Sunday, March 31, 2013

Guide to a Well-Organized Pantry

Spring cleaning is here!! With summertime parties just around the corner, you'll want to clean house to make sure your shindig is the talk of the town! While the space in your home is important, little things like your pantry can be forgotten! What you need is a master plan to get your pantry well-stocked, well-organized and ready for duty.

5 Universal Rules
Whether your pantry is a few shelves in the cupboard, a walk-in closet or three deep drawers, you can make it work. Just stick to these rules:
1. Know what you use. How to know what to keep a stash of? Ask yourself what you eat most. If you love rice, then a 20-lb bag is great (if you’ve got the space). If you’re crackers about crackers, sure, keep a row of them. Avoid the common mistake of filling your pantry with foods you don’t often use, such as a supersize bag of flour or a row of powdered drinks.
2. Shop small. I know, this is contrary to the dogma of rolling up to Costco in your minivan, but you don’t need a pantry that can feed your family through autumn, bomb-shelter style. The idea is to keep all items in your pantry constantly in use, filling the space you have with whatever healthy foods you might need. “People tend to go to warehouse clubs and buy giant family packs, then those huge boxes sit half-used for a year,” says Scott Dolich, chef at Park Kitchen restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Buy in bulk only the stuff you use often.
3. Go canned. “A lot of people think canned goods are not as fresh, but canned vegetables are picked at their peak freshness, so they’re a great way to keep your pantry stocked,” says David Mechlowicz, culinary purchasing manager for Food Network. You can also enhance what you’re serving by adding fresh items to canned products. In other words, when you want to make a stew or soup or spruce up pasta, canned tomatoes are better than no tomatoes. Ditto with artichokes, pineapple, and pretty much every fruit and many nonleafy veggies.
4. Unwrap. “Most people don’t unwrap excess packaging before putting away foods,” says Lorie Marrero, author of The Clutter Diet. “Take paper towels, for instance. Cut off that overwrap that holds the rolls together, and you can fit individual rolls much easier.” Ditto for soda, snack packs and multipacks.
5. Be cool. Pretty much all pantry items do well in cool, dark environments. “Store foods away from your stove,” says Dolich. The biggest threat? Nearby appliances giving off heat. Dampen your hand and feel around your pantry to make sure the fridge or dishwasher isn’t heating it.

What Goes Where?
You want to create a pantry filled with easy-to-see foods in active rotation. Professional organizer Chris McKenry, a board member of the Los Angeles–based National Association of Professional Organizers, tells you how to transform your pantry.
Step 1: Clean it out. Purge. Which in this case means eat. Go through your pantry and pull out absolutely everything. Split your items into two piles: stuff you use and want to keep, and foods you haven’t touched in at least three months (if you haven’t used it by now, you’re probably not going to use it). For the stuff you generally don’t use, decide whether to toss it, donate it to a food pantry or serve it imminently. If it’s shake powder from that diet you did three years ago, toss it. If it’s cereal you just haven’t gotten around to eating, serve it soon. “Free up space so that you have room for what you really need,” says McKenry. And regift those gift baskets that take up half a shelf.
Step 2: Consider relocating. Not you, your stuff. Your pantry probably has more than a few non-food items. Perhaps the DustBuster and mop are in there. Waffle iron? Serving platters? Ask yourself, Is there a better place for these things? Here’s a secret: Doors are the great underutilized spaces in pantries. If your cleaning supplies must stay, at least get them on door hooks. I like the Reisenthel Big Eye Wardrobe Shelf. You’ve probably seen it in someone’s coat room, but its four hooks are perfect for hanging brooms and mops, while the shelf works for paper towels, all-purpose cleaners and the like ($35; Or try The Grook Holder, a strip of rubber pressure clamps that hold cleaning products, gardening tools and more ($19.99;
Step 3: Create zones. Group your pantry items by type—grains, drinks, pet food, baking items, canned goods, soups, snack foods, etc. And group similar items within each zone (all the canned pineapple in one cluster, canned peaches in another). The items in each zone (rice, couscous and pasta, or canned fruits and vegetables) tend to be interchangeable, so this way you’re working toward your goal: healthy meals. Each zone gets its own dedicated shelf or drawer. If your shelving doesn’t naturally separate the zones from each other, create separations. Shelf dividers, like the ones used for sweaters, work great ($7 for 2; Large items or jugs that you rarely use go in bottom corners.
Step 4: Label. If it makes sense for you, label the edges of your shelves with what goes there. You and the potentially confused people you live with are pretty likely to put cereal on the shelf labeled cereal.
Step 5: Make it visible. You want to be able to see everything and grab it with one hand. “Builders often design pantries with fixed shelves that are 1 to 2 feet apart,” says Barry Izsak, of the home organizing company Arranging It All in Austin, Texas. “If you use those shelves for cans or boxes of rice and soup mixes and so forth, there’s tons of wasted space, and tons that you can’t see.” For items that are hard to see or blocked by other items, consider these organizing helpers:

