How to organize all those bags of spices

Spice organization? What blog are you reading?

Yeah. I know. Not my usual topic.

I wanted to add my 2 cents to the spice organization conundrum though. My solution is not particularly fancy or photogenic. However, it’s quick, practical, easy, useable and maintainable.

Matt and I both enjoy cooking, and my husband (who’s also chief grocery shopper) doesn’t hesitate to stock up when he’s buying a particular ingredient. That’s how we end up with a spice cabinet that looks like this. Particularly, all of those bags of spices crammed on the top shelf.

Disorganized spice cabinet

How to organize bags of spices

It was next to impossible to quickly put my hands on the spice that I needed, and as a shorter person I usually had to pull out a step stool to dig to the back of the cabinet and find what I was looking for.

Also, because we didn’t know what we had, we often ended up buying more or opening another packet. That (along with Matt’s Indian kick) is how we end up with eight (!) bags of curry powder, four of which are open.

Bags of curry powder

The situation was all round annoying.

When I was organizing my office, I found some great bins at Solutions (the Canadian version of The Container Store). They have straight sides so they fit tightly into a drawer or cabinet and are clear so that the contents are easily visible. Plus they were the right size for the spices and the cupboard.

Bin to organize spices

I bought two and started sorting (and combining bags where I could).

My technique was alphabetical. First half of the alphabet in one bin, second half in another. I didn’t bother labeling the bins, because I think it’s pretty easy to figure out what bin you need based on the packet at the front.

Bags of spices organized in a bin

Two bins fit perfectly side by side in the cabinet.

How to organize bags of spices

I did a quick pass through the rest of the cabinet too, putting all of our bottles and tins of spices together, and grouping like foods together. Thanks to the reorganization, I was able to move a couple of items off the counter and into the cabinet, which felt like a major win.

Better organized spice cabinet

Obviously, I’m not Martha Stewart, but while it may not look like much, this simple system makes a big difference in how easily we can find the ingredients we’re looking for.

What’s your organizing nemesis in your kitchen? Do you have any tips to share for organizing spices? Please tell me someone else out there also has multiples of a certain ingredient?


Snoring, storing and decoring in the office

Baxter dozing

My sidekick and I made some more progress in the office this weekend. To be truthful, my sidekick snored and snuggled his dinosaur. I made the progress.

Beyond making the office pretty, I want to make it useful, organized and tidy. Usually when it comes to storage, I make due with whatever freebies I can find–cardboard cartons, shoe boxes, containers destined for the recycling bin.

While sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. So for the office, I bought proper storage containers. Thanks to all of the sorting and tossing I’ve done, I didn’t need too many.

From a big cardboard box full of old school papers, I now have one–much smaller–plastic bin.

Plastic storage box

Six smaller containers hold all of my fabric remnants and fit perfectly into one of the cupboards in the china cabinet.

Plastic storage boxes

On the pretty side of the office makeover, I worked on the gallery wall. I’m actually not a huge fan of gallery walls. But I when I thought about everything that I wanted to display in the office, I realized that the best arrangement was to put them all together.

I am not a patient person, so I tried just laying it out on the floor and translating that to the wall. But it was hard to visualize. I traced each item onto paper and then taped them to the wall. I’m glad I took the time to map it out. It helped to finalize the layout–and realize that the initial placement was much too high.

Planning the gallery wall

Once I settled on the arrangement, I started hammering nails into the wall right away. But then I had to exercise some patience again. It was hard to get the pictures exactly where I wanted just by guessing where to place the nail. I took a minute to run downstairs and grab a paint stick and a screw. I don’t know why it took me so long to make this little tool. It made hanging the pictures so easy.

Paintstick picture hanger

I’m excited to show you the final gallery wall and the rest of the office next week when the One Room Challenge concludes. You can check out all of the official participants at Calling It Home.

Do you have a gallery wall in your home? How do you handle storage? Who else has a lazy sidekick?

Walking down memory lane via the office

Sorting bills

Oooh, you’re in for a special blog post today. The next step in my office makeover was… wait for it… paperwork and filing. You can’t stand the excitement, right?

