Cleaning, Organizing, & Eco

So It Turns Out I’m Monica Geller

I get questions like those pretty regularly. And my answers are usually all strained and sputtery like this:

But ladies and germs (oh my gosh, I just turned into my dad for a second there), I finally got annoyed enough to do something about it. So here’s how I tamed the previously untamable chaos that was “the craft closet” (*cue the spooky sound effects*). Here’s my shameful but kind of hilarious before shot of the guest room closet. I swear I didn’t mess this up to have a better after, it actually looked like this for months.

And here’s the “how you like me now” after. In the always applicable words of Jay Z… “GET YOUR DANG HANDS UP.” Ok, you might be at work, so I’ll just wave mine around for you.

Why are my craft things in the guest room closet anyway? That room has the prettiest view in the house, along with gorgeous afternoon light – so I’d love to creep in there and sew/paint on Sunday afternoons. I’d also love to eventually bring in a dresser or desk that can accommodate my sewing machine so the room can truly multi-task (we do host guests occasionally, but we love using rooms more often if we can).

Let’s get a little closer to the chaos first though, shall we? Does it not look like The Rolling Stones stayed here and trashed it like a truly fabulous hotel room? Except with more hello kitty.

This is the view if you stepped into the closet and turned right (there’s a little alcove in there that got just as full of floor-covering junk).

Not to mention all the craft supplies that had collected downstairs on the dining table (which actually looked a whole lot messier, so to see the true before shot of this in 3D you can check out this house tour video).

The first step of any organizing project of mine involves chocolate. So I had a few Hershey’s Kisses (dark, don’t try to tell me that milk chocolate is as good as dark chocolate because we’ll get into it) and then I got down to business. First I dumped out the paper bag that had a ton of craft supplies in it since our move 7 months ago. Yeaaaahhh… it was time.

Next, Clara helped me assemble one of my two secret weapons for this closet: a Raskog cart from Ikea. Initially I had planned to buy a bunch of those plastic bins and drawers at Target, but I realized that buying two larger and more substantial (not to mention cuter) items might help me keep things under control better for the long haul. Storage areas like garages and attics tend to spiral out of control for us – especially if we use a bunch of cheap plastic systems that can get overfilled, jammed, and broken, so… know thyself.

Then I took a few days off the project (painting the nursery jumped to the top of the list) but eventually I turned my focus back to The Closet Of Doom and brought in this folding shelf that we’ve had for 8+ years (it’s originally from Bed Bath & Beyond I think) for that alcove on the right. I figured going vertical instead of spreading things out all over the floor made a lot more sense.

The other Ikea item we bought was this white five-drawer cabinet, which I spotted in the as-is section for 25% off. I totally played it cool you guys. Just kidding, I sprinted over and grabbed it like the hamburglar making off with some tasty treats. The fact that it had five awesomely smooth (read: non-plastic) drawers of various heights made it perfect for supplies like paints, brushes, sprays and paint pens – and the already assembled thing was a total bonus. I actually think it’s cute enough to be out of the closet, along with the cart – so perhaps down the line if I get a little sewing desk going on the other wall of this room I can slip the cabinet under it with the cart next to it or something.

The rest of the stuff in the closet are things we previously had – like that hanging fabric cubby thing (from Ikea years ago) and that ceramic planter where I shove all of our wrapping paper and tissue paper. And as for the rolling cart…

The hanging cubbies are devoted to gift wrapping stuff, like:

And the wooden shelf thing that I shoved in that corner alcove is now housing all of my fabric in old Ikea bins from a few years back (yes, I have TONS of fabric thanks to Clara’s photo project, even though I’ve made her a quilt, a birthday banner, a table runner, a beanbag, and all sorts of other random things… so… I smell more projects). Most of it used to be piled in the storage room but it feels so much more organized and accessible right here. There’s also room for the sewing machine to sit on the floor in front of it, but I thought I’d leave that in the guest room for a hot second because I’d love to set it up in there to encourage myself to actually sew with it. So we’ll see if I can figure something out soon. If not, it’s back in the closet for him.

But let’s get to my favorite part. The drawers of our slick little white cabinet. The top drawer is full of various acrylic paints (along with some small containers of varnish/sealant, and some ceramic paint).

The second drawer houses all of my brushes, stamping tools, paint pens, and colored sharpies.

The third drawer contains various test pots of paint (I use these guys surprisingly often for random projects like this, this, this and this) along with a few larger cans of spray sealers.

The fourth drawer has all of my art store supplies, like my oil paints, watercolors, watercolor pencils, charcoals, and a few random things like a small set of markers and clothespins.

And the fifth drawer is where I have stampers, ink pads, stickers, decals, washi tape, and other supplies like twine or string.

Oh and that top shelf of the closet has a wire bin (from Target about 3 years ago) full of fabric pouches. Apparently I have a hoarding problem with those, but I love them for keeping Clara’s toys contained (all of her plastic animals in one, all of her tiny legos in another, etc). They’re also sweet for “wrapping” various gifts for friends in two seconds flat (no tape or ribbon required). And the blue box up there has been my sewing box for years. It has thread, needles, extra bobbins, scissors, a seam ripper, etc.

I’m also planning to add a few hooks on the inside of the door so guests can hang things there since the bar is full (we rarely host anyone with things on hangers, so those should do the trick).

Yes I’m still waving my dang hands around. It’s pretty unbelievable that such a ridiculous mess of a closet is currently home to 0.00 chaos. But you might want to check back with me in a few months. These things can go one of two ways…

Does anyone else have tips for organizing craft supplies, gift wrapping paraphernalia, or tons of fabric? Who else is channeling Monica Geller with a closet full of insanity? Let’s commiserate.

