Conquering The Paper Clutter Organizing Challenge

It seems like ever since we bought this house that we have been drowning in paperwork that needs to be saved for reference. We have a pretty good system for keeping mail organized when it arrives (seen in this post), but anything past that point started turning into piles of paperwork throughout the house, driving us nuts. I started out trying to add it in with my little desktop file folder holder (seen behind the stack of binders below), but that quickly filled up and got disorganized. I decided to try harder to get all these papers and manuals organized, put away, and still easy to access when needed.

I divided everything into three binders, leaving my file folder box for it’s original purpose: business contracts, tax documents and business related receipts.

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I started with the binder I will use the most – my Home & Family binder. The first section has all of my printed cleaning checklists printed out and organized. I love the Martha Stewart cleaning checklists…so helpful to keep on hand!
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After that, I made a section of papers that I reference occassionally with gardening information, like instructions for the potato planter and the soil tester.3

The last section in this binder is a bunch of ideas for fun things for us to do as a family on the weekend. I put in clippings from local magazines, lists of ideas we have come up with, and fliers from local attractions. This should help us think of something we would like to do each weekend, and better stick to our plan of one day of working on projects and one day of fun each weekend.4

The next binder has all of the baby related paperwork. The first section has all of the reference paperwork that I got while I was pregnant. There is first aid info, breastfeeding resources, etc.5

Next is a section with all of the receipts from our major baby purchases, such as stroller, car seat, crib, etc. I want to make sure we have all of these together in case we have any problems with anything.6

Last in this binder is a section with all of the baby product manuals.

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The last binder has all of our important records, documents and manuals for all of the other things around the house, such as appliances. The first section has our most important records: marriage certificate, title and insurance paperwork for our house and the one we just sold in Texas, etc.
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Next is a section with important health records. I made sure I kept all of the paperwork from this pregnancy in case we want to reference it with a future pregnancy. I also have another sheet protector with important vet records (our dog Stella was named Skittles by the adoption agency but we renamed her).
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Next is important paperwork and records for things around the house, such as the chimney and care instructions for the kitchen counters.12

Next is a section with important records about our cars.
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Lastly, I have a section with manuals for all of the non-baby related items around the house. I further divided them into categories such as small appliances, kitchen appliances, garden, and misc.14

Hopefully this should help keep things better under control!

Snickerdoodle Recipe: Dairy-free, Egg-free, Soy-free

Dairy-free, Egg-Free, Soy-Free Snickerdoodles Recipe

I had never made snickerdoodles until I found a Martha Stewart recipe for them on the packaging for my Martha Stewart Silpats. I modified the recipe to accommodate my egg allergy, and it quickly became a regular favorite in our house. Now I have modified the recipe again to cut out dairy and soy as well (since our baby has been reacting to those ingredients via breastmilk).

Ingredients:
2 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 cup Soy-Free Earth Balance Margarine, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Ener-G egg replacers (3 tsp powder plus 4 tbsp warm water)
For topping:
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp sugar

1. Put margarine and sugar in mixer bowl (use paddle attachment if you have a stand mixer). Mix at medium speed until light and fluffy.
2. Mix in Ener-G egg replacers.
3. Sift together flour, baking powder & salt in separate bowl.
4. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add in flour mixture.
5. Mix topping sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl.
6. Scoop dough with cookie dough scoop and roll in cinnamon/sugar mix. Roll into round balls and place onto cookie sheet with Silpat (or lightly greased cookie sheet).7. Bake cookies for approximately 12 minutes and cool on wire racks.

My Eco-Friendly Cleaning Guide

I am slightly obsessed with keeping our house clean, organized, and as healthy and toxin free as possible. The past several months were very difficult since I was on bed rest and not allowed to do any cleaning (you can read more about my pregnancy journey here). My husband cleaned as much as he had time for, but since his time is so limited (and he doesn’t know my normal routine), our house was never as clean as I usually keep it. We considered hiring a cleaning service, but things were in too much of a state of unpacked chaos, with a bunch of half finished projects all over the house.

Since I have been off bed rest, I have made it my main goal to get this place unpacked, cleaned and organized. We bought the house just a short time before I got pregnant, and then all the pregnancy complications brought much of the unpacking and organizing to a complete standstill. It has been just under two weeks, but we have finally been able to get pretty much everything unpacked, and I went on a crazy organizing spree. I also did a thorough seasonal deep cleaning of the entire house. It took me much longer than normal since I am just slowly regaining my strength, but it feels so nice to have a clean, organized house again! It has not felt like this at all the entire time we have lived in this house.

One of my favorite resources to make sure I do a thorough cleaning job on a regular basis is Martha Stewart’s collection of cleaning checklists. I have them all printed out and in sheet protectors in the floral binder shown above. I used to have the daily checklist posted on the fridge, but by now I have it memorized and it is part of my regular routine. The weekly cleaning checklist is great, as are the monthly and seasonal lists. I actually put in my weekly, monthly, and seasonal cleaning days in my organizer app (we use Cozi), scheduled to repeat regularly, so I never forget which list to use and when. Since I have really bad dust allergies, I usually add in another mid-week mini cleaning or two, to try to keep the dust at a minimum. That also helps with the crazy amount of pet hair that our family tends to generate. 🙂 You can find all of Martha’s cleaning checklists here. I also recently found a daily cleaning checklist that I love on A Bowl Full of Lemons (available here). This one is definitely going on the fridge and becoming part of my new routine! So far, it is really helping me keep things maintained and clean!