Paperwork may not be the most photogenic or interesting topic for a blog post. But it’s a fact of life, or at least a fact of my life.

I actually have some great systems to manage paper in my office. I’ve set these up over the last few years and they work pretty well for me. So even though I’m making over the office, I’m not making over absolutely everything.

This mail organizer is my main tool. As soon as the walls were painted, I reinstalled this right away. I only file paperwork a few times a year (all of our bills except for our credit cards are set up for automatic debits), so the piles of mail and bills grow and get messy. The organizer isn’t always tidy, but it avoids the piles.

Mail organizer

Receipts live in a box in a drawer until I reconcile them with my statements.


You know we keep a pretty close eye on our finances. This reconciliation is one of the ways I do that.

Once everything is sorted, the papers go into our filing cabinet. The filing cabinet may not be the prettiest piece of furniture, but it’s very functional for us. I’ve seen some cool filing cabinet makeovers with paint, hardware and even fabric, so that may be something to consider for the future.

In the meantime, appreciate the nearly empty mail organizer.

Filing cabinet and mail sorter

The other paperwork I tackled was a huge box full of old schoolwork. As in from kindergarten through to university. Most of it ended up on the burn pile, but I kept a few things like report cards, class photos, my award-winning science project, a couple of memorable stories and this prophetic drawing.

Farm drawing

Even for the things I didn’t keep, it was fun to look back. I could see how my teacher’s comments on my grade 12 English essays made me a better writer–she was a tough marker, but completely right. In the kindergarten folder, I found this mimeographed matching sheet.

First test

On the back in my Mom’s hand-writing, it said “Julia’s first school test.” Awww.

First test

Now that I have returned from memory lane, I’m looking ahead again on what’s left for the office. Here’s where I’m at:

  • Buy and install light fixture
  • Unpack remaining boxes and organize china cabinet
  • Style china cabinet shelves
  • Sort and file paperwork
  • Install gallery wall #1
  • Install gallery wall #2
  • Reupholster seat of wooden chair

We’re down to two weeks to go in this mini One Room Challenge. Remember you can check out the official ORC participants at Calling it Home.

How do you organize mail, bills, receipts and paperwork at your house? Have you gone paperless yet? Has anyone else kept old schoolwork?

How I organize recipes

Open shelving in the kitchen for cookbooks

One of my favourite features of the island we added to the kitchen is the open shelving on the end that holds our cookbooks.

The books add a splash of colour to the wood and white of the kitchen. The shelves keep them organized and easily accessible. Plus I love cookbooks. I will sit and read them like a magazine or novel. (And, yes, you’re not imagining. The upper shelf is sagging a bit under the weight of all of our cookbooks).

However, not all of my recipes reside in cookbooks. I have a bunch of printouts from recipes I’ve found online (I haven’t progressed to a tablet yet), clippings from the newspaper or magazines, even a few hand-written recipes from family and friends.

To keep these recipes organized, I returned to the lessons learned in school–binders, dividers and page protectors.

A couple of weeks ago, I added a bunch of new recipes to my collection, so I thought I’d share my organization method with you.

How to organize recipes

First are the binders. I have three major categories which each get their own binder: Appetizers and Sides, Entrees, Desserts and Sweets. Entrees outgrew its single binder and is now split into two books. I use different colours for each grouping.

How to organize recipes

Within each binder, I’ve divided the recipes into subcategories.

In appetizers, the sections are appetizers, soups, salads, sides, snacks, breads and drinks. For entrees, I divided them into pork, pasta, sandwiches, beef, fish, vegetarian, poultry, other meats (venison, lamb), breakfast. Desserts starts with the most important, chocolate, and then goes to cookies, “buns” and bars (including muffins), cakes, pies, fruit, custards and Christmas.

How to organize recipes

The recipes themselves are stored in plastic page protectors. I’m not the tidiest cook, so the plastic sleeves protect the paper from spills and splashes.

