Day 30 of the January Money Diet – Declutter One Place

Home Office at Happy Simple Living

By PotteryBarn.com

Organizing has many benefits. Along with the inner peace that comes from working and living in a calm space, organized living means less time looking for lost items and a visually pleasing, harmonious environment.

Clearing space is a gift we give ourselves.

Homework assignment #30: Today’s challenge is to spend at least 15 minutes decluttering one area. It can be a small or big project, depending on how much time you want to devote to it. You could simply straighten up your desk, get rid of unnecessary papers and clean your computer monitor until it sparkles. Or spend thirty minutes organizing the medicine cabinet. You could clean out your refrigerator and wipe down the shelves.  Unclutter the coat closet. Tackle one wall of the garage. Spend the afternoon straightening up the basement. It’s up to you. Just organize a space, and bask in the rewards.

For inspiration, you might enjoy these websites — with tons of tips and information:

Unclutterer

Organized Home

Get Organized

Creative Organizing

If you clear a space and like the result, be sure to let us know about it!

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. Even though January is winding down, you can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies and a copy of my cookbook, 101 Things To Do With Bacon. This Friday morning, February 1, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month (the cut-off is midnight MST tomorrow, Jan. 31) and that lucky person will win the gift basket. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by this month to share your ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 28 of the January Money Diet – Reduce Food Waste

“The remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served us nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” ~Calvin Trillin

It just kills me to discard spoiled food that we didn’t eat. One of my goals this year is to make better use of leftovers. The whole concept of “zero waste” appeals to me on so many levels, and utilizing food efficiently is so important.

If you feel the same way, you might enjoy the Leftover Chef site where you can input whatever strange ingredients are lurking in your refrigerator for recipe ideas. Enter ‘turkey, ‘cranberries,’ and ‘onions,’ for instance, and you’ll find an appealing recipe for Turkey Cutlets with Cranberry – Pear Relish.

Do you have stale crackers and chips lurking in the pantry? Refresh them by spreading them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and baking at 300 degrees F for about 5 minutes. Allow to cool and then seal in an airtight container.

What about those stray veggies in the vegetable crisper? Use them in salads or on pizza, or freeze them for your next batch of soup.

Leftover tortillas can be used to make homemade tortilla chips, like this healthy baked version from Savory Sweet Life.

Homework assignment #28: What’s your favorite way to use leftovers? We’d love to hear your ideas!

P.S. In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. You can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies plus several books at the end of the month. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 7 of the January Money Diet – Give Something a Little TLC

In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. You can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

Bicycle maintenance at Happy Simple Living

Photo by Joe Photo

“If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.” ~ Emily Dickinson

We honor our possessions when we take good care of them. A quiet January is the perfect time to tackle a few maintenance tasks. Perhaps your garden tools could use a good cleaning and sharpening, or maybe it’s time to defrag your computer’s hard drive and update all the programs. Or maybe your bike could use a good tune-up, or you feel like washing the windows or polishing the furniture.

I’m going to sharpen the knives and rub a tiny bit of vegetable oil into the wood handles of our cooking utensils, so they don’t dry out. I’m going to hand-wash a couple of cashmere sweaters, and if I get super-motivated I might try that intimidating “clean” feature on the oven.

Many of you left happy comments on Day #5’s post, when we repaired something that was broken. I felt happy, too, and I bet you’ll experience similar feelings with this task. It’s strangely satisfying to stop buying more, and instead turn our attentions to the nice things that already surround us.

Homework assignment #7: Is there something in your immediate vicinity that could benefit from some maintenance or “spit and polish,” as my dad used to say? Give one of your honored possessions a little care and attention — and be sure to let us know what you do.

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket of home and garden goodies plus several books at the end of the month. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 2 of the January Money Diet – Plan Your Meals

Play your meals at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Brian Zim

“Ask your child what he wants for dinner only if he’s buying.” ~ Fran Lebowitz

During the January Money Diet we take a break from nonessential spending. Since meals are considered essential, however, we do get to spend money on groceries. But lest we get carried away, this month we’ll challenge ourselves to eat really well while also spending much less. One of the best ways to trim the food budget is to create a meal plan.

I’ll be honest; a typical month in our household usually includes several restaurant meals and the occasional Chinese take-out dinner. Cooking every meal at home is usually a significant area of savings for us during the January Money Diet, especially if we plan carefully, cook low-cost meals and watch for savings on seasonal items at the store.

If you participated in yesterday’s “Shop At Home” challenge, you likely unearthed some pantry items that you can utilize for meals this month. Take a few minutes to make an inventory of your other basic ingredients so you can use up food from the freezer and refrigerator this month. I find it easiest to plan a week at a time, and if you’re a list-maker like I am you may want to access one of these handy meal planning worksheets from our friends at Unclutterer.

