Thursday, October 30, 2014

9 Ways Around Renters' Decorating Rules

"living room" by moon angel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Once you move into a new apartment home, it’s easy to start envisioning what you would like to do with the space. However, these thoughts sometimes include painting, wanting to change fixtures or flooring, and other ideas that simply aren’t allowed in a rental unit. But, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Try these tips from Apartment Therapy to get around common decorating rules for renters.

1. Oversized art and removable wallpaper are great ways to take the sting out of not-being-able-to-paint pain
For color lovers and those who love customizing each home they live in, nothing can sound more terrible than learning you can't paint your rental. But instead of accepting a life of beige, get creative and bold with oversized art (you buy or DIY) and even temporary wall paper.

2. Great color can come from furnishings, too
In the same sense, just because you can't splash color all over your walls or ceilings doesn't mean you can't have a home bursting with an exciting color palette. Use the creative energy you would have put into painting your walls to paint furniture, or get wild and buy patterned and colorful upholstered pieces. Take chances on DIYing hued rugs, and stretch your design muscles with colorful accessories. The best way to make sure it feels like a cohesive look connected to your space is to spread color around the room, from top to bottom and side to side.

3. Plants are a great way to hide things you don't like
There are plenty of ways to disguise elements in a rental you don't love, but none perhaps work as effectively and as easily as a cleverly placed plant. And bonus: plants always make rooms feel alive and more rich, so it's good to add anyway.

4. Good window treatments can make a room feel finished
Whether you hate your all-white walls or your apartment doesn't have an architectural element to save its life, great window treatments can do a ton to improve the look of an entire room. Consider every element of the window treatment — from height (think about hanging them a little taller and wider than you think to make windows seem more prominent). And curtains are also a great way to add color and pattern to an otherwise bland space.

5. Splurge on elements you can take with you
Those who always hesitate to put money into a rental need only reframe their thought process. Invest that hard-earned cash into elements you love, that you can take with you, and be ultra careful with choosing the kind of items that will be flexible enough in function and style to work in plenty of future residences.

6. Bad floors aren't a design death sentence
The thing about bad floors is that even if you can't pull them up, you can still do a lot to make them better. From laying down temporary flooring to just using a lot of oversize rugs, bad floors aren't a design death sentence, even if they aren't made of the material of your dreams.

7. It's fine to make stealth changes, but keep track of them
Too often renters jump to disguising unwanted design elements first, without realizing they can remove and replace with what they want, while keeping the original elements for putting back when they move out. From light fixtures to awful vertical slat blinds to doors, just remember to keep track of the changes you make, how to re-install them later and where you'll be storing them so you don't lose your deposit.

8. Creative storage solutions are vital for any spaces
Whether you've got one paltry closet or many, it pays to take the time to consider how to better store things, from seasonal wardrobe options to your pots and pans. There are plenty of ways to create storage when you don't have any, and a lot of ways these storage solutions can be non-damaging, easy-to-install, take-with-you-later options for renters.

9. Customizing is worth the time, money and energy in a rental
I do this more than I'd like to admit, the thought that because it's not some forever home I own it's not worth customizing. But it is. Stick to your budget, get creative with DIY projects and push the limit of what is allowed, but at least do something!

What are some of your creative decorating ideas?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Organize That Clutter

"Desk Experiment 001" by Josh Lambert Pearson is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Unless you’re Felix from The Odd Couple or Monica Gellar from Friends, chances are you have clutter in your life to some capacity. It’s almost easier to clean and organize when you’re moving and are forced to go through everything; but if you have lived in the same space for a while, you might need to do some decluttering. What are some everyday tips you can use to keep up with the clutter? Try these ones from Apartment Therapy:

1. Live within your means.
This is an idea I got from one of our Apartment Therapy videos, and I think it's a wonderful place to start if you're aiming for a simpler, less cluttered life. What 'live within your means' means for your home is this: let the size of your home dictate how much stuff you have, and not the other way around. If your closet is bursting at the seams, instead of dreaming of a bigger closet, why not try paring down your clothes to fit the space you have?