However, it’s easy to slide the recipe out of the plastic and add notes about what worked, what didn’t or what adjustments I made.

How to organize recipes

Beyond the binders, I also use magazine holders to organize the smaller pamphlets and cookbooks I’ve collected over the years. I got two wooden holders from Ikea and stained them to match the countertop and cabinets.

Wood magazine holder

I love having my recipes organized.

In fact, I was so inspired that I flipped through the dessert binder and whipped up one of my favourite fall recipes, spiced apple muffins, using the apples my friend gave me from her own tree.

Apple spice muffins

With my recipes all organized, I feel ready to move on from fall baking on to Christmas baking.

Are you doing any baking, either fall or Christmas? How do you organize your recipes?

That time my husband dropped a 2×4 on my head

Or, as Matt tells the story, the time I followed too closely behind him while he was carrying–and dropping–lumber.

Head wound

Saturday afternoon was fall cleanup day here on the farm.

Remember this pile of lumber that I cleaned up back in the spring? I was so proud. I am woman, hear me roar.

Lumber pile at the edge of the field

Field after clearing the lumber pile

However, I really only did half the job. I brought it over to the barn, but not actually into the barn. I dumped it beside the silo.

Lumber piled outside the barn

Putting it into the barn was one of the tasks on my (mental) fall to-do list. After mucking all of the old straw and manure out of the stalls last fall, we have lots of extra space, and I knew one of the empty stalls would be perfect to corral all of this lumber.

I recruited Matt to help me, and we moved 6x6s, 4x4s, 2x8s, barnboard siding and assorted other lumber–including a few pesky 2x4s–into the barn. There is so much lumber, yet it takes up barely a quarter of a stall. Horses are big animals, people.

Lumber piled in a horse stall

Along the way we picked up the leftover fence posts that have sat by the garden all year, some other lumber, some metal posts–five piles in all.

Trailer loaded with old fence posts

I’m so happy that the property is looking just a wee bit tidier. Next year when we mow these new areas, it will look even better. I’m not sure Matt is quite as enthused yet. Especially since he’s our main mower.

Lumber pile cleaned up beside the silo

My husband knows me so well. When we came into the house at the end of the day, he asked me, “How much of that did you have planned, woman? I thought we were just moving the one pile by the silo when I agreed to this. I want to re-examine the contract. I think I might sue.”

I admitted that I had planned for three out of the five piles–the other two were just a bonus. I also reminded him of the original contract, which says, “for better or for worse.”

How did you spend your weekend?

Freshening up an organizer

Sarah in Illinois joins us today with a great makeover that adds a bit of style to an area that sometimes doesn’t see a lot of decor–her garage. This is a lesson in the power of paint. Plus the power of soap and water!

It seems like all of my small projects get set aside during the summer months. We spend all of our time outside and don’t want to be cooped up in the woodshop/workshop.

I have a pile of projects out there waiting for the cooler months, but I did get one thing finished.

I found this old metal organizer that has been hanging in our garage for who knows how long.

I thought it looked handy, plus it looked like something that could be fixed up with a can of spray paint.

I took it off the wall and took the little jars off. They easily cleaned up in a sink of soapy water. I took off the bracket that attaches it to the wall. I thought that I could just run a little sandpaper over it and start painting. But the red paint that I chose didn’t show up well, it just looked like a rusty red color.

See how the red looks flat?

I decided that I should probably have done it the right way from the start. So I started over. I ran the sandpaper over it again and coated it with a light color primer. This helped the red really stand out when I painted it and that was the look I was going for.

I put several coats of paint on it trying to avoid getting much paint on the inside of the caps on the threads where the jars screw on. Too much paint built up would have made the jars hard to screw on.

Unfortunately, after all of the years hanging on the wall, there is a little jar missing. I am hoping I find it stashed somewhere in the garage, but I am guessing it may have fallen on concrete at some point and is long gone. So I will keep my eyes open for a replacement.

My mom and my brother’s girlfriend are yard sale pros so I am going to put them on the case. In the meantime, I am happy that I made an improvement that cost very little and is much more pleasing to look at.

