linen closet makeover

This is not your standard closet makeover, that starts with a trip to the Container Store, or at least a dollar store.  My budget for this project was $0.00, and I stuck to it.  My linen closet was always an issue for me, because it has a hanger bar and no shelves.  How to organize linens in such a setup without spending money?  The other thing holding me back was that I hate our linens.  They are awful.  I have one set of sheets that I love, which are either on the bed or in the washing machine; and I have a set of ugly but very warm flannel sheets that I put on the bed when we can’t stand to freeze anymore.  But the rest of our sheets?  Hideous.  They are all handmedowns from my mother in law, who judges a sheet’s attractiveness on the number of contrasting colors and its ability to stand out in a crowd.  They are also all king size, and our bed is a queen.

Our towel situation is no better.  All our towels are handmedowns as well, mostly shades of beige, except for one garish set of bright turquoise towels that don’t play well with our white-gray-purple decor.   And of course they don’t match each other.  Whenever I think about redoing my linen closet, I think about those hideous sheets and towels, and I lose heart.   At some point, I had the brilliant idea to buy a hanging sweater organizer (purple and gray!) to provide a little shelf space in there, and I’m thrilled with that idea, but clearly it wasn’t enough, and I wasn’t really using it very much.

This week, I realized that I was running out of storage space in the pantry, and the linen closet was the most underutilized storage we have.  So my ugly sheets and ratty old towels had to be faced.   If we didn’t have frequent overnight guests, almost all of those sheets would be designated “project fabric.”

So, first step is to face reality.  Here’s the Before… keeping it real for you…

Got to have a plan!  The plan:  store linens, towels, toiletries stockpile, and paper goods stockpile.  Getting the bathroomy stuff in here would clear out space in the pantry for food storage, something I really need.

First step was to get the clothes out of the linen closet.  I had been storing our out of season clothes on the bottom shelf.  I moved those to the upper level of the bedroom closet.  The clothes that were hanging on the hanger bar went either to the coat closet or the bedroom closet.  That cleared out a great deal of space.

Having no budget means making do with what I have on hand.  I collected a bunch of white plastic baskets and lavendar edged bamboo baskets that I already had.

The large blue box doesn’t match the color scheme and I am painfully aware of this – can you tell it’s in hiding back there? Anyway, it has toilet paper and extra tampons in it.  In front, tissues, swiffer cloths, paper towels, and disposable gloves.  On top of the box, left to right:  dental care, skin care, and hair care.

On the bottom, I have a row of white plastic baskets in the back row:  soaps; shampoo; shower gels; tampons; and baby wipes.  In the bamboo baskets in the front:  cosmetics; shaving supplies; bath sponges; deodorant; and cotton swabs.

(You have to do a special course to fold towels and neatly ironed sheets like that, I’m telling you, it’s a talent… 😉 Oh, whom am I kidding… I don’t waste too much energy on the hateful things!)  Hanging sheets on hangers is the only solution I could come up with since there’s a hanger bar but no shelves, but I’m okay with it for now.  I think that for $0.00, this is a solution that I can live with.  It freed up one whole pantry shelf, two craft-closet drawers, and bits of other storage here and there.  It’s also so organized that my husband can find things without having to ask.  (He is always asking me where things are, because I’m always moving them around.  When I showed him the finished result, he gave me the raised eyebrow.  He knows that it’s quite likely I’ll redo the whole thing in a few days weeks months.)

As for labels… I wanted to stick to the linen closet theme, and I had an old orphan lavendar pillowcase, so I took it apart and used the border to make mini pillows, with the label written on them.  Then I attached them to the baskets with a bright purple bow.  I only used about a tenth of the pillowcase fabric, so that leaves more fabric for other projects, and it didn’t cost anything.  And, to make them even more fun, there is actual lavendar inside the pillows, to keep everything smelling nice!

That’s my no-money linen closet organization makeover!

