, the adults, but it was also very frustrating for them. I truly believe that children thrive in order and routines and the way things were organized was not helping them and it was making it a mess for me to keep the house in order.

Back in those days, the toys were stored in 4 big boxes. Basically, everything was being dumped there with no order or organization criteria whatsoever, which also meant that, whenever they wanted to find a toy to play, Luka and Zoe had to dump the full contents of the baskets on the floor, which of course remained there when the said toy was found. Sometimes, in the middle of that disorder they would get frustrated at not finding what they wanted and become grumpy. Then I would get grumpy because of the huge mess!

So we started looking for ways to change this. We needed to change their cribs into toddler beds as well and, since their room is quite small but does not allow (because of the disposition of closet, radiator, window and door) to have bunk beds, we knew our space for toys and books was going to be limited. Fortunately, there is Ikea! We found the shelves that you can see in the picture below, which allow for either plastic baskets (of different sizes and colors) or shelves. We cleared old and broken toys, examined which ones were left and decided to get the TROFAST storage system, with a combination of shelves and baskets: pink and white baskets for Zoe’s toys, green and blue baskets for Luka’s and shelves for toys of common usage. We also got THESE under the bed storage boxes, two for each child, where we store soft toys (for Zoe ) and big cars (for Luka).

Finally, we repurposed the old HENSVIK changing table by removing the upper part and transformed it into a book shelf to store their books and puzzles. As a final touch, I decorated it with some fun washi tape to give it a little more character.

Finally, we classified and organized all art supplies. We stored papers and coloring books in magazine racks, small crayons in origami boxes made by yours truly, and bought several pencil cases to store pencils, markers, glue and scissors.  We also put all music instruments in a different container for when we are doing the kindermusik exercises. These art supplies and music instruments are stored in the living/dining room, because they normally use them there. We have a 4 row Expedit shelving unit that houses them as well as my cooking and photography books and my magazines and recipe clippings (which are stored in magazine racks).

So there you have it: this is what I have been doing these past two months and the reason why I haven’t been posting as regularly as before. There is still work to do: I need to organize weekly or even monthly nutritious menus and come up with ideas to curve my children’s picky eating, I am planning to finalize the organization of our Emergency Binder (please, check this website for very important information regarding documents that we all must have in place and stored securely in case of emergencies), I need to de-clutter my electronic world and face the dreaded organization of all my pictures and I need to do an inventory of pantry, freezer and medicine cabinets (so that I can rest assured that I won’t have to run to the pharmacy in the middle of the night with a feverish child!). There will also be some modifications here in the blog, to make it more user friendly, and I am  happy to report that I have started working on some secret projects, which have me super excited and which I will hopefully be able to share with you in the second half of the year

I am planning to tackle all of this and more in the next few months, but slowly,  because I can’t wait to be back here more regularly! So, from next week, I’ll go back to posting twice weekly, on Mondays and Thursdays, and I promise those days will be full of yummy recipes, easy crafts and diys, tips and tricks for stress free parties and bits and pieces of my life, as always.

Now please, tell me: Do you usually do a Spring Clean or any other seasonal cleaning? How do you organize your house, your activities? Which resources do you find more useful? And please, save my life: do you have any ideas to cure picky eating?!Please, share your tips and tricks with me and the rest of this community  in the comments below, I can’t wait to read them!

Have a beautiful day!

NOTE: WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE LIFE IS MESSY BOOTCAMP LINKS, THE REST OF THE LINKS IN THIS POST ARE NOT AFFILIATE LINKS. I am just sharing what truly works for me, with no expectation of gain whatsoever.

 

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