Many women get a strong nesting instinct while pregnant, and want to get their house really clean before the baby arrives. Since I have been doing so much cleaning lately, a number of people have asked me if that is from my nesting mode kicking in. I don’t think the baby is coming in the next couple of days, but I am just so happy to be able to catch up on my normal routines! I am a strong believer that your house is not actually clean if all you are doing is replacing the dirt with a bunch of toxic chemicals. I don’t use any “traditional” cleaning products in my house, and I can guarantee you that on a regular basis, our house is just as clean or cleaner than any house you can find that is cleaned with the “strong” cleaning products. I do not use products with bleach, ammonia, or other harsh ingredients for the safety of the environment and our own health.

When I was a kid, I started using Simple Green to do the cleaning for my chores since I was a very environmentally concerned kid. While I still use Simple Green on occasion for really deep cleaning jobs, the scent is honestly not my favorite. These days, I vary between using homemade natural cleansers and store bought natural cleansers. If I have the time, I love referencing the cleaning recipes detailed in the book shown above, Lemons & Lavender. I make good regular use out of homemade lavender oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda. Other times, I love using the products from Method. I seriously love the way they smell. 🙂 They have a wide range of products for a variety of needs. My favorite is the cucumber all purpose cleaner. I use that for almost everything. I also love the fact that they have naturally disinfecting products for the kitchen and bath…no harsh chemicals needed to sanitize things!

Also in my cleaning caddy is Bon Ami. I love this for scouring the sink, showers, really dirty pots and pans, etc. It has been around forever, is super cheap, and non-toxic. I always save the mesh bags from potatoes, garlic, and other produce since these make great (and free!) scouring pads. You can see my little stash in the caddy above (the red thing is a bundle of mesh bags).

If a particular pot or pan is dirty beyond the scrubbing point, and the Bon Ami is just not enough to get off some kind of burnt, caked in mess, I put a mixture of water, baking soda, and vinegar in the pot and boil it over low heat. This always gets the impossible to clean tough stains off my stainless steal cookware. It may take a little scrubbing after boiling for a while, but this method has never failed me. I never use anything that may scratch the surface of the pots and pans to get them clean (no scouring pads, etc.).

Instead of cleaning with paper towels, I keep stacks of rags on hand for dirty tasks. I also keep a microfiber cloth on hand for mirrors and windows. If I still have streaks after that, I use the tried and true method of a crumpled piece of newspaper to get rid of any remaining streaks.

My two favorite sponges are a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (great for so much!) and the Scotch-Brite Greener Clean Sponges. These are also great to use in place of paper towels as well since they are absorbent! Once a week, I wet all of my sponges and heat them in the microwave for 30 seconds to kill any lingering germs.

For dusting, I love using the pink microfiber mitt shown above. It fits on your hand like a big mitten, and makes it really easy to dust surfaces. I am very short though, and that limits my range of what I can reach easily. As a solution, I attached the mitt to an old Swiffer stick with a rubber band. I love the ease of use of using a Swiffer, but feel so wasteful using them since they have to be thrown out so often. For me, this is the perfect solution!

With so many pets shedding so much fur all the time, keeping our floors clean is a big task. I start by sweeping each room with a regular broom and dustpan to get rid of the dirt, pieces of cat litter, and whatever else has been tracked all over the house. Even though the floors may look clean at that point, I have come to realize that we still always seem to have even more pet hair lingering after that point. I then use the Mr. Clean microfiber dust broom shown above, which picks up the rest of the pet hair and any lingering dust bunnies. I am seriously obsessed with this dust broom/mop combo. It is one of the best things I have ever found. One side has a dust broom, and the other has a mop attachment. When I finish with the dust broom side, I go through and use the mop side. Since the mop is made out of detachable fabric, I love that I can take it off and give it a really good rinse in between each room. When I finish with the whole house, I can take off both attachments and throw them in the washing machine with all of my dirty rags and towels. It is so easy and so efficient!

The caddy shown above is my whole house caddy. I also have a second container of bathroom cleaning products that I keep under the bathroom sink in our master bath. One of my favorites for the bathroom is the Method Daily Shower Spray. We give a quick spray every day after our showers, and it helps keep the grime down between cleanings.

I hope my guide has inspired you to consider using some healthier, more environmentally friendly ways to keep your house clean! I am not going to go into detail about why the traditional cleaners are horrible…there are plenty of other resources online and in books about why those cleaners are bad for the environment and your health. None of the products or references listed above have requested to be listed or provided sponsorship…these are just my honest tips about what I have found to work best for me! 🙂

Panna Cotta Strawberry Tartlets

One of my favorite easy desserts to make is panna cotta.  My grandmother taught me how to make it, and it is the easiest dessert ever.  I had a bunch of fresh strawberries from my garden, and wanted to make an extra special dessert with them.

When some people cook or bake, they like the regime of following a recipe or baking from a mix.  To me, that just is not any fun.  Part of the fun of cooking and baking for me is experimenting with my own recipes and seeing how my experiments come out.  I wanted to make a unique little strawberry pie, but not in the traditional sense.  I searched through recipes, and did not find anything that stood out to me.  I decided to try making a combination of a mini pie and panna cotta.  It is definitely our new favorite dessert!

For the pie crust, I started by referencing Martha Stewart’s recipe here.  This was my first pie crust I’ve ever made, so I figured I should get an idea of where to start.  I had a few ideas for modifications though that I added myself, and the result will now be my secret pie crust recipe. 🙂

I stumbled upon this video showing how to make fresh homemade butter.  I know fresh butter isn’t necessary for baking, but I am convinced that it made the extra bit of difference to make this crust extra amazing.  I was so excited with the results that I just had to order her book, and absolutely love it.

For the panna cotta, I had to find a recipe online since my cookbooks are not unpacked yet (with my grandmother’s recipe in them).  Panna cotta is so simple though, pretty much any recipe you use will taste amazing.  The secret is using the best quality vanilla extract you can find.

I finished it all off with freshly sliced strawberries from our garden!

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