It’s far more economical to plan meals using the grocery store circular for inspiration, so you can choose meals that utilize seasonal, lower-priced ingredients. I also keep a running list in a small notebook of meals my family especially likes; then, when I’m low on inspiration I can review the list and get some ideas for sure-to-please meals.

You may want to rely on some easy favorites and plug them into certain nights of the week. For instance, Sunday night is homemade pizza night here during the month of January. (Here’s my homemade pizza recipe, including detailed instructions and photos.) If you make a big batch of pizza dough early in the month and freeze the extra rounds of dough, you’ll have an easy, economical meal half-prepared with very little work or expense.

Soup is another great choice in January, as are slow-cooker meals. To keep things simple, you could, for instance, designate Mondays as casserole night, Tuesdays as stir-fry night, Wednesdays as soup night, Thursdays as pasta night, Fridays as Crock-Pot night, Saturdays as Cook-on-the-grill night and Sundays as pizza night – or whatever fits you and your family.

For breakfast, I like to make a big batch of breakfast burritos and put them in the freezer. We also like homemade Greek yogurt and fresh-baked granola.

I won’t get into couponing and online grocery games, because we all have varying amounts of time that we can devote to shopping and cooking; if you’re a whiz at saving coupons, that’s all the better! Just try to figure out the meals you want to prepare and serve for the next week, take advantage of seasonal foods and specials, stay within your budget, and purchase the groceries. You’ll be way ahead in the challenge to spend less and eat well this month.

If you could use a little recipe inspiration, check out Taste of Home for reader-tested recipes and comfort food, the food section of the Pioneer Woman’s blog for hearty, easy meals, and my friend Michele Morris’s blog Cooking With Michele for more upscale offerings.

Homework assignment #2: Plan every meal for the next 7 days, utilizing what you already have on hand and taking advantage of any good deals at the grocery store. Share a few of the meals you plan to cook in the comments section below.

I’m so glad we’re in this together, and I hope your new year is off to a very good start.

Hugs to all of you brave dieters,

P.S. If you’ve joined us, today is Day 2 of the January Money Diet — a 31-day challenge to take a break from nonessential spending. Care to join us? Just jump right in and start saving! I’ll also be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies plus several books at the end of the month. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Christmas Countdown – How’s It Going?

Maddie the Christmas dog at Happy Simple Living blog

Our dog, Maddie, is a good sport about dressing up like Santa

“I enjoyed Happy Simple Living’s ‘All Done by December One’ series, and even though I didn’t finish everything for the holidays by the first of December, getting a big head start this year made all the difference. I’m definitely feeling more relaxed.” – Gail

How are your holiday preparations coming along? Did you get all done by December 1? Despite my best intentions, let me just say that I didn’t! I still have a few more gifts to pick up, plenty of gift wrapping to tackle, and I’ve yet to write the holiday letter that will accompany our Christmas cards. But overall we’ve simplified this year, and that combined with getting organized earlier is making this holiday season mellower than years past.

Even if your ‘To Do’ list is longer than you’d like, you can enjoy a more peaceful season. Ask yourself a few questions like these:

  • Do I have to put out every ornament, and every single decoration I own? Could I put a few less things out this year and enjoy the simplicity? (For some inspiring, simple holiday spaces, you may want to check out the Happy Simple Holidays board on Pinterest.)
  • Do I have to do everything this year that I’ve done in past years? What if I didn’t send cards, just this one year? What if I used easy, recyclable gift bags instead of wrapping everything with fancy ribbon and bows – just this Christmas?
  • What if I spent less on gifts this year? What if I promised myself that I wouldn’t get in that mid-December frenzy that so often results in overspending and credit card debt? What if I just relaxed, and did a little less?
  • What if I scheduled some down time this season? What if I x’d out an afternoon on my calendar for a massage, or made time for a nice walk, or just spent a lazy hour reading?
Clark Griswold at Happy Simple Living blog

I know how Clark feels!

I’ll be the first one to admit that it’s not always easy to cut back. As we speak, I’m looking out the window at the pretty outdoor lights on all of my neighbors’ houses. We live in a cul-de-sac where the other five families decorate the outside of their houses with lights. I’ve done it, too, even though it means that Yours Truly must climb on a ladder to hang the lights – definitely not something that comes naturally to me. But this year, ours is the one dark house and I’m thinking about skipping the lights. Our Christmas tree is glowing through the front window, and it looks nice. I’ll let you know if I successfully fight off the temptation!