I’ll do an update on this if I ever get new towels and sheets! 😀

You might also like:
DIY Ziploc bag organizer
Before & after: craft closet

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Organize and Decorate EverythingA Delightsome LifeChic on a Shoestring DecoratingThe Shabby Nest

please just trust me on this one…

We don’t have running water right now. We don’t know when we will again.

I’ve talked about stockpiling food and I will be posting soon about stockpiling other household goods like toiletries and paper products. But I have a great opportunity right now to talk about why everyone – in Greece and out – should stockpile water at home.

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Think over the past 12 hours of your life. Now imagine those same 12 hours, without water. You could not flush the toilet, wash your hands, wash the dishes, put water in the coffee pot, boil pasta, or do the laundry. Now multiply that by all the members of your household.

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How quickly would your bathroom become unpleasant? How quickly would you start spending money to eat out, money perhaps that you had not budgeted for that purpose? How soon before you start calling around to your friends to see if you can take a shower at their house?

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Now imagine that instead of 12 hours, it was 12 days. And instead of just your household, it was everyone in your town. And not just houses – restaurants, hotels, and other businesses without water as well.

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Food is relatively cheap, easy to store, and people can actually survive without it for a surprisingly long time. And if you’re just looking to survive, the bulk of food that you need to consume is relatively low. A handful of raisins per day can keep you alive for months. If that weren’t true, many, many Greeks would never have survived the German occumpation of Athens during WWII.

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Water, on the other hand, is also cheap, but is very difficult to store, because of the amount we use. Running water is efficient, because it is easily controlled – it is decanted at an adjustable rate into a basin, sink, or bathtub. But storage water is very difficult to use. It has to be decanted by hand – whether ladled or poured – it lacks adjustable water pressure, is not aerated, and can be very difficult to control. It takes considerably more bottled water to rinse dishes than it does running water.

Add to that that our labor-saving devices, like washing machines and dishwashers, often use less water (especially when we use the energy efficient features) than handwashing clothes and dishes.

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Furthermore, storage space – especially in a city apartment – is a very big issue for many people. The amount of water a typical American family of four uses in a week would fill our entire bedroom. S and I used 15 cubic meters of water over the last 8 weeks, and we were trying very hard to conserve. That’s a quarter of a cubic meter per day, assuming aerated, easily controlled water, in devices like a dishwasher that conserves water anyway. We simply cannot store very much water in our apartment; it will not fit.

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Even if you have the space, water can be difficult to store for other reasons. It must be kept in foodsafe containers if you plan to use it for drinking, cooking, or rinsing dishes that will be used for eating. Foodsafe containers are expensive, and large ones are hard to find.

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And there is another problem. Water is extremely heavy. Even just a single six-pack of 1.5 liter bottles is a pain to carry around. Add in water to flush the toilet and to cook and do dishes…. it’s very difficult to move it around from place to place.

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We went to my in-laws for the three-day weekend. When we came home Monday night, we discovered that the pipes had frozen. The pipes are located on the outside of the building, something that we did not know (we’ve only lived here since August, and the landlord never told us that). We should have known better than to trust the pipes not to freeze, I suppose, and we should have left the water running. But we were out of town, and we didn’t know that the temperature would go so low, and we didn’t know that the pipes are outside.

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The landlord says that we can’t do anything except wait for the temperature to go far enough above zero for long enough that the pipes melt. He says that the pipes are not accessible, so trying to warm them with a blow dryer, or wrap them in rugs as a friend suggested I try, would not work. According to the current weather forecast, we have at least six days without water to deal with here.

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It’s amazing how quickly priorities arrange themselves.

Showers are completely out of the question. So is the dishwasher and the washing machine.

Toilets can be flushed on an absolutely-necessary basis. Luckily there are only two of us living here.

Food that can be prepared without water is ideal. Leftovers, pre-packaged foods, and things that can be cooked in the oven are good options.

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Food that can be served in such a way as not to dirty plates unnecessarily – so eating leftovers out of the container, canned food out of the can, jarred food out of the jar.

Things that I usually avoid turn out to be the things I want: prepared, packaged foods; paper towels; paper plates.

