New Construction Townhome, Organization

Coming Clean

Commenter Tim asked how I keep the house so clean, especially in light of having a baby.

I’ll tell you: I cheat. I almost always do a quick pick-up of a room before taking a photo, and usually only even think to do a house-related post when the house is in a semi-presentable state. In my most recent weekend-update, I’d just vacuumed the room because installing the window blinds left a fine layer of dust and metal shavings everywhere.

Here’s a more honest picture of our media room, where the baby spends most of her time:

I’m proud of the fact that it’s still not too terrible, and our overall level of house cleanliness is decent. Keeping the house in order takes a lot of work, but is crucial to keeping our overall stress level down.

I’m a slob by nature, and RD has worked very hard to try and break me of some terrible habits. This includes:

  • Have a place for everything, and don’t buy anything you don’t know where you’ll put it. I’m a sucker for kitchen gadgets, an affinity RD does not understand, but I’m allowed to buy whatever stupid kitchen items I want provided I can find a place to put them away.
  • Open sink policy – meaning no dirty dishes are left in the sink ever for any reason. Every now and then I backslide on this, but it works pretty well. Dirty dishes are washed immediately and set on the drying rack. We do have a dishwasher but we only use it when we have company over or I want to sterilize the baby bottles.
  • Daily chores. Cleaning a little each day is SO much easier than letting things pile up and then having to set aside an entire afternoon to dig out your living room floor. I had a page-a-day cleaning calendar at the old place, and need to update it for the new place.

The last secret is that I have help. RD’s aunt comes for a few hours each day so I can work (I do freelance WordPress development), but the truth is about half that time gets spent on household chores. I can get some done while Bitmap naps, but having someone occupy her for a couple hours so I can take care of things is amazing. When people ask if I miss living in New York, I think about all the extra help I get by living near so many family members and the answer is unequivocally no. I might miss a few aspects of it, particularly my friends, but I am so very glad we moved down here when I got pregnant. My own parents didn’t get their first night out sans-baby until I was 5 months old. Bitmap is 3 months now and I’ve lost count of the number of dates we’ve had thanks to my in-laws. Family FTW.



Kellbot’s Guide to a Successful Move

In New York, moving frequently seems to be the norm. The longest most people stay in once place is a few years, and many of my friends move every year. And yet for some reason, a lot of people are kind of… bad at moving. Our recent move from the New York area to Philadelphia went really smoothly, and I’ll share our secrets.

A good move is low stress and over in time for an early dinner. A bad move involves lots of last minute freak-outs and unloading the moving van in the dark. Whether you’re hiring someone to do the heavy lifting or rounding up 6 of your closest friends, you want to be a good mover. Being a good mover isn’t hard, but it does take a little planning.

Sort before packing begins

There are really three phases to moving: sorting through all your junk, putting it into boxes, and then moving them to your new home. The only thing you should be doing on moving day is the last one! Sorting includes taking care of things you’ve been putting off, like filing things properly or culling your shoe collection. It can go to a thrift store, Craigslist, or the trash/recycle bin, but you should get rid of anything you don’t want to bring with you well before packing begins.  Trying to do both at once is just an exercise it exhaustion. You can start sorting the moment you suspect you might be moving – the worst case scenario is you end up staying where you are in your newly junk-free space.

Give yourself an appropriate amount of time to pack

Waiting too late to pack is obviously a bad idea, but there’s also something to be said for not starting too early. As tempting as it is to start packing your books right away, living out of boxes for weeks makes your move feel longer. By sorting through stuff before packing begins, it’s easy to quickly put things into boxes when it’s time.

How much time you need depends largely on how much stuff you have, but for our two bedroom apartment I gave myself one week. My husband, who isn’t nearly the pack rat I am, did all of his packing in two days. We had the luxury of being able to set aside entire days right before the move, so if you’re cramming moving around a full work schedule you’ll likely need longer.

Pack your belongings in honest-to-god boxes

This is the chief offense I’ve seen in bad moves. You need boxes. Boxes that close and can be stacked. Stuffing your belongings into tote bags or carrying them out by the armful is a great way to make your move take three times as long as it needs to.

There are lots of place to get boxes: you can buy them from a moving company or find them used.  You can often find free moving boxes on Craigslist or Freecycle, or ask a local business to save boxes for you. You can scrounge them off the street on recycling day, but since a lot of stores destroy the boxes to break them down you’ll get better quality boxes if they’re actually saving them for you.

