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Unclog and freshen your sink drains

- Author: Crystal

Right now we live in an old rental house, and we inherited from the prior tenants several nasty, clogged drains. These were slow to drain water and emitted foul odors. That is, until I unclogged and freshened them!

This is a process that takes only 10 minutes but feels incredibly satisfying. No complicated gadgets, toxic chemicals or prior knowledge is required.

Part 1: Unclogging

What you’ll need:

  • One Zip-It drain cleaning tool. These are cheap and easy to come by. It’s basically just a plastic stick with big sharp teeth on it. Seriously, these are available in any hardware store or on Amazon. I keep a few of them under my bathroom sink, because you discard them after one use. (You’ll see why.)
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic bag
  • Pair of tweezers (optional)
  • Gloves if you’re squeamish.


  1. Put on gloves if you’re easily grossed out.
  2. Stick the Zip-It all the way down into the drain. I like to wiggle it around a little once it’s in there. You want those teeth to grab onto all the hair, soap scum, etc. that it can.
  3. Okay, here’s where things get gross. Slowly(!) pull the Zip-It out of the drain. It should be covered in chunks of nastiness. I use a paper towel to catch all the gross stuff that comes out, and then I dispose of it in the plastic bag. You’re not technically supposed to put the same Zip-It down the drain again, but sometimes I do.
  4. Once you’ve used the Zip-It 1-2 times, discard the Zip-It in the plastic bag.
  5. This process so far will undoubtedly have helped dredge up some drain crud. Now use the tweezers (if necessary) to grab onto any remaining hair or chunks that you see near the drain hole. Again, discard all chunks and paper towels into the plastic bag.

Next… it’s time to freshen that nasty drain!

Part 2: Freshening!

I learned this technique called “volcanoing” from UFYH (a horribly dirty-mouthed but brilliant website for people who are lazy about cleaning)

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Baking soda. (1 cup should be plenty for one drain)
  • Distilled white vinegar (1 cup should be plenty for one drain)
  • Small funnel (optional)
  • Kettle of hot water


  1. Stick the funnel into your drain and use it to pack as much baking soda down into there as you can.
  2. Next, pour a cup of the vinegar directly into the drain. This combination will bubble and fizz like crazy. Wait 5 minutes to let it do its work fully.
  3. Finish off the freshening by pouring a kettle of hot water down the drain. (If you’ve got PVC pipes or aren’t sure what type of pipes you have, use instead the hottest tap water your sink will produce – rather than boiling a kettle of water.)
  4. Voila! FRESHNESS!

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: Bathroom, Kitchen

How to clean and organize your refrigerator

- Author: Crystal

Cleaning and organizing the refrigerator is the perfect spring cleaning task. Let’s get started!

