When we moved from Wisconsin to D.C., there were a lot of decluttering/downsizing projects I wanted to complete before the move. A lot. Pretty much everything we owned needed to be looked at and assessed.  In my next two posts, I’ll share two of those projects – dealing with my CD and DVD collections.  In my life, these are two distinct collections that needed to be handled differently, so I wanted to share both projects as two examples of how to organize physical media collections.  Hopefully one of my solutions will work for you next time you’re thinking of downsizing any kind of disc-shaped collection you may have.

The CDs

I use my CDs differently than my DVDs.  In fact, I don’t actually use the physical CDs to listen to music anymore.  Around 8 years back I uploaded all the music I owned a physical copy of onto my computer (using itunes) and now I almost exclusively buy digital copies of new albums and songs.  So for the majority of the past decade, I haven’t used my cds for actual music listening.  They’ve sat on a shelf, or more recently, in a crate, stored away.  You would think I would be ready to be rid of all of those cds completely, but honestly, I wasn’t.  It’s not just that I spent good money on those CDs; there are a lot of memories tied into them from high school and college.  I compromised with my uncluttering self and decided to do away with all of the plastic cases and consolidate the discs into a single large CD binder.  The decision to go with the large black binder was pretty straight forward for me because I knew I only had a few requirements for my storage solution:

  1. I don’t need access to the discs often.
  2. I wanted something that was easy to store away.
  3. I wanted the discs to be protected from dust and dirt.
  4. I wanted all discs to be together, in some sort of order.

Finding a large CD binder is really easy.  The main requirement is knowing what size you need.  I estimated I had around 150 discs to store, so I went with 208 disc binder made by Case Logic.  Here is the actual one I ordered and here is one I just found that has a different ring system inside, and appears to have a nicer cover than the one I own (darn it!).  Nothing is very special about these cases, but they both cover all of my project requirements.   They hold CDs (all of them). They are compact and zip close.  They both allow you to open the binder rings and insert additional storage pages, if you need to.  I wasn’t very concerned with this because I rarely buy new CDs and I thought I would have plenty of extra space in the binder once I got all of my cds in there. (That was almost true)

The Process

Here’s a quick rundown of my organizing process:

  1. Take all of the CDs out of the crate. In any organizing project, the first step is to remove the items from their natural habitat.  It helps gives a new perspective on the items.
  2. Organize the CDs into piles.  I decided to put the discs into the binders in alphabetical order, so I made one pile for each letter of the alphabet.
  3. Starting with the first pile, remove the disc and the cd cover from the plastic case.  On a case by case basis I decided whether or not I wanted to keep the liner notes.  In some cases I kept the entire thing and in others I kept only the front cover, to help me recognize the disc.
  4. Separate the plastic cases from any paper covers.  The paper covers I could recycle myself; the plastic cases I knew I could not recycle in the normal fashion, so for now I put them to the side.
  5. Load up the binder!  I chose to switch to a new page with each letter of the alphabet.  This left few spots empty, which maybe I’ll use in the future if I ever buy another physical CD.
CDCollage

My previous storage solution; CDs sorted into piles; the finished product! (Images clockwise, starting at the top left)

 

CDRemainsOh and here’s the aftermath of the organizing project.  The pile on the left are all the paper covers and cases and are all recyclable.  The pile on the right is a bunch of hard plastic cases.  After some searching online, I found that the local children’s museum accepted CD cases for one of their hands on exhibits.  I was more than pumped to find out I didn’t just need to trash all of that plastic.  They also accepted things like corks and yarn, which I also needed to deal with before the move.  I’ve never been to this museum, but I imagine kids are bringing home a very fancy piece of junk – I mean recycled art work – at the end of that exhibit.

The End Result

Overall, I’m very happy with this project.  It wasn’t very hard to select a case to use.  It did take me a full afternoon to do the sorting and filling of the binder.  Sitting on the floor for that amount of time might not have been my best decision…  But the end result looks great!  I can find any CD easily and I’ve saved the CD covers that I liked the most.  The binder was easily packed away during our move and now lives in the back of our main closet.  I know where it is, but haven’t found the need to reach for it since arriving in DC.