Furniture should be empty

Not only does your chest of drawers weigh a ton with all that stuff in it, but the most likely outcome if you try and move it full is that the drawers will fall out and all of your belongings will tumble into the street. Remember: stuff goes in boxes. Furniture is not a box. Therefore, stuff does not go in furniture. This includes those plastic drawer units, which are not boxes, and therefore should be empty.

On the subject of furniture: furniture pads are awesome! We rented three dozen for a total of $15, and they came in incredibly handy. Not only are they good for wrapping up your furniture, but they can be shoved into gaps between odd shaped items to keep your stuff from sliding around.

Use small boxes for books, and pretty much everything else

The biggest box you should fill with books and other heavy items is a 1 foot cube. Beyond that, you’re going to end up destroying your back, the box, or both. Have mercy on your moving help, and use small boxes for books.

In fact, we used very few boxes that were larger than 18 x 18 x 12 inches (uhaul’s “medium”), and even then we had a number of boxes that were just too heavy. Your mileage will vary depending on the kind of stuff you own, but since very little of what we have is larger than 12 inches in any dimension, I wish I’d used fewer “medium” sized boxes and more smalls.


Label your boxes

Write which room the box came from on the side, or use sticky labels if you’re feeling organized. That way you know where to deposit each box in your new place, and can easily find anything you suddenly realized you desperately need. The somewhat OCD color coded labels I used were really helpful, it made it easy for me to see at a glance which room each box was going to. The downside is that now our entire family is keenly aware of the insane amount of craft supplies I own – it seemed like about 1/3 of the boxes were labeled “craft room.”

Have enough help

You need a minimum of two strong people.  Three sturdy folks can load a properly packed two bedroom apartment into a truck in a little over two hours, so if you’ve got more stuff, aren’t so sturdy, live in a 5th floor walk-up, or didn’t pack well you’re going to need more people. If you’re out of strong friends, check Craigslist for hiring help. In our area, $120 gets you two guys with giant arms for two hours.

Be upbeat, even if you’re stressed

I snapped at RevolvingDork when we were loading the van, over something dumb, and immediately regretted it. Even when things go smoothly it’s stressful to move, don’t add to the problem by being a pill. Try to remember that your stuff is just that – stuff. Obviously you want your belongings to get from point A to point B without damage, but yelling at people isn’t actually the best way to achieve that: careful packing is.

Feed your friends

In addition to some sort of thank you meal afterwards, it helps to have a few drinks/snacks on hand for your friends who are helping. In the morning this can be coffee and donuts, or in the afternoon a cooler of sodas and some snacks, but make sure your friends stay well fed – particularly if you’d ever like their help in moving again.


My husband and I have a lot of stuff, and we managed to load up the truck in an hour and 45 minutes. We had 3 people loading the whole time, and 3 more who joined us about 45 minutes in. When we unloaded in Philly, we had a total of 12 people and got the truck empty in under 45 minutes. The longest part of the Philly leg of the trip was waiting for our cheesesteaks to be ready.

If there’s overlap such that you can get into both your old place and your new place, consider carefully whether it’s worth it to do the “trickle move.” Sure, you can move all that stuff one car load at a time over two weeks, but do you really want to? For this move we did take some stuff down in advance – since moving my Vespa is sort of an event we rented a van to move it and filled the remaining space with stuff we knew we weren’t using any time soon.

Moving doesn’t have to be a painful experience. It always sort of sucks, but you can mitigate the suck by staying organized.

New Construction Townhome, Organization

Color coordinated packing labels

We’re less than a week from moving day, and while packing I came across some shipping labels I’ve had for years. I decided to use them to make color coordinated packing labels.

Sheets of packing labels

The nice thing about the labels is I can write detailed information about what’s in each box. This gets important towards the end of packing when completely unrelated items start ending up together.


Since we got the boxes from friends who had recently moved, they’ve already got various rooms and contents written on the side. The labels make it easy to tell at a glance where each box goes without having to cross out all the previous markings.


The labels I used were Staples White Shipping Labels, which come 6 to a sheet. They’re compatible with Avery 5164 labels and Avery 8164 labels. I’ve uploaded the Photoshop template file should anyone wish to make their own. There are 5 different colors for the labels, just hide / show the appropriate layer group. Click here to download the PSD template.
The font used is Walkway Bold, which you can download for free.

New Construction Townhome, Organization

Our New-House Checklist

Offbeat Home featured an article asking “We bought a house, now what?” Since we’re in the process of getting our place ready for move-in, I figured I’d share what we did to keep organized.