2. Purge often.
Even if you get to a point where you have only as many things as will comfortably fit into your space, stuff has a way of accumulating. So set aside a time, a few times a year, to go through your things and get rid of the ones you don't use anymore. You'll feel so much lighter, and your home will thank you.

3. Have a place for everything.
'A place for everything, and everything in its place.' Almost a cliche, but still some of the best organizing advice out there. A bit of further advice: if you have lots of things in limbo on tables or countertops or the floor and are struggling to find places for them, maybe you need more places. This is where clear plastic shoeboxes or a filing cabinet or maybe just a console with lots and lots of drawers can come in handy.

4. But don't underestimate the importance of a junk drawer.
Every household has those little things — pens, tape, twist ties, whatnot — that get used a lot but don't really have any logical place to go. Instead of agonizing over finding a home for every little thing, keep a junk drawer. The last few little bits of clutter get swept in there, and you're done.

5. Become a habitual putter-awayer.
This is probably the hardest part of this whole list for me: the 'and everything in its place' part of #3. I try to tell myself that it's a sort of game, kinda like one of these for adults. Put the bottle opener back in the drawer! Hang that skirt you didn't wear back in the closet! But ultimately, I think the easiest way to make sure you put things away is just to do it, and then keep on doing it until it's so habitual that you wouldn't ever think of not doing it. When you see how much better your home looks, you'll be that much more motivated to keep fighting the good fight.

6. Store things where you use them.
Be smart about where you store things. Not having to walk halfway across your home to put things away will make #5 that much easier.

7. Stop clutter before it enters your home with a landing strip.
Even if you're conscientious about what you buy, it's easy for clutter to sneak its way into your home in the form of junk mail, freebies, what have you. That's why setting up a landing strip by the front door is so brilliant: because clutter has to come into your home somewhere, and you can stop it right at the source.

8. Go paper-free.
Scanning all the documents you've been hanging onto may seem like a daunting task, but once you're done, they'll be easily searchable (plenty of apps, like Evernote, allow you to search scanned documents for certain words) and you'll have that much less stuff to manage.

9. Realize that life is about experiences, not things.
We're constantly being bombarded with advertisements that try to convince us that a happy life is all about having the latest stuff: a new car, an outdoor kitchen, an ice cream maker. But studies have shown, over and over (and my own experience has borne out) that it isn't the things in our lives that make us happy: it's our experiences that we treasure most. So the next time you're tempted to buy more stuff, ask yourself if the money wouldn't be better spent on a vacation or a nice night out. Bonus: you won't have to find a space for these things in your cabinets.

10. Forgive yourself and try again.
Remember that nobody is perfect, and nobody's home is perfect. Even the homes you see in the magazines aren't perfect — it took a whole team of stylists to make them that way. So if you have an off week, or two weeks, or month, and suddenly your house is a disaster, don't panic. It's never too late to forgive yourself and try again.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Grocery Planning 101

"Thanksgiving Supplies" by Phil! Gold is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
We’ve all heard the saying “never go grocery shopping hungry,” but that isn’t the only rule we should keep in mind when we’re at the store. Like many things, the prices of food keeps increasing, so how do we stick to a budget? Heck, how do we even set one in the first place? We’ll demystify grocery shopping in ten steps, with these tips from The Kitchn.

1. Track what you actually spend for a month.
Before you can make a realistic grocery budget, you have to have a realistic idea of what you usually spend. You might spend more on food (including drinks and eating out) than you realize. Start tracking what you spend for a month. Keep your receipts.

Whether you use a spreadsheet or a Word document, or just paper and pencil, it can be helpful to divide your food expenses into itemized lists. Drinks: coffee, tea, soda, alcohol, juices, mixers. Fresh produce. Frozen meals. Baking items. Meat. The key is to track everything that you consume.