Reflecting back, I know I wasn’t ready to get rid of the CDs for sentimental reasons.  For now, I am okay with that.  Music played a big part in my life during my teens and early twenties.  I have so many memories of seeing these bands, searching out these albums, and driving around Cleveland listening to this music.  Every once in awhile, I’d like to bring those memories back as I flip through the pages of the binder.  It’s almost like another kind of photo album for me.

Did you realize that August is almost over?  August!  Lots of sites and companies are already transitioning to the fall season, but I’m nowhere near ready for that change.  I feel like I’m just getting into the summer groove.  Which is why over the weekend I took a breather.

I am a planner. To a fault, at times.  So this past weekend, I decided to not make a plan.  I put no expectations on myself for the weekend.  And guess what? Nothing terrible happened to me!

The weekend was great.  I relaxed. I knit. I got a coffee (or two).  Plus I accomplished a lot of things I just hadn’t gotten around to yet – a surprising number of things actually. We now have clean floors, a kitchen table, hanging artwork, and a cool new light in the living room.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you take a step back, take a breath, and go with the flow.  If you have the chance, try it soon before the weather and season actually changes.

granola“Go To” is a little misleading of a title for this granola recipe because it’s really the only granola recipe I make.  Why fix something that’s not broken, right?  Actually, that is not at all how I think.  I’m always tweaking whatever I do just to make it that.much.more.amazing.  The same goes for this recipe.  I read a bunch of recipes online, made a couple as written, then started tweaking and formulating my own recipe.  The end result is what I find myself making over and over.

I keep the fat and sugar amounts on the lower side because I eat this a lot, especially since I decided to cut out boxed cereal from my morning routine.  One effect of the lower liquid content is a lack of granola clumps.  So, if you like your granola with a bunch of big, crunchy clusters, this may not be your thing.  But, the flavor is still awesome, I promise!  The key here is getting the pecans toasted exactly right.  If you get the color of those guys right, you are in business!

I eat this with yogurt and frozen berries regularly.  Sometimes I switch it up and eat it with milk.  If I’m hungry and at home, sometimes I’ll just grab a couple of handfuls to tide me over.

I’ve broken the ingredient list down into key categories – the oats, the nuts/seeds, some sweetness, spices, optional add ins, and the liquids.  Within each category, you are free to make adjustments to your tastes.  If you don’t like pecans (blasphemy!), don’t use them.  If you only want seeds, go for it.  Pumpkin pie spice or baking spice is an easy substitute for the listed spices (but still add the salt).   Use can use honey instead of maple syrup.  I *highly* recommend leaving the brown sugar in.  It brings the flavor up to another level, in my opinion.

Ingredients

  •  3 cup Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
  • 2 cups nuts and/or seeds
    • 1/2 cup pecan pieces
    • 1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped
    • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
    • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • Optional Add-Ins
    • Sesame seeds – pour some in your 1/2 or 1 cup measuring cup along with the other nuts
    • 2 tbsp. chia seeds or 1/4 c. ground flax meal
  • Some Sweetness
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened, flaked coconut
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • Spices
    • 1 tsp. cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
    • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
    • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Liquids
    • 1/3 c. coconut oil, in liquid state
    • 1/3 c. maple syrup
    • 1 tsp. vanilla

Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together oats, nuts/seeds, optional add-ins, dry sweetness items and spices.
  3. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together oil, maple syrup and vanilla.
  4. Pour liquid mixture into dry ingredients, stir everything up as best as you can.
  5. Spread the granola into a half sheet baking pan.  Bake for 35-45 minutes, stirring every 12 minutes.  The granola is done when the oats and nuts are gently browned and the mixture is no longer wet.
  6. Let cool and place into air tight container.  As written, this recipe yields just over 7 cups of granola.