Photo by Images_of_Money on Flickr

When we closed on our new place we started a Google Doc titled “New House Things.” Everything we need to do to or buy for the house gets shoved into this document. Since our time is split between two different states, Google Docs has been a lifesaver; it’s impossible to leave the list at the other house.

The day we closed we started listing everything we might want to do to the house. And I do mean everything, from putting in hardwood floors to changing the burnt out light bulbs. The list was sorted into categories of things we needed to hire someone to do, things we could do ourselves but didn’t really want to (at 6 months pregnant I’m not super handy around the house), and then everything else.

Not everything on this list will get done before we move in, or even within our first year of living there. Some of the things on the list would be considerably harder to do after move-in (e.g. painting) so those were on our must-do list. Others fell to the bottom; some were deprioritized for financial reasons, some because we decided they weren’t that important, and some because we’re just too tired to think about them.

We use the same Google doc to store our shopping list, with everything we need from toilet paper to furniture. We also use it to store the paint colors we picked out and the phone numbers of the contractors we’re using. In short, everything we need to get the house in order is in this one document which I can access from my laptop, desktop, and phone.

Things we need someone else to do

  • Hardwood floors for upstairs
  • New carpet for basement
  • Inspect / fix gutters
  • Get roof checked out
  • Investigate water damage above window in living room
  • Fix mysterious switches in living room
  • Ceiling fans: how do they work?
  • Scary buzzing junction box in kitchen
  • Nonworking outlet in laundry room
  • Fritzy lightbulb in guest bathroom
  • Investigate garage leak

Things we could do ourselves but probably won’t

  • Cat6 wiring throughout
  • Caulk outside windows
  • Paint (interior, exterior door / stairs)
  • Fix molding in living room and elsewhere

Everything else

  • Get pan for under washer
  • Add some sort of tread to outside stairs?
  • Change or re-key locks
  • Set up alarm
  • Set up land line
  • Set up internet
  • Set up gas
  • Set up electric
  • Remove ugly bar from living room
  • Disassemble the wardrobe in the basement
  • Change light bulbs
  • Finish/paint media alcove in living room
  • Install storage in pantry
  • Built in bookcases for living room
  • Make back yard cute
  • Put house number above garage
  • Get programmable thermostats
  • Treat for termites
  • Install additional towel bars/hooks in master bathroom
  • Clean whole house from top to bottom


New Construction Townhome, Organization

Page-A-Day Chore Calendar

One of the scariest things about moving to a bigger place is how much more space we’ll have to accumulate stuff. To a real estate agent, big bedrooms and walk-in closets are a selling point, but to me they’re caves threatening to fill with dust dragons and piles of things forgotten. Honestly, I’m not very good at keeping our apartment clean as it is. If we’re going to move into the house without Chris killing me, I need to level up my tidiness skills.

It turns out I’m not alone. Offbeat Home helpfully published an keeping your place organized little by little, using daily chore checklists from A Slob Comes Clean. But I decided the checklists were kind of boring looking, and in my usual spirit of over-engineering I came up with this:

I put "fight off headcold" on my to-do list for today.

I took the base of last year’s page-a-day calendar (my mom gets me one every year for Christmas), and designed a chore calendar to fit it. Each page features 7 “every day” tasks at the bottom, e.g. checking the trash cans to see if they’re full (and emptying them if they are). At the top left is a more major chore (like vacuuming) that needs to be done on a weekly basis. In the middle there are four blank lines for the day’s to-do list which I can write in. And lastly, if there’s a special event that day, such as a birthday, it’s shown below the to-do list.

Sample Page

I designed the pages in Photoshop and then wrote a program using ruby/ImageMagick to dynamically create a page for each day. The daily chores are always the same, but the weekly ones rotate through the week. Within the generator program I plugged in a list of important dates to populate the special events area. Finally, the program lays out the pages two-up on Letter sized paper so I can print them out, cut them, and assemble them into a pad.

To start with I’m just printing a week at a time, so I can tweak things in the design as I go. I used hot glue to bind the pages, but I plan on picking up some padding compound next time I’m in SoHo. I’ve heard rubber cement can work as well.

I’m only on day two of using it, so it’s too early to tell if this is something I can stick with, or yet another failed attempt to be less of a slob. One thing I’m noticing already is that chores take a lot less time when you do them regularly. Also, I still really hate folding clothes.


100 Things

Minimalism is gaining popularity on the internet.  There are blogs dedicated to living with as few items as possible, and a trend of narrowing down your possessions to 100 things. This is an achievable reality thanks to a few things (books, plates) not being counted as “things.”