2. Budget per month, but plan per week.
I track my income monthly, so I also track grocery bills monthly. Some people track weekly; it's a personal preference. I've found it's easier to stick to a monthly grocery bill, as I often go for two weeks without shopping. On the other hand, it is equally key to plan your meals per week, to avoid eating out or ordering in. I suppose you could plan your meals for an entire month, but for me that's not realistic. Having a rough idea of what we'll be eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner helps me shop accordingly.

3. Name your priorities.
I'm learning to tell myself, "If this, then not that," as I shop for groceries. There are certain items that I prioritize for my wellbeing, such as fresh foods and basic whole foods. Towards the end of a month, I'll nix fringe items before cutting out my priority items, such as that new flavor of tea, juice, optional toppings for meals, and desserts.

4. Don’t eat out.
Just don't do it. Eating out is the Trojan horse of grocery budgeting. It sneaks into your monthly budget and destroys everything you've worked so hard for. Dramatic, yes, but true. We eat out for special occasions or with friends, but have made it our personal policy to never eat out as a response to laziness. Knowing your priorities and keeping basics, frozen double batches, and quick meals on hand can help with this.

5. Prize (and plan) variety.
...Or you will eat out, unless you have a willpower of steel. Plan variety into your grocery lists to stay well and keep food enjoyable. Some people can eat ramen for a month in the name of saving money. I can't. However, I'm also the kind of person who finds something they love and wants to eat it endlessly... a habit which always results in me tiring of that food for months afterward. So I try to plan budget-friendly meals that I know I'll enjoy, and rotate those meals throughout several months.

6. Keep a fridge list.
Keep a running list on your fridge and write down items that you need as soon as or shortly before you run empty. This is a basic tip but it can make all the difference between grocery runs that result in spending sprees or incomplete shopping.

7. Learn to love your leftovers.
They are your friends. They will feed you while protecting your budget. Invest in a good set of glass food storage containers—your food will last longer with better flavor. Plan meals that make good leftovers, and if you're feeling ambitious, make double or triple batches and freeze.

8. Don’t be duped by coupons.
Coupons are great — if they are for items that you need and from brands that you like. Too often, coupons trick customers into buying unnecessary items "because it's a good deal." Furthermore, generic versions of many items in the coupon book are even cheaper than the price you'll pay for a discounted name brand item. So if you find a coupon for an item that you usually buy, celebrate and purchase. Otherwise, steer clear and seek out cheaper options.

9. Stock when there’s a sale, but don’t overstock.
Sales are the cousin of coupons: they can often dupe customers into buying more because it's "a great deal," not because they need that item or can even use that quantity. On items that keep well, stock up with sales.

But a common mistake is to buy a few extra items of each product, thinking that you're saving time and money by not having to return later to the store. I did this for years before I realized I was still shopping at my usual rate, buying a few extras of this and that each time, which was inflating my grocery bills. Unless you live hours from a grocery store, this sort of pseudo-bulk shopping isn't helpful.

10. Take the time to comparison shop.
The suggestion of comparison shopping is inevitably met with a chorus of voices protesting the efficiency of "driving all over" just to find cheaper items. And I would have to agree. I used to shop at a closer grocery that was more expensive, than transitioned to a larger, cheaper store much further away, then began shopping at three different stores, with a separate list for each. Now I'm back to shopping at the closer store that's a bit pricier. Time and driving costs must always be factored into budgeting. There are still a few items that I will buy once a month at the larger, more distant store, but I don't have the time to go to several stores on each grocery run.

However, I also comparison shop within stores: some items are cheaper in the international aisle, or the yogurt in the organics aisle, for example, might be on sale when my usual yogurt selection isn't. So pick the stores that are most efficient for your shopping, familiarize yourself with your options, and make a plan.

What other grocery shopping tips to you have? Are there any apps you have found useful?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Save or Splurge on Kitchen Essentials?

"Old Board" by Jeff Attaway is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Regardless of how often you cook, there are certain items that everyone will need at one point or another in their kitchen. Accumulating these items can add up quickly, so how do you know what items are worth their price and which ones you’re better off purchasing at discount stores? Apartment Therapy breaks down 15 essential kitchen tools and whether you should splurge or save.