I am not exactly the best sleeper.  For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a particularly bad job.  I am able to stay asleep until 2 or 3am, but then I wake up and then spend the next several hours trying to get back to sleep.  Some nights I fall back asleep with no problem, but not lately.  Last night was particularly rough and I don’t know why.  I feel like I’m worried and anxious about something, but I can’t put my finger on what that something actually is.  So around 8am this morning, when I decided to give up on sleeping any more, I got up, poured myself some coffee, and did one thing that is guaranteed to calm me down – I knit.

sundayknittingI’ve been knitting for about 5 years now and while some projects can be infuriating and mentally challenging, some are just plain relaxing.  These project require little (or no) counting, no finagling of stitches, and little to memorize pattern-wise.  These projects are perfect for quiet weekend mornings.  If you zone out while knitting, it’s no big deal – you’re probably still doing the pattern correctly.  If you take a break to find some breakfast, its easy to pick back up where you left off.

What’s guaranteed to help you relax and start your day off right?

My husband and I pack our lunches pretty much every day.  Actually, when we first started dating, we ate lunch together every day, so making our lunches together in the morning also became one of our things.  I sadly broke this tradition when I left grad school and got a full time job.  Now we take turns packing lunch and snacks for each other each work day.

Some years back, I started to reconsider what I was using to pack my lunches and started looking for ways to reduce the waste I was producing each day.  Here’s a summary of that process (which has been several years in the making).  Also, just to be clear, this is a summary of the products we’ve used personally.  I didn’t do any additional research for this post, nor did I receive any endorsements from the companies I mention.

Stage 1 – Tiny Plastic Baggies

I have a hunch that there are a two types of families out there – those that use ziplock bags in their school lunches and those that use the fold-over baggies.  My house was the latter, supplemented by waxed paper expertly folded and creased into a sandwich wrap.

As an adult, I used these baggies for my lunch as well.  I started saving and reusing bags over and over, but a bag only lasted so long before you got mustard all over it, or you accidentally mixed up your cheese bag and your carrot bag… And you’d have to toss out the baggies and get a new set, which is why I tried moving on from the tiny plastic baggie.

Stage 2 – Plastic Tupperware

I actually skipped this stage altogether.  These containers work great for some – they are reusable, washable, and lightweight.  I just didn’t want to replace one type of plastic with another.  I won’t even get into the headache of organizing all of the containers and their lids in the dreaded tupperware cabinet.  On a hilarious note – when I first met my husband, he owned one tupperware container.  It held about a gallon of liquid or enough food for a family of 6.  This did not stop him from bringing it in for lunch though.  Some days he ate a LOT of pasta.

Stage 3 – Reusable Lunch Baggies

So, to replace the disposable plastic baggies, I bought two different types of reusable lunch baggies.  One type was made from organic cotton and the other was a coated fabric.  Both used velcro to close.  Both were really disappointing.  Our sandwich bread was always a little dry on the outside by lunch time and completely stale if you forgot to eat your sandwich (which happened to my husband more than one would think).  Chips and pretzels were stale by lunchtime (only 4 hours after packing!) and baby carrots were always dried out by the time I wanted to eat them.  The velcro closure didn’t work for any type of cut fruit – juice just got everywhere.  This was a very sad time for lunches in our household.

Also, these containers were not cheap.  I can’t remember the exact amount, but it was a little less than $50 on the two sets (for about 10 bags in total).  They were both small US companies, so I felt okay spending a bit more on something I was taking a chance on.  Boy, did I learn my lesson.  I did not check the return policy before purchasing and let my impulse win over my typical long, drawn-out process of researching a product before purchasing.

What kills me is that I am seeing more and more of this kind of baggie advertised on the various blogs I read!  These are primarily advertised for kids.  Which is where I think the problem lies.  The adults who buy or make these baggies don’t try them out for themselves.  If they did, they would realize what a poor job they do keeping a lunch fresh and edible.