We are avoiding salty foods or adding salt to things, because that will make us thirsty. We are drinking water, but we are being conservative with it.

Dishwashing by hand is on hold, except on an as-needed basis. I have a fork and spoon; S has a fork and spoon.

A tip I read once on FerFAL’s famous blog suggests putting plastic wrap onto a plate and serving food on top of that. I may use this tip; so far I’ve been sticking to containers as dishes.

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I did not have enough water stockpiled. There were several reason for this:

When we lived on the island, I was obsessive about stockpiling water. A significant proportion of our tiny little cottage was bottled water. The water went out all the time there, and we relied on that water constantly. But the island’s tap water was also dangerous to drink, so we bought bottled drinking water, and I saved the bottles and filled them with tap water for stockpiling (for washing, flushing, etc). So I had tons of bottles on hand.

1. Here, the tap water is fine. We don’t purchase water for drinking. That means I don’t have lots of water bottles or foodsafe containers for water.

2. The city water system is pretty good. Unlike the island system, which was incredibly poor and often went out multiple times over the course of a week, here it’s just a regular city water system that never goes down (so far). So I didn’t feel that fear of losing our water. And I also didn’t have the experience of having no running water in the past here to prompt me to store a lot of water.

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I did store some, but as always, like pretty much everyone who finds themselves without running water, I underestimated how much water we would need. (Need. Not want.)

We bought 30 bottles (1.5 L each) Monday night so that we would have good drinking water. I’m saving the bottles, of course, and as soon as I have running water again, both #1 and #2 are going to be solved. I will have bottles, and I will have motive.

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However, I know – and you should know too – that the 50 or 60 liters of water that I’ll be able to store in those bottles including the ones I already had are nowhere near enough.

Storing food but not water is asking for trouble. And while you can do okay without food, or with a very small amount of food, water is absolutely essential for anything over just a few hours.

It’s also good to remember that a water delivery system can fail at any time.

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Right now, I have a miserable headcold that I’ve had since January 4. For almost a month, pretty much the best relief I’ve been able to find has been hot steamy showers. I don’t get to have those anymore. And I’m not in the best mood, either. Water shortages happen when you have a fever, when you have food poisoning or diarrhea, when you have your period, when you need to look presentable at work, when you have houseguests staying for a week, and when you have no extra money for eating out – or even for buying bottled water. They happen to you at the same time as they happen to your neighbors and your friends. They happen to you at the same time as they happen to your plumber’s other customers, and your local supermarket’s other bottled water purchasers.

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They happen in the summer too – on the island, and in other areas of Greece where I’ve lived, they were worst in the summer. That means when you’re hot and sweaty. And if you are relying on your own garden for food, you could lose everything if you can’t water it during a heatwave.

After air, water is up there in importance. A water panic can escalate very quickly.

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Could a water shortage happen in Greece for economic crisis-related reasons? Why not? In other countries with severe economic problems, water delivery has suffered. It may continue to come out of the tap, but be undrinkable or be full of bleach if more expensive ways of purifying it aren’t available, as FerFAL describes happening in Argentina after the economic collapse there.. It may be available only at certain times of day – when you might be at work. It may not be available to higher floors in apartment buildings, if the pressure is low.

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Water is a tough subject, because while we have it, it’s abundant; it’s a bear to store; and it can lead to issues of actual survival when it’s not around. With some planning in advance, you can at least buy some time during which you can try to get a reliable water supply again.

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Meanwhile, I am grateful for a friend across town who offered us showers, and for our neighbor (whose pipes did not freeze, as they were here using the water all weekend) who refilled our bucket for toilet flushing, and offered to do so as many times as necessary. (But: water is not cheap in Greece. We are being extraordinarily careful with the water we are being given. And as soon as I have water again, I’ll be baking them some very nice thank-you gifts.)

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But please, trust me when I say this: store water. Water is unpredictable. We are currently experiencing the coldest weather in 27 years. Not just Greece; all of Europe. In Poland it’s -30 C. That’s not normal, pipes are freezing everywhere. You’ll be glad to have it when you need it.