Need a little more inspiration? These bloggers share their ideas for simplifying and saving money in these weeks remaining before Christmas:

What Mommy Does posted these handy, downloadable gift lists.

Edward Antrobus wrote about holiday decorating on a budget.

Tackling Our Debt shared ideas for fun, inexpensive holiday presents you can make yourself.

The Kitchn posted 40 homemade gifts from the kitchen.

The Happy Homeowner shared 120 Holiday Gifts Under $20.

Studenomics wrote about how to save money during the holidays.

How’s this holiday season going for you? Are you able to cut back a bit and enjoy yourself? Are you finding ways to enjoy the season without over-spending? I’m pulling for you, and we’d all love to hear your ideas and thoughts.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross
P.S. Have you signed up for the January Money Diet yet?

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Your Best Holidays Ever – Week 4 and a Plan for Holiday Meals, Food Gifts and Christmas Goodies

Christmas cookies at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Dan McKay

Welcome to the fourth installment of “All Done By December 1,” our group effort to get organized for the holidays early so we can enjoy the month of December and actually experience the joy and wonder of the season. Last week, we worked on wrapping, packaging and Christmas cards. After exploring our own hopes for a simpler, more meaningful Christmas 2012 in Week 1 and whittling down the gift lists in Week 2, we also began acquiring and wrapping a few presents.

I’ve started a special Happy Simple Holidays board on Pinterest with easy Christmas ideas:  decor, wrapping, gifts, foods and do-it-yourself projects. Do you have a holiday-themed board on Pinterest, too? Be sure to share a link in the Comments section below so we can all visit.

This week, we’re going to create a plan for the food of the holidays. When you think of all the extra cooking, baking and serving we do during the Christmas season on top of everything else, it’s no wonder our expectations sometimes fall short of reality.

Christmas table at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Scott Brenner

In order to get everything done by December 1, you may wish to consider some new, do-ahead options when it comes to food preparation for this year’s holiday. Let’s begin by thinking about all the extra food we hope to prepare between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Grab a piece of paper and jot down any special meals, parties, potlucks or other events for which you’d like to prepare food, plus any food gifts and Christmas goodies you’d like to make. These are the things on my list:

– Our contribution to the neighborhood progressive dinner (appetizer, main course or dessert)

– Food gifts for friends, relatives and teachers

– Christmas cookies for the holiday cookie exchange

– Christmas cookies for family nibbling

– Five dinners prepared ahead and in the freezer, so we can be spontaneous and have fun in December

– Christmas morning brunch

– Christmas dinner

Wouldn’t it be nice if it this year all of your holiday meals could be planned in advance? What if all the ingredients could be purchased ahead of time, and every part of the meal that could be made in advance was tucked away securely in the freezer?

Christmas stollen at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Whitney in Chicago

Of course, you may not wish to prepare every single thing on your menu in advance, but if you start planning now about the parts of the meal you can make in advance, you can watch for deals on ingredients at the grocery store and get organized. Here are some recipe ideas:

Next, think about any food-related holiday gifts you’d like to make. Imagine the calm, serene feeling we’d all have if our food gifts were made and tucked away in the pantry, all prettily packaged and ready to give. It’s completely possible if we simply get started now. Here are some ideas for make-ahead food gifts:

Christmas cookies at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Erik Abderhalden

Finally, if holiday baking is one of your family’s favorite traditions, perhaps you’d love to have some cookies prepared ahead of time so that you could decorate them together during the month of December (like these Make-ahead holiday cookie recipes from Simple Delicious Magazine). Or you could simply prepare the dough in advance and freeze it, leaving the baking for later. Or even just gather some recipes and ideas now, so when the holidays roll around you’ll have a plan in mind and already know what ingredients you need.

I usually roll, cut and bake a large batch of gingerbread cookies in mid-November and freeze the unadorned cookies. I wrap them in layers of parchment paper and put them in zip-lock bags (that I can reuse, of course). To thaw, just remove them from the freezer a couple of hours before you plan to decorate them. Since the cookies are already baked, you can sit around the kitchen table with the kids, piping and spreading icing and adding decorations to your heart’s content. Be sure to put some Christmas carols on!

Christmas cookies at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Sushiesque

Your Holiday Homework (HoHo!) is to make a written food plan for all of your holiday meals, food gifts and Christmas goodies. If you do plan to make some food gifts this year, see if you can prepare or acquire the ingredients/jars/packaging for some of those gifts. Do what you can with the time and resources you have. The important thing is to just begin!

How are your preparations going so far? Have you made a dent in your list of preparations, and gotten some of your tasks done early? Share your experiences in the Comments section below, and here’s to your happiest Christmas ever,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.