Bleachers: These cheap, functional little bleachers turn one shelf into three or four. Ideal for fixed shelves that are far apart. (Stainless Steel 3-Tier Expanding Shelf expands from 14" to 27 ¼" wide; $22 at The Container Store.)
Turntable: Nothing gets lost in the back if you can spin to find it. The OXO Softworks 11" and 16" turntables can hold a couple dozen cans each, and are also great for corraling bottles and jars ($11.99 and $16.99;
ShelfGenie: Want a truly customized kitchen? Consider ShelfGenie, the company that personal organizers have a crush on. A representative will come to your home, measure and install slide-out drawers and shelves throughout your cabinets and pantry, transforming deep cabinets into shallow, easy-to-access hubs ($500 and up;
Bins: Place them on deep shelves and pull them out drawer-style. Ideal for snack packs. The basic cloth bins from Target are great because they come in three different sizes ($39.99 for set of 3;

Pantry or Not?
Bread: You may think it will last much longer in the refrigerator, but that will actually make it go stale faster, according to the Wheat Foods Council. The best way to store bread is to wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and keep it at room temperature.
Peanut butter: Some people like to leave peanut butter on the counter, a remnant of the fact that pantries a half-century ago were chilled. Yours should go in the fridge, along with all opened condiments (except oils).
Garlic, onions, potatoes: These should be kept in a basket or baskets—one for each kind of item—in the pantry, where it’s relatively cool and shielded from heat and light. Stored properly, they can last for up to 4 weeks.

By Arianne Cohen

Saturday, March 23, 2013

5 Quick Garage Organizing Tips

From seasonal decorations and old baby clothes to sports equipment and college textbooks, it’s no wonder garages tend to be the catch-all for clutter. But with a garage full of anything-but-the-kitchen-sink, where is a homeowner to start?

Stop tripping over things on your way to the car and give your garage some much-needed TLC with these quick and easy organization tips.

  1. DECIDE WHAT TO STORE :Start by devoting one weekend day, preferably on a day the weather cooperates, to "the big sort." Make four piles: store, sell, donate and toss. For the items you're throwing out, consider having a -- you guessed it -- garage sale. This is a great way to earn some extra money to buy items for organizing your garage.
  2. DESIGNATE ZONES: Try grouping frequently-used items together, placing seasonal items and keepsakes in different zones altogether. You may want to designate a section of your garage for sporting equipment and outdoor items, another area for gardening tools or craft supplies and a different area for automotive supplies.
  3. USE YOUR WALL SPACE: Shelves, cabinets, racks and hooks keep items off the floor and reduce clutter. The walls of your garage are a great place to configure a storage solution that works for your purposes. It doesn't have to be pricey -- most of the items you would need can be found at your local home improvement store.
  4. UP AND AWAY:  The ceiling is easily overlooked as an area for garage organization. Shelves can also be built in the rafters and used for storing items that are used infrequently, such as seasonal decorations and travel luggage. The great thing about this type of storage is that clutter is placed up and away, hiding many of the less-glamorous items from view.
  5. BOX IT UP: Get out the Sharpie and use plastic storage bins or cardboard boxes with clearly-marked labels displaying their contents for a clean, clutter-free look. Instead of letting unused luggage go empty, use it to store those old clothes from when the kids were babies that you just can't part with. Have an old dresser? Put it to good use and consider letting the kids design the newest garage storage system, which, when outfitted with cabinet grip liners, is perfect for those smaller items.
"Considering how often it's used, it makes sense to give your garage some organizing attention," says Lisa Engel, vice president of channel marketing and communications, ClosetMaid.

A well-organized garage not only looks good, but makes your life easier by allowing you to find what you need quickly.