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How You Like Me Now, Grout?

That’s right. Picture me giving one of these (*strikes a talk-to-the-hand pose*) to the grout in our foyer and half bathroom.

As you might recall, for the past six months that we’ve lived here, it has looked like this.

Over the last half of a year, I gave nearly every method under the sun a shot to make that grout look clean. After repeatedly scrubbing the heck out of it, I knew that it was actually very (very, very) clean… it just was so discolored and stained in certain areas, that no amount of blood, sweat, or tears (I even tried a wire brush to literally sand off the top layer of the grout) could make it look that way.

Some of my attempts included (but weren’t limited to):

So I did what most people would do and I gave up and ignored it for another few days (what’s a few days after six months of no-dice results?). And then I finally faced facts. The grout either needed to be scraped out and regrouted entirely (which makes for a pretty messy job, especially in the main hallway of our house which connects the entire upstairs to each room downstairs) or it needed to be refinished.

Thankfully a few of you tipped me off to a product you’ve used with success called Polyblend Grout Renew. Let me just skip to the punchline: it worked, and I wish I had tried it before spending six months scrubbing my mind out. 

The cost? A cool $11.95 from Home Depot. Can I get a what what? Note: this might sound like an ad for the stuff, but Grout Renew doesn’t know us from Adam – I’m just beyond grateful that it worked.

Although it did take nearly eight hours to apply. But since I had easily spent 25 hours trying various stain lifting methods before resorting to this, eight hours with a bottle of Grout Renew was a small price to pay for VICTORY.

That’s right, there were mic drops. There was shoulder dusting. There was a full on pregnant-lady end zone dance.

There were several colors to pick from, but John and I decided on Oyster Gray after admiring similarly toned grout at a neighbor’s house during a Christmas party (they had the same foyer tile that we do, but it spanned all the way into their kitchen with sparkling light gray grout that brought tears to my eyes). We actually brought home a darker option too, but it was so close to the stone color – and some of the dark stains in the grout – that we worried it would be a lot of work for grout that still looked kind of muddled and dingy.

Oh and the Grout Renew was low odor and low-VOC, so this pregnant lady could get down with it. I did wear a respirator, along with opening windows, just because I’m into added ventilation and bad Bane impersonations.

Anyway, the first step was to clean the floors thoroughly. I’ll pause while you laugh since I had already done that TEN MILLION TIMES. Next it just said to use a toothbrush to apply it into the grout lines and then let it dry for 24 hours. I went with a thin craft brush because I had way more control (read: way less mess on the tile surface) and started in the half-bathroom because I figured I could work my way out of the room and close the door behind me so it could dry.

Even with a small craft brush there were still times when it got on the surface of the tile, and there was a very short window for wiping it off before it set (and then had to be scrubbed with a fingernail, which was a huge pain) so I literally would do one or two cracks at a time and then quickly follow up to smooth both sides of the seam out with a small piece of toilet paper (this would remove any from the surface of the tile as well as make the sides of each seam nice and straight looking).

It was the opposite of fast. But it worked. Slowly I eked my way out from around the toilet and right out the door, which took about an hour and forty five minutes. That was day 1. Note: this stuff looks lighter/more high-contrast before it dries, so even though it looks white here, it dries to be a softer gray color.

Day 2 involved three more hours of line painting and wiping, and I opted to do 50% of the foyer in a strategic way so we could all still walk on the other half of it. In other words, I did half of the hall, half of the area in front of the steps, one of the two closets, and half of the area leading into the office, so we could all still walk on “the dirty grout” sides to get around. Here’s a shot to show you how hilarious John is. I said: ok, get creative with this picture so my giant respirator doesn’t look weird. I like his version of getting creative – just lop off the whole head area.

The second day was the hardest day by far, just because I was still kind of sore from contorting my pregnant body around in the small half bathroom the day before, and the little knobby parts of each of my ankles were dragging on the tile as I scooted around like a dog with fleas, so there was that. But it was all worth it. Worth it and then some!

Day 3 was another three hour process, but it was the most exciting day because I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The end of the longest-running house battle that I had ever waged was near. I just worked my way around the foyer doing the other half of those pathways that I had done the day before, and I ducked into that last closet while pausing occasionally to fist pump and work on my Oscar acceptance speech clean grout speech (“I’d like to thank the academy, and the grout gods who invented this $12 bottle of miracles and unicorns”).

Then we just gave that last application the same 24 hour drying period, and made sure nothing got wet for 72 hours (since that was another warning on the bottle) and it seems to be stuck like glue. It’s a good deal lighter than the old grout was, which still makes us say “whoa now” when we walk through the hallway, but we think it’s just our eyes adjusting, since we loved the lighter grout in our neighbor’s hall and kitchen. Maybe after 6 months our brains just can’t get over the fact that it finally looks clean!

It has really good five star ratings everywhere we read about it (here are some on Home Depot’s site) so I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll have the same long-lasting luck with it (I still have about 1/4th of the bottle leftover for touch ups in case we need them down the line). I’ll definitely update you guys if anything funky happens, but so far it has been great.

Update: A few people have asked if we plan to seal it, and after hearing from some commenters who’ve used this and had awesome results with occasional sealing it, we’re planning to do the same. Will keep you posted on how it holds up! Also, since a few folks have asked us to add the “way back” before shot, just for fun, here ya go. It’s crazy how much bluer the tile looked with the brown stained grout and all that blue trim.

Is anyone else waging war on something stubborn that’s taking more than a few attempts? Do you have any secret remedies to share for a house battle that had you stumped?

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