Stage 4 – Hybrid Approach

I know this sounds silly, but we were pretty bummed out by our experience trying to reduce our lunch waste and we weren’t really sure what to do next.  I remembered my mom’s technique of wrapping sandwiches in waxed paper, so I decided to try that.  Waxed paper is paper, so I thought this was a bit better than the plastic baggies.  At the store, I found a box of waxed paper bags all ready to slide my sandwich in!  They also worked pretty okay for chips and pretzels – if you ate them that same day.

I also introduced bringing food in glass pyrex each day.  I switched away from the daily sandwich around this time as well, so I needed something other than a baggie anyway.  The only downside to Pyrex is their weight.  If you drive into work, this isn’t a big deal.  But lugging a couple of pyrex full of food on the bus and then up a hill (my current commute) actually weighs you down.  Add in DC humidity and I was an unhappy bee by the time I made it into work.

I’ve found mason jars are lighter than Pyrex, so I also use those sometimes for yogurt and granola, or servings of cut up fruit.

Stage 5 – The Bento Box

This brings us to just a couple of months ago.  Our house is doing just okay with lunches.  My husband is still eating sandwiches, so the bread gets sent in the same bag over and over again; the jar of PB is at work, along with some bag of snacks usually.  We’re big on homemade granola bars, so those go in a baggie (same one over and over again).  I am lugging those 2-3 glass containers every day up a really steep hill and I am tired of it.  Did I mention I like snacks?  That’s why I have so many containers with me each day.  Moving on…

Enter the Bento Box.  I had seen some bento boxes on blogs I read.  Some were plastic (which I still didn’t want to buy) and some were stainless steel.  I was concerned with a couple of things about the stainless steel ones:

  1. Would they weigh less than the Pyrex?
  2. Would they hold the right amount of food?
  3. Are they worth the price?

I had seem lots of kids lunches packed in these boxes, so I wasn’t sure if the food I like would fit in the small boxes and I wasn’t sure how many of these boxes I would need to lug up that hill daily.

Luckily, the pain of wasting money on those other bags was still fresh enough in my mind and heart to keep me from making any impulse purchases.  And yes, a lot of time had passed at this point, and yes it still bothered me that I wasted that money.

I looked at two brands closely:  Lunchbots and Planetbox.  Lunchbots has a couple of different types of containers, but generally are on the smaller size.  At Planetbox, their product looks like a cafeteria tray and comes in different sizes for different sized appetites.  Ultimately, the Lunchbots system seemed better suited to my needs.  They would fit into my current lunch bag along with my thermos or in the bottom of a large tote without much trouble.  The weights of the containers were posted on the site, so I was able to weigh my empty Pryex and compare.  The stainless steel containers were, in fact, a good bit lighter than the Pyrex!  Additionally, Lunchbots had a 30 day return policy.  So if they ended up not working, I could send them back.  So I went for it and bought the Stainless Set – three containers in total, each with a different number of compartments.

The verdict? We love them! Here’s what my lunches look like now, everyday! lunchbots-ricebearsJust kidding!  My lunches look pretty much the same as they used to; the foods I like fit fine in the bento boxes.  Whole fruits are too big, but half a banana or apple quarters fit fine. On days I need to reheat my entree, I bring a Pyrex.  While the containers are well constructed, each section is not leak proof, which means putting pickles in the same container as strawberries is not a good idea.  I’ve seen pictures of using lettuce to hold different foods – like these rice bears on the right – but I’ve been using silicon muffin cups to separate foods when I need to.  A little cup holds a serving of nuts or hummus easily.

Below are a couple more (realistic) pictures of what fits in these boxes.  These lunches are still fancier than what I do daily, but they hopefully give you an idea of what you can do with the containers.  All images are courtesy of the Lunchbots site.  They have a gallery full of really nice looking lunches that will put your mom’s brown bag lunches to shame! (Just kidding Mom!)

lunchbots-snackslunchbots-work-lunch

Bo-pinioned!