Do you use spray paint very often on your projects? Do you ever try to take shortcuts then have to start over? What color would you have chosen to paint this organizer?

The red brings a great pop to the garage, Sarah. I think I probably would have kept the rust(ic) look just because I can’t be bothered painting it or decorating my garage (if I’m being honest), but it looks so good. Such a cheerful addition. I love the concept of this organizer. Do you think you could DIY something like this? Perhaps with some very strong glue for the jar lids?

Summer to-do list

Summer officially arrives this evening. While I have grand plans of sunshine and hammocks and hikes and gardens and lots of time outdoors, I also have a handful of projects that I’ve been saving up for my favourite season.

Build a closet in the basement

Enamel basins and infant sleepers hanging in the laundry room

Our house has fabulous storage. However, none of it is a match for my husband. I’m not sure Matt’s office ever successfully contained all of his stuff. Over the winter I had a brainwave. Remove some of the cabinets that are tucked between the dryer and the freezer in the laundry room (they’re already filled with his stuff anyway) and replace them with a full height closet. I think I can just about triple his storage space. And it should be a pretty simple build with some basic framing, drywall, bi-fold doors and shelves.

Sand scrabble tiles

Scrabble art for the basement

Source: insideways

One of my Home Goals for 2016 is adding some art to the basement. Going with our fun and games theme, I want to DIY some Scrabble tiles. I’ve had the wood cut for months. Months, I tell you. I just need to sand them and then paint the letters. Sanding sounds like a good way to enjoy some time outside in the sunshine, doesn’t it?

Strip paint off the guest room bed

Robin's egg blue country guest room

The only thing missing from our beautiful guest room makeover is a proper bedframe. I have a great rustic metal frame in the barn, but the finish isn’t the greatest. I’m planning to strip it back to bare metal and see what it looks like. Paint stripping is an outdoor job IMO, so another good way to enjoy the outdoors.

Makeover office cabinet

Vintage china cabinet

Last week, you saw the china cabinet I’ve bought for my office and heard about my plans to rebuild the upper hutch. I’m so excited to have my office organized that I can’t wait to get started on this project. However, I have to put this lower down on the list, as other projects have been hanging around much longer. So this one’s a maybe summer project.

Puttering on some projects, keeping up with the gardens and relaxing on the farm. That’s my recipe for a good summer.

What’s your recipe? Do you have a summer to-do list? What are you looking forward to this season?

Let’s get vertical

In the words of organizing guru Olivia Newton John,

Let’s get vertical, vertical
I wanna get vertical
Let me hear your closet talk

That’s not how it goes?

That’s how it went in the closet under the stairs… and it’s fabulous.

Building shelves in this closet was one of my home goals for this year.

We have a great storage space, but without shelves it was just a pile.

Messy closet

Disorganized closet

Confession, I hadn’t even put away our Christmas decorations because I didn’t want to go to the work of digging through the pile to find the storage bins.

But no longer.

Building shelves in the closet under the stairs

Christmas is tucked away, along with camping gear, electronics, artwork. There’s even a place for the vacuum and folding chairs.

Building shelves in the closet under the stairs

I used my very simple technique of affixing cleats to the wall (I used 1x3s) and then putting pre-finished white melamine shelves on top. The wrinkle with this closet was the stairs. I could only put the cleats on the back and one side wall, so I needed to find another way to support the end of the shelves that tucked under the stairs.

A few 2×3 braces screwed into the stairs solved that problem.

Building shelves in the closet under the stairs

Because I went vertical, we can fit a tonne of stuff in here. In fact, we have more than a shelf and a half empty–room to grow!

I think my favourite part is that I have a nook that perfectly fits the vacuum. Some mail organizers on the wall hold alternate attachments and extra bags.

Storing the vacuum and its attachments

Sturdy hooks hold our folding chairs and little step stool.

Store folding chairs by hanging them on the wall

And there’s still room to walk beside the shelves and access everything even at the far end.