Written by: Suzi Milovanovic

Monday, March 18, 2013

Six Reasons Housing Inventory Keeps Declining

Home sales in December dropped by 1% from November, the National Association of Realtors reported on Tuesday, but still stood nearly 13% above the levels of one year ago. That means home sales have risen from the year-ago month for 18 straight months.
For 2012 as a whole, sales were up 9% to 4.65 million units, the highest annual total since 2007.
Prices, meanwhile, are picking up because the number of homes for sale continues to drop despite the sales volume gains. The number of homes for sale fell to 1.82 million at the end of 2012, an 8.5% drop from November and a 21.6% decline from one year earlier, the Realtors’ group said on Tuesday.
Here’s a breakdown of why inventory has continued to drop this year:
Many homeowners are underwater: More than 10 million homeowners owe more on their mortgage than their homes are worth, according to CoreLogic Inc. CLGX -2.18% That pencils out to around 22% of homeowners with a mortgage, or 15% of all homeowners (since not every homeowner has a mortgage). Underwater owners aren’t likely to sell unless they need to move due to changing life (marriage, divorce) or financial circumstances, and they’ll take a hit on their credit for pursuing a short sale, where the bank allows the home to sell for less than the amount owed.Data from CoreLogic show that inventory has been the most constrained in housing markets where there’s the largest concentration of underwater borrowers.
Others don’t have enough equity to “trade up”: Another 10 million homeowners have less than 20% equity in their current residence, meaning they can’t easily “trade up” to their next house. Traditionally, homeowners have relied on home equity to make the down payment on their next home, and to pay their real-estate agent to sell their current home and buy their next one. These “under-equitied” homeowners—meaning they don’t have enough equity to make a move to a more expensive home—have added to the drag on inventory.
Everyone wants to buy at the bottom, but few want to sell: Even those people who do have plenty of home equity are likely reluctant to sell if they think prices will be higher tomorrow. Would you sell your largest asset today if you thought it might be worth 5% more next year? This helps explain why markets such as Denver and Dallas, which didn’t have huge housing bubbles and thus had smaller shares of underwater borrowers, have also seen double-digit inventory declines.
More purchases from investors of all stripes: From the big institutional investors that have been grabbing all the headlines, to the mom-and-pop landlords that have traditionally played a much larger role renting out homes, investors have increasingly bought homes that can be rented out rather than flipped and resold for quick profits. This is further keeping inventory off the market in two ways: homes that are bought at courthouse foreclosure auctions never show up on multiple-listing services when they’re initially sold. They’re also held out of the for-sale pool because they’re being rented out.
Banks have been slower at foreclosing: Banks and other companies that process delinquent mortgages have had trouble proving that they’ve followed state law in taking title to homes ever since the “robo-signing” scandal surfaced in late 2010, and they’ve also had to meet a host of new state and federal rules governing loan modifications and foreclosures from settlements spawned by the robo-scandal. Banks have also become better about approving short sales and loan modifications, which has curbed the flow of foreclosed properties onto the market.
Builders have been putting up fewer homes: Housing starts were severely depressed from 2009 through 2011 and have only recently rebounded off of those low levels. Consequently, there’s been much less new home inventory being added to the market at a time when demand (boosted by increases in household formation) is picking up. If more homes are held off the market—for any of the five reasons above—you can bet that builders will move in to fill the void.
Many of these factors that have been dragging down inventory aren’t signs of “normal” or “healthy” housing markets—but then, we probably haven’t had a normal market for around a decade now. If anything, declining inventory shows that normal supply-and-demand dynamics are returning, which is an important step towards putting a floor under home prices and giving markets time to get back to health.

Written By: Nick Timiraos

Sunday, March 10, 2013

3 Tips for Insuring Your First Home

Buying your first home can be both an exciting and a scary experience. Many homeowners are appreciative of any bit of information that would help make the process less stressful and as painless as possible. Home insurance is usually a major contributor to the anxieties new homeowners’ experience. They are often confused about how much insurance they need. This post will give easy tips for choosing the best insurance for new home buyers.
Your House Should Be Fully Covered
The coverage on the insurance policy should reflect an amount that can adequately take care of the cost of rebuilding and refurbishing your entire house in the event that you lose it completely. Insurance companies may use a cost estimator to ascertain the cost replacement estimate, but you can have a home builder assess your home and furnish you with an estimate of the rebuilding cost. This should include the unique and/or expensive details of your home (if there are any). You do not want to end up being underinsured. Once you have the estimate for rebuilding, you will need to figure out which coverage to take. The choices are:
  • Guaranteed Replacement Cost Coverage – The insurer bears the cost for the rebuilding your home in spite of that cost. Very few insurers are offering these policies now.
  • Extended Replacement Coverage – This coverage involves the capping of the payout you would receive to approximately 125% of the insured value of your home.
  • Inflation Guarantee (or Guard) – This is a feature that ensures the insured value of your home stays on par with that of the marketplace.
Strive to get a reliable appraisal and extended replacement coverage along with an inflation guarantee. These will place you in a good position.
Liability Insurance
Home owners are sometimes caught off guard by third party claims for an injury someone incurred at their house or damages they caused to their neighbor’s property. These things happen, so protect yourself by ensuring your home insurance includes a liability insurance policy. Liability insurance gives the homeowner protection against any third party claims of damages and personal injury that occur on their property or are caused by them. Someone may fall and hurt themselves while on your property, or in the case of neighbors living in close proximity, your child could be playing and accidentally cause damage to their property. Liability insurance takes the burden of paying for medical bills or damages from your pocket, as the insurance company will take care of it.
Get Additional Coverage for Your Valuables
The standard insurance policy covers you home and possessions against eventualities such as natural disasters, fires, theft and accidents, but only does so indirectly for certain assets. Homeowners are sometimes caught off guard when they suffer from a disaster and realize they will not receive full compensation for certain valuables inside the house. The standard HO-3 policy takes care of the structural aspect of the house along with its contents, but there is limits the compensation for expensive possessions such as artwork and fine jewelry. You can obtain full coverage for them by paying a little extra on your policy each year.
Home insurance keeps your home safe even while you are away on vacation. This gives homeowners a sense of protection. Make an inventory of your property, as this will save you the time and expense if the need to file a claim arises.
Written By: Adam Vaught