Time it takes: 60 minutes

Materials I use: Apron, rubber gloves, dish sponge, dish soap, 2 soft cleaning rags, tea towel, spray bottle filled with 1/2 white distilled vinegar and 1/2 water, butter knife, rubber spatula.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Don the apron and rubber gloves, and gleefully open the door of the refrigerator.
  2. Take all the food out.
  3. Remove the top glass shelf and take it to the sink. With a dish sponge, wash it with warm, soapy water. Rinse the shelf clean and place it vertically on the counter top to air dry on a dry dish towel.
  4. Repeat until all the glass shelves and plastic drawers are clean and sitting outside of the fridge.
  5. Using a soft, wet, soapy rag, wipe out the inside of the refrigerator – walls, ceiling and floor. Scrub the difficult parts with the dish sponge. For the extra tough gunk, I find it useful to scrape it (very gently!) with a butter knife.
  6. Spray down the inside of the fridge with the half water/half vinegar solution, and wipe it out with a dry rag. Use this opportunity to wipe down the shelves on the refrigerator door too. Once the vinegar smell dissipates, you’ll be left with a fresh scent and a shiny fridge.
  7. One by one, carefully dry off the glass shelves and plastic drawers with a tea towel, and place them back into the fridge.
  8. Optional step: Line some of the main shelves with rubbery drawer liners.
  9. Close the refrigerator. Now sort the foods you pulled out into two or three groups. One should be KEEP and the other DUMP. Another might be GIVE AWAY. Foods to dump are those which appear moldy, smell bad, or are past their expiration date.
  10. Before placing any KEEP item back in the fridge, use a wet rag to wipe any stickiness off the bottom of the container.
  11. Arrange the KEEP items logically, with kids’ foods on lower shelves where they can reach them, and other items in plain sight so they can easily be found.
  12. Place older items in front of the newer ones. Take the opportunity to create meal plans for the next two weeks which are specifically intended to use up older items in your fridge.
  13. Optional step: Add labels to the shelves on the door. (See example in photo, above.)
  14. Use a rubber spatula to get old condiments, yogurts, sauces, etc. out of jars and other containers. (It’s flexible rubbery-ness allows you to easily scrape stuff out of tough spaces.) You can either flush this old food down the garbage disposal, or scoop it all into a plastic grocery bag to later put in the outside trash. Old fruits and vegetables can be composted.
  15. Once they’ve been scraped, soak the jars and containers in hot soapy water for a few hours to loosen any remaining food particles before washing and air drying. Don’t forget to recycle your jars and other containers!
  16. If you have any food items to give away, make plans to do this and label them as such before putting them back into the fridge. (E.g., “Send home with Mom for cousin Connie. She loves jalapeno pepper jelly.”)

Have a photo of your organized fridge to share? Send it to Crystal!

No Comments - Categories: Kitchen

Less packaging, less clutter

- Author: Crystal

One easy way to work toward a simpler, less cluttered lifestyle is to choose products with less packaging.

As an example, opt for bar soap – which comes simply wrapped in paper – instead of liquid hand soap dispensers.

Plastic containers of liquid hand soap may seem convenient.

Yet the simple act of choosing bar soap saves time and money spent having to refill or replace sticky, half-empty containers of liquid soap. As we all know, production of plastic containers require fossil fuels, and these containers usually get tossed into the trash. Even if you do recycle, they are a pain to clean out.

Reasons to buy local, handmade bar soap:

  • Handmade soap from your local farmer’s market smells great (I choose scents like Lemon Verbena, Bergamot and Coriander, Lavender, and Mint);
  • They are usually made with natural ingredients which can be gentler on your hands than your average liquid soap;
  • They are fun to use;
  • Your purchase of these types of bar soap supports artisans and the local economy.

Need a soap dish for your new bar soap? I had fun picking out handmade stoneware soap dishes from Etsy.

If you have thoughts or other ideas to share, please post a comment or write to Crystal and let her know.

No Comments - Categories: Bathroom, Kitchen

Save time and $ with a backwards grocery list

- Author: Crystal

Have you ever grocery shopped impulsively or found yourself in a state of uncertainty at the supermarket? If yes, a backwards grocery list may be just what you need. Saves time, energy, and even money, and it helps keep your family’s cooking and dining realities in mind as you shop.

What is it?

Unlike the usual grocery list, a backwards grocery list is NOT a haphazardly handwritten note listing milk, bread, or whatever else you’ve just run out of. Instead, it is a master document that you carefully create ahead of time to use every week. It lists all the food items in your kitchen that you typically use and groups them in categories by type.  Take a look at my own backwards grocery list.

How to use it

  1. Print out a fresh copy of your own* backwards grocery list.
  2. Stand in your kitchen and review the list, item by item. Are you running low on anything? Have you completely run out of something?
  3. Use a highlighter to indicate the food items you need to buy on your next trip to the store.
  4. Be honest with yourself about what you’ll be able to cook during the week, and what you/your family will actually eat.
  5. Tuck the list into your purse or wallet so you’ll have it handy. Once you’re at the store, just whip out the list and put those items in your basket. You’ll never again have to wonder, “Now what else was it that I needed?”

If there’s a specialty item (i.e., non-staple ingredient) you need for a recipe you’re making this week only, it’s no problem. Simply hand write that food item in the appropriate section of this week’s printed list.