Sing it with me, people. Let’s get vertical, vertical…

Spring cleaning

Sarah in Illinois is here to start off the week. Sarah’s looking ahead to spring–and beyond–and has a great tool to share with us.

I am the type of person that likes to be organized, have a plan, make lists, etc. It makes me feel more focused on the job at hand, and I am more comfortable when I feel I have direction. One thing I did to feel more organized this year was to sign up for a daily email from Spring Cleaning 365. Each day I get an email with one small job to focus on for the day.

Obviously I don’t need anyone to tell me that I need to clean my toilet, or put a load of laundry in, but these emails remind me of some tasks that get overlooked.

When was the last time you took out the bottom drawers of your refrigerator and cleaned underneath? Or the last time you disinfected your TV remote? If you’re anything like me, it has probably been a while!

So I like the emails because they remind me of the areas that I usually overlook. The goal from the website is to do one small task a day and then you won’t spend much time on it, but I find it is usually works out that I do one or two a week and use the weekends to catch up.


This weekend one of the projects I tackled was to sort my plastic storage containers. Between using them for leftovers and taking my lunch to work every day, we have a lot of containers. But over time many have lost their mates. So I took all pieces out of my cabinets and drawers and made matches.


Why did we have so many lids and so few bottoms!?

I couldn’t believe how many tops and bottoms had lost their mates. We had all of these extras left over. I am going to take the extras to my mom to see if she can make any matches with hers and then all the rest are going to be recycled. And now my cabinets and drawers close much easier.

I did do a little work on our home improvement projects this week. Steve installed baseboard and door trim in our hallway last week and I finally took an evening and primed them. Next, I need to prime and paint the walls and put a coat of paint on the trim.

Hallway before


Hallway after


The hallway will lead to the addition on the house. So the drywall you see at the end of the hall is where we will extend the hallway to two new bedrooms.

I have drawn out the floorplan and started my list of materials, so I can prepare an estimate for us and for the bank. As I think I have mentioned before, we are doing all of the work ourselves, so we will be our own estimators, designers, builders and coordinators. I am nervous and excited all at once.

What have you been working on in your home? Have you started any spring cleaning? Have you ever tackled a large home improvement project on your own? Does anyone have any advice for us on being our own project manager?

Spring Cleaning 365 sounds really neat, Sarah. Thanks for sharing it. Funnily enough, Matt and I did a tupperware cleanout ourselves last weekend. Although I cannot remember when I last cleaned under the fridge drawers, and I don’t think I’ve ever disinfected the remote.

Good thrifting week

Last week was a good thrifting week. On Thursday I scored a rocking chair (for our someday front porch).

Even though my backseat was (obviously) full I stopped at another Value Village and found something else I wanted. I’ve been looking for a large metal shelf, but I was loath to spend more than $100 for something new. Finding one second hand for $30 was a no-brainer. Of course it was huge and there was no way it was coming home with me when my car was already loaded.

Thrift store metal shelf

Fortunately, when I returned the next day, it was still there.

And now it’s in our cold cellar (a room that’s impossible to photograph thanks to no windows, fluorescent light and a whole lotta concrete).

Home decor storage in the cold cellar

This may not look like much, but it’s a big improvement over what was here before.

The previous owners left us a desk, but when it came to storage or organization it was pretty useless.


I’ve been stashing some of my overflow home decor in the cold cellar, and it was time for an upgrade. Up being the operative word. We all know that using vertical space is the best organization technique there is.

Now I have a place for all of my home decor accessories–including my very own lighting emporium. (And a reminder that future thrifting trips should not include anymore lamps).

Lighting storage

Gathering lights, shades, baskets, bins, trays, shelves and bottles from all over the house and consolidating them in the cold cellar made me very happy last weekend. I even unpacked two boxes that have been packed since we moved to the farm… nearly four years ago.

I love getting organized. Almost as much as I love a good thrifting score.

Have you done any thrifting recently? What do you like to buy? I knew I had a thing for chairs. The lighting obsession was a bit of a surprise. Do you have a home decor stash? How do you store your home decor? Who else loves getting organized?