Splurge On:
Skillet: A frying pan will be your main workhorse, so do the research and make the investment! It would be nice to have both a nonstick and stainless steel pan, but if you had to choose one, I would go with a stainless steel. Non-stick pans are good for things like eggs and pancakes, but I find that the stainless steel pans are better for sauces, searing meat and vegetables, and pretty much everything else. The cream of the crop here is the pan from All-Clad ($150).

Cutting board: Make sure that your cutting board is a sturdy one that you will want to reach for again and again. After years of buying cheap plastic cutting boards, I am coming to the conclusion that a high quality wooden cutting board is worth the splurge. Wooden boards last a long time- longer than the plastic ones - if you take care of them. I always thought wooden boards would retain more bacteria since it is porous, but a study was done where they found that while bacteria does enter the wooden boards, once they get in, they are unable to reproduce and die off. Plastic, on the other hand, allows bacteria to sit on the surface. In addition, a wooden board is much kinder to your knife. Try the Proteak Rectangular Cutting Board ($75).

Food processor: A food processor is one of those gadgets that you could get by without, but then you do get one and wonder why you didn't get one sooner. (Check out this article from the Kitchn for ways to use a food processor if you're not sure.) The Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor ($180) isn't cheap but it isn't the most expensive one out there, either. It's an investment that will make your cooking life a little easier and make you more adventurous in the kitchen.

Save On:
Chef's knife: A really great knife and some basic cutting tips could be the thing that takes you from being a cooking novice to chopping vegetables with ease. The Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch Chef's Knife ($36) is heralded by chefs and home cooks alike of being a fantastic knife at a reasonable price.

Cast iron pan: I love my cast iron and I am just beginning to discover how versatile and helpful it can be. (For more cast iron love, check out this 35 Ways to Love Your Cast Iron article.) Luckily, for all its uses, the cast iron pan does not have to be expensive... just make sure to take good care of it! Lodge Cast Iron Pre-Seasoned Skillet ($25).

Mixing/prep bowls: Have a few of these bowls on hand in different sizes for mixing and prepping. You can find stainless steel bowls ranging from 1.5 QT to 7.5 QT in the price range of $8-$12.

Baking sheet: Look for a non-stick, non-dark, rimmed baking sheet, and you will see these at a reasonable price everywhere. You can use the pan for roasting vegetables and cooking meat, as well as baking cookies and even an occasional sheet cake. I usually line mine with foil first in order to preserve it and make the cleanup easier. The Nordic Ware Natural Aluminum Commercial Baker's Half Sheet is really popular ($13).

Pot: A pot that does the varied work of sautéing onions, cooking rice, making soups, sauces and creams, and boiling eggs and pasta should be one that will be sturdy, easy to handle and will last you a long time. The Cuisinart MultiClad Unlimited 4-Quart Saucepan ($70) isn't cheap, but it is on the lower end of many of pricey pots and does just as well (if not better!)

Measuring spoons and cups: Go simple with your measuring utensils. For a measuring spoon, look for ones with a long handle (to reach into jars) that are also detachable. Go with a large 2-Cup measuring cup for liquids and flat-bottomed cups for dry ingredients. I like the Pyrex Prepware 2-Cup Measuring Cup ($13), the Squish Measuring Spoons ($5.50), and Oxo Good Grips ($9). These stainless steel spoons ($10) a little more expensive than the plastic, but the rectangular bottoms are a nice feature.

Wooden spoons: I love my wooden spoons and reach for them all the time - to sauté meat and vegetables, to stir soup, to scramble eggs, to transfer food to a plate, to place over a pot of pasta in boiling water to prevent it from overflowing....and pretty much any wooden spoon will do. You can get a set of three for $6.

Spatula: A spatula is perfect for flipping eggs, pancakes, hamburger patties, or any other kind of patty. We often do salmon patties, tuna patties, and zucchini patties at our house (my two-year old daughter loves helping me make them), and a spatula is what allows us to flip even the most misshapen of patties without breaking them. OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Turner ($10).