* How to make your own backwards grocery list

  • Inventory your cupboards, refrigerator, pantry, fruit basket, root cellar, etc. Record on your list only what you consider to be your (or your family’s) staples – i.e., the items you really need to have on hand to get through the week and make several decent meals.
  • Prioritize. You’ll notice that my own backwards grocery list includes some “staple” items in boxes. Having carefully monitored our cooking and eating habits, staple items were determined to be the most frequently used food items in our kitchen. Other items not in bold or boxes are used less frequently. Indicating these on my list helps me prioritize and keep cooking and dining realities in mind as I shop.
  • Group. Shopping efficiency is maximized when you group the foods on your list according to the layout of your grocery store. For example, the produce section is the first part of the store that I encounter when I walk in. Thus, I make this item first on my list.
  • Refine your list over time, and it will only become more efficient and helpful. Save your file electronically in a convenient location so it can be printed and used each week.

Why a backwards grocery list is great

  • Saves you time by listing your kitchen staples in advance. No need to re-invent the wheel every time you make a list!
  • Preserves your sanity. Hungry, tired, stressed out? No matter. Your pre-made list will keep you focused and on task.
  • Cuts waste and saves money by reminding you of your cooking and dining priorities. Impulse buying averted!

Have more ideas to share? Post a comment or write to Crystal and let her know!

2 Comments - Categories: Kitchen

Snag a bag!

- Author: Crystal

Being organized can be great for the environment too, and this easy solution only takes a moment:

  1. Right this second, head over to wherever you keep your reusable cloth shopping bags.
  2. Grab at least one, and put it either in your purse (yes, they can fold up pretty small) or in the trunk of your car. Better yet, put them in both places!
  3. Now use them whenever you go to the store (any store). Politely but firmly refuse the store’s bags. In doing so, you will help to cut down on the sad environmental impact caused by the plastic grocery bag. Hooray!

Don’t have a cloth shopping bag?

You can buy them at most grocery stores for $.99 near the check-out line. You can also purchase fun, crazy colorful ones here. There’s also this beautiful set from Amazon. Cafepress makes many witty bags. If you’re the DIY type, check out this how-to and make your own bag!

Already have a ton of plastic bags at home? Reuse them, or recycle them!

No Comments - Categories: Kitchen, Sustainable living

Meal planning made easy

- Author: Crystal

Meal planning, using Backpack’s “Writeboard” function, is just one of the many ways I use a Web site called Backpack to organize my whole life.

The solution: My husband and I are trying to eat dinner at home more frequently (to save money and eat healthier!). Of course, grocery shopping and meal planning take effort and organization. That is where our meal planning page on Backpack comes in handy. We collaborate using Backpack’s Writeboard feature, which is an online writing space that two or more people can share and edit.

How it works: I might decide to volunteer to cook Monday and Saturday evenings of the upcoming week. So I log in to Backpack from home on Sunday and note on the Writeboard what I plan to cook for those evenings. I also list what ingredients we’ll need to buy at the Farmer’s Market or grocery store. I can even include a link to the recipe, if applicable. He’ll do the same for his cooking days, say, while he’s at work the next day. We can also make note of who will go to the grocery store, and whose turn it is to clean up the kitchen each night.

The end result is a comprehensive meal plan for the whole week, including menu and shopping reminder list, which we can either print out or access from work, home or on an iPhone!

Here is an example to show you what our meal planning Writeboard on Backpack looks like:

Have more ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

Next: Tomorrow is Part III in a series on HOW to use Backpack to organize your whole life.

No Comments - Categories: Kitchen, Online organizing

How to organize your kitchen junk drawer

- Author: Crystal

Dear Crystal,

Even if I dump out my kitchen junk drawer, the stuff has no home and eventually I put it all back. It looks neater, but only for about a week. This is my dread in life.

What can I do?