I will never be a minimalist. I come from a strong pack rat heritage (though my mother has made leaps and bounds in the past 5 years at unearthing the basement). But reading these lists has made me think perhaps I could stand to pare it down a little.

Rather than cut down to 100 things, I have decided to get rid of 100 things. Given the amount of stuff I have crammed into our 1000 square foot condo it’s unlikely that ditching 100 items would actually make a noticeable dent. But I feel it’s a worthy challenge.

I found the following items in my immediate vicinity which I really don’t need to hang on to:

  1. A stuffed kiwi key chain (my keys are on a bottle opener that says “die in a fire” on it)
  2. A miniature plastic “book” containing a notepad and tiny pen
  3. A stuffed GIR key chain (don’t panic, I have another one)
  4. A board game I have played only once
  5. Three VHS cassettes (I contend these each count as one item) which are readily available on DVD. I haven’t owned a VHS player in years.
  6. A bread machine
  7. An extra kitchen timer
  8. A TV-B-Gone (fun as it is, I don’t really go places with TVs I wish to turn off)
  9. An envelope moistener I have never used
  10. A pair of Chuck Taylors I bought in 2000. They are full of holes and uncomfortable to wear.
  11. A pair of pants I have never worn which don’t fit. I lost the receipt, but they were only $5 so it’s not a big loss.
  12. A pair of pants which have never fit me well. Also $5
  13. A size 6 pair of jeans. I caved and rescued them. They’re expensive jeans!
  14. Six books (four paperback, two hardcover). I thought about listing them on PaperBackSwap, but with my Nook I really have no desire for printed books. The books are Freakonomics, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Stranger in a Strange Land, Job: A Comedy of Justice, Anansi Boys and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

With the exception of the chucks, which I threw in the trash with just a bit of a dramatic pout, everything else is headed to Goodwill (or NYC Resistor where appropriate).

20 items down, 80 to go.


Craft Room Redux

The craft blogs are full of reorganization photographs. I think it’s a universal: we all trash our workspace during the holiday madness. Only when we dig out in January do we look around and say “oh god I have to do something about this.”

Or at least that’s what I did:

The beginning.
The beginning.

Uh yeah. There’s a workspace somewhere in there. Where, I’m not sure. As such operations had to be moved downstairs, the only place with any remaining horizontal surfaces. Oh any my plants died. The DIY aeroponics project was actually incredibly successful. But even pseudo-aeroponic systems need water added every few weeks.

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

The second step is (wait for it…) throwing out all the trash and putting away everything you can. I know it seems obvious but when faced with a room that looks like the scene of a recent natural disaster it can be overwhelming and hard to know where to start. For me, I accumulated a number of new things over the holiday season, so a lot of stuff never had a “home” to begin with. Which led to it simply floating around the room, helping to hide the rest of the junk.

Suddenly, with the trash in the trash can and everything either put away or sitting in a box / on a table awaiting further instructions, you can see the floor:
Step 2Step 2

You still can’t sit in the chair or on the bed, and the tables are still covered in crap, but hey! I have a rug!

At this point, I was at a bit of a loss. If you look at my shelving unit, all the cubes are full. And yet there’s a ton of stuff lying around I don’t know what to do with. It’s hard to see in the pictures, but there’s a secondary workbench on the right which is also piled high with items in need of a place to be. And this is when you call in the big guns. Have a friend come over and help you, if you know anyone vaguely organized. Your friend will not only keep you motivated and prevent you from simply sitting on the floor staring at the mess (my mother has seen me do this just about every time I move), they’ll also keep you honest. They say things to you like, “Kelly, if you put that box in front of the magazine file and then need a magazine, are you just going to put the box on the floor and leave it there?” And then you (if you’re me) say, “… yes,” and find a better place for said box.


I thought we needed more shelving, but my superstar amazing organizer friend managed to rearrange what was on the existing shelves to fit almost everything. In the above picture we’ve got most of the leftovers condensed to the workbench while my friend assembles some additional drawers for the ubiquitos Ikea EXPEDIT shelving. The workspace still needed some work though, otherwise it would just revert to its natural disaster state as soon as she left. We went to Ikea and got a nice wide desk to replace the drafting table I’d been working on, and separated the workspace into building/making on the right workbench, and shipping/administration/finished products on the left table.

Work table

It doesn’t look quite as dramatic in the pictures, but anyone who has been in the room is stunned with the transformation. I’m excited to have a workspace I can actually use. Yay!