I’m not sure what kind of fall projects you might have waiting to get checked off your list, but new seasons for me mean taking a bit of time to take stock, sort through, organize, and refresh my home. For me, living simply and sustainably requires some regular maintenance. In the course of daily life, things get messy, items find their way into our home that don’t need to be here, systems of organization get slowly unraveled, and things slowly start to run less smoothly. When this happens, I know it’s time for a once-over. With every new season—and sometimes more frequently than that—I try to tackle a few spaces or projects that need work.
In the spirit of encouragement and transparency, I thought I’d share the kinds of projects I’ve tackled lately. Below are four problems that needed attention and the four solutions that I found. Some are very specific (tomatoes/flatware), and others are more universal (closet clean-outs/spice cabinet wrangling).
What you read below probably won’t be groundbreaking, but I hope it helps shed some light on the kind of ordinary maintenance required even in a home where less is revered as more and space is limited. Importantly, tackling these tasks didn’t require herculean efforts, or investing money in anything new. I just needed to harness a bit of time and a bit of creativity. In no particular order, four fall decluttering projects:
Problem: What to do with a pile of tomatoes starting to go soft on the counter?
Solution: Eat them, of course. But how? The weather has turned and so have my tastes. I’ll declare my love of tomato sandwiches again next summer, but for now, I’m preferring my tomatoes cooked: stirred into warming soups and stews and baked into casseroles. So, with my tomatoes’ peak ripeness rapidly crossing over into over-ripe territory, I decided to make a simple pizza sauce (loosely following this recipe). I simmered the tomatoes on the stove until the sauce was thick and sweet, and then I spooned pizza-night-sized portions into jam jars and froze them for a season’s-worth of at-home pizza parties.
Benefit: No food waste; more pizza.
Problem: Cooler weather; growing kids.
Solution: The great try-on. This is not my favorite parenting task. Our kids always lose interest rapidly and I may or may not find myself tugging a too tight sweater off my child’s kid head while quietly cursing. Still, I’ve found that a quick, once-a-season sort-through of my kids’ clothes makes getting dressed smoother and simpler. Kids grow quickly and at varying paces and they wear their clothes hard. Taking the time to sort through their bins to get reminded of what we have means we can make thoughtful choices about what’s too far gone, what can be repaired, what can be passed down, and what’s still perfectly alright.
Benefit: Understanding what we have, what we might need, and what we can pass along to someone else.
Problem: Extraneous flatware.
Solution: Letting it go. Before kids and before a dishwasher, James and I adding flatware that required hand-washing to our wedding registry didn’t sound unreasonable. Seven years later though, we only ever reach for our four sets of stainless steel flatware and never for the stuff that requires more fuss. This week, I finally got over my wedding-registry guilt and listed our teak and stainless sets on eBay.
Benefit: Getting closer to my hope that there’s nothing in our house being kept for a negative reason (shame, guilt, obligation, etc.!).
Problem: Unruly kitchen cabinets.
Solution: Spending twenty minutes cleaning them out. The spice/tea/baking supplies cabinet in our kitchen is very slim and not very easy to access. I’ve looked into for various solutions for making it easier, but what I’ve found works better than anything is a good 20-minute clean-out, a few times a year. I spend the time making sure things are properly labeled, taking out any containers needing to be refilled, consolidating what can be consolidated, and finally deciding, after the third clean-out of the year, to ditch the juniper berries that I know for certain are six years old and never to be touched.
Benefit: Knowing what we have. Using things before they go bad. Ensuring there are chips enough for cookies.
What about you? What projects have you tackled lately? What’s on your list of things to do?