Cindy in South Carolina

Cindy, the secret to kitchen junk drawers is containers! Here’s what to do:

  1. Completely empty out the drawer. Throw away everything that is trash, broken and/or not reusable. If it is an item that someone else could use, donate it! For each item, ask yourself whether you really need it, and give yourself an honest answer.
  2. Group similar items together: For example, put batteries, rubber bands, spare keys, etc., together – each into their own separate pile on the counter! This part is extremely important. After completing this step, if you can think of a better “home” for one of these piles, now is the time to move it there! For example, a pile of paperclips and pens may be better suited for your desk than for a kitchen junk drawer. Likewise, a pile of screws belongs in a toolbox!
  3. Container-ize it! Keeping items in separate containers will make it easier to locate your items and put them back where they belong.
  • Purchase drawer storage containers OR MAKE YOUR OWN from boxes and plastic containers. I like to use zip lock bags and small plastic and wooden boxes (garage sales and thrift stores are great places to find these) to organize my junk drawer items.
  • Consider storage with lids: The benefit to storing items in containers with lids is that you can label the top of the lid. Labeling eliminates the need to dig around desperately to find what you’re looking for!

Get into the habit. The reason our junk drawers are always disorganized is that we are used to it. Your assignment is to become un-used to it! Practice, practice, practice putting things back in their designated places, and eventually it will become automatic! Some new Kitchen sinks now come with clever storage spaces, take a look at the new kitchen sink reviews online and be amazed.

Have more ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: Kitchen

The secret to fresh joe: cleaning your coffeemaker

- Author: Crystal

Over time, coffee residue builds up inside a coffeemaker. You’ll know this is happening to your coffeemaker when you notice that the coffee starts to taste a bit dull.

For this mini cleaning project, you’ll need: tap water, white vinegar, and about 45 minutes’ time. (Of course, you can always do other things during the 45 minutes while the coffeemaker is running.)

1. Remove old filter and grounds from the machine. Rinse out your coffeepot.
2. Fill up the water reservoir of the machine 2/3 full of water and the remaining 1/3 with white vinegar.
3. Turn the coffeemaker on.
4. When coffee cycle is complete, discard the used water and vinegar mixture and repeat steps 2 and 3. Important tips: be sure to let your coffeemaker cool for 10 minutes between each cycle! Also, allowing the hot vinegar water to sit in the pot while the machine cools will help loosen any coffee residue that might have accumulated in the pot itself.
5. Now discard the old water and vinegar mixture.
6. Do two rinse cycles using water only. Don’t forget to allow for 10 minute cool-down periods in between.
7. Finally, wash the coffeepot itself in warm, soapy water. As an alternative, you can also run the pot in the dishwasher.

Enjoy! Get monthly coffee delivery now, it should taste much better now.
Source: Coffee Dorks.

No Comments - Categories: Kitchen

Eight steps to easy dishwasher maintenance

- Author: Crystal

Yearly dishwasher maintenance = sparkling dishes!

For this project, you’ll need: rubber gloves, socket wrench, two liters of distilled white vinegar, box of baking soda, scouring pad, dish soap

  1. Put on rubber gloves, and open the dishwasher.
  2. Slide out and remove the bottom dishwasher rack. Remove the upside-down basket-looking thing from the bottom of the dishwasher. To do this, you will most likely need to unscrew the little bolts using a socket wrench.
  3. Once you’ve removed it, examine the basket and any other removable parts from the bottom of the dishwasher. Are they covered in slimy blackness or food residue resembling curdled cheese? Probably. Scrub these parts in the sink with hot water and soap until they sparkle.
  4. Check out the area of the dishwasher from which you removed the basket thing. Is it clogged with old food and nastiness? Probably. Scoop that stuff out and throw it away.
  5. “Volcano” any drain holes you see by first pouring a generous amount of baking soda down the holes, followed by white vinegar. Wait 5 minutes to let the magic happen!
  6. Reinstall the (now clean) basket thing and any accompanying parts.
  7. Put the bottom dishwasher rack back into the machine.
  8. Pour 1 liter of white vinegar in the bottom of the machine, close it, and let the dishwasher run on its normal cycle.
  9. Once the cycle is complete, repeat step 7.

You will notice that your dishes come out much cleaner!

Thoughts on this? Other ideas? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!

No Comments - Categories: Kitchen, Sustainable living