Colander: Nothing else will do the job of straining water from your pasta, so pick one of these up. A colander is also useful for rinsing fruit and vegetables. Focus Stainless Steel 5-Quart Colander ($9).

Instant read thermometer: If you are cooking a lot of meat, passionate about your meat, or paranoid about your meat, a digital thermometer will become invaluable. A few degrees can be the difference between a tender and tough steak, and the best way to confirm that roast chicken is done is with that thermometer. CDN DTQ450X ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer ($16).

Vegetable peeler: A vegetable peeler is extremely handy especially if you frequently cook from scratch. The OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler ($9) will not disappoint.

Kitchen shears: Some may balk at the need for kitchen scissors, but mine have become essential because I use it to cut almost all of my meat! I have found that it is the easiest way to cut up protein into small pieces. If you aren't already, try it! The Messermeister 8-Inch Take-Apart Kitchen Scissors ($14) have a bunch of other features too.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

5 Things to Know About Living Alone

"166" by Mitya Ku is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
For many people, living alone is best for all involved. If you're not home a lot or just like to have your space and things arranged your way, living alone is probably ideal. As with any living situation though, living alone comes with its pros and cons. Here are some common issues faced by those who live alone and some solutions on how to cope, courtesy of Apartment Therapy

Problem: Generally, the more you buy at one time, the cheaper it becomes. While a family of six cruises through a pot of chili, that much food can get wasted in a household of one. It's also more expensive to buy smaller quantities of toilet paper and other household supplies.

Solution: The Kitchn has some great tips for cooking on your own. For everything else, consider teaming up with a friend, family member, or neighbor to split that 24-pack of toilet paper. You’ll save money and space in the process.


Problem: You get an itch to decorate first thing on Saturday morning and find yourself stymied by your grandmother’s huge, six ton armoire.

Solution: Don’t hurt yourself by trying to lift things yourself. First, break the piece down in any way to make it manageable: empty contents, remove drawers or legs. If it's still too big or heavy, round up a friend or next-door neighbor to help you out on the fly. Otherwise, save up all your little odd jobs and hire someone one Saturday afternoon to knock out everything out on your to-do list that requires help.


Problem: Even if you have tons of friends, a boyfriend/girlfriend, sometimes being home alone at night is a downer. Everyone likes someone to turn to to express outrage over Ann Coulter’s most recent comment, or to rub it in when you get that night's Final Jeopardy question correct.

Solution: Create structured ways to leave the house and regularly interact with others— especially if you also work at home — at the times you feel most alone. Sign up for yoga classes, or join a book club. Host regular dinner parties, or even low-key television watching sessions with another person who shares your love of Mad Men. Lastly, think about adopting a furry friend. (Because everyone talks to their pets, no matter what we tell others.)


Problem: Maybe you are scared of axe murderers at night. Or, you worry about falling down the stairs and having no one find you for days. These are very rare yet valid concerns that shouldn't be deal breakers.

Solution: Yes, there’s always LifeAlert. And the pet (dog) you adopted to thwart loneliness will also help deter any meanies. Otherwise, set up a check-in system with a friend/neighbor and agree to touch base with each other regularly via text or phone. Ideally, this person will live alone as well, so the benefits go both ways. If one party is suspiciously quiet, either expect a welcome knock on your door, or head on over to check out your buddy.


Problem: You're only one person, and can only be so many places at one time. If you expect a package during the day, or need something repaired, there are only so many times you can take off work to be there in the flesh. There's no one right answer for this problem: the solution depends on your unique situation and needs.

Solution: For mail, check out this post on How to Manage Home Deliveries. For repairs, arrange to work from home one afternoon (again, if this is feasible). Renters can often ask landlords to greet the person on site. If you know and completely trust your repairman or contractor, install a key safe outdoors, then change the combination once the work is done. If all else fails, and you have to take the time, try scheduling appointments first thing in the morning, or as the last slot in the day.

Do you live alone? What to you do to combat these common problems? Share your advice below!
Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More