Please read the comments for some excellent reader tips!!

(I took these photographs on various islands in Greece; mostly the island of Kimolos, but also Milos, Kythnos, and Ios.)

I’m editing this on to add:  it’s now Thursday night.  We bought bottled water Monday evening.  Tonight, we went back to the supermarket for some other things, and of course, their bottled water was almost completely sold out!  That’s never happened before here.  So clearly we are not the only ones.  There were only a few bottles of Evian and the other really expensive brands left.  We still have about 17 bottles left of the 30 we bought, thank goodness!

This post is linking up with:

Chic on a Shoestring Decorating

frugal tips for crisis thrivers – part 3

Food Storage in Critical Greece

In my last frugal tips post, I gave you some standard, non-Greece-specific tips. But we are living in a special place at a special time, and that calls for some special tips!

I keep a price notebook (I’ll be sure to write a post about that soon!), so I know that the price of practically every product we buy has gone up at least once, and in some cases six times in the past six months.

I call that the increase in the price of food.  I can hear you thinking, “that’s dumb.  Just call it ‘inflation.'”  I thought of that… but “inflation” is a term that the government uses to mean the increase in the price of everything except the things you actually buy, like food and gasoline.

So, the increase in the price of food:  it’s a problem.  Because the price of food is always going up, buying more food now, even if it’s not on sale, will nearly always save you money over buying the exact same food later.

Who would have thought that the price of salt would go up by over 50% last year?  Salt.  The stuff that has been sitting in the salt mine or the sea for a few bazillion years.  It is neither getting harder to find nor more desirable.  There was no sales tax increase during that time, and the price of gas actually went down.  There is no rhyme or reason to price increases.

Unless “all prices will go up, all the time” is rhyme and reason enough for you.

Buy more now because it’s cheaper than buying it later.  That’s a tip you can take to the bank, unless the bank collapses.

Another big issue in Greece is the currency problem.  We use Euros right now to buy products, but we hear a lot of confused messages through the media about the future. Will Greece leave the Eurozone? No one seems to know – least of all those of us living here, trying to make things work on the ground – but no matter what we believe or to whom we listen, it would be foolish to pretend that there is not at least some level of doubt at this point as far as Greece’s future in the Eurozone.

If Greece ultimately chooses or is forced to leave the Eurozone, what would that mean?

Likely, it would mean hundreds of different things, some bad, some good, some completely unpredictable. But this post is dealing with food storage, so I want to address what affect Greece leaving the Eurozone would likely have on food storage strategies.

Right now, there is a good mix of products in the supermarkets: many are Greek, many are imported. The farmers’ market in our city has practically all Greek food items, and many imported non-food items. Some discount supermarkets, like Lidl, stock mostly imported items (but also some Greek items).

Greek supermarkets, both locally owned like Masoutis and AB, and those that belong to huge multinational corporations like Carrefour, all import products by sending Euros to their suppliers.  If they start sending drachmas, most likely European products will go up in price, potentially very high.  Right now, French meat is cheaper in Greece than Greek meat is.  But if the French are demanding €6 / kg, and the Greek supermarkets have to pay that in drachmas, they’ll have to charge a lot more drachmas to cover it.  Greek meat producers will be selling their meat in drachmas, meaning Greek meat will be much cheaper than French meat.  Greek consumers will choose Greek meat, and French meat will disappear from supermarket shelves.

That doesn’t matter to us, of course.  Meat is meat.  But if there are products that we buy that are imported, we may have to pay a great deal more in drachmas, relative to our income, than we pay now in Euros; or we may not even be able to find those products at all.  So nonperishable imported goods make great storage/stockpile items.

There’s another advantage to stocking up on imported goods.  We buy them because we like them and use them, but there will be others who won’t buy them for storage.  Those people may be willing to exchange other things for our stored imported goods.  Barter has already begun in several parts of Greece, and in some areas has always existed.  Having something other people want means you have “currency.”  The value of the product depends not on what you paid, but on how much the other person wants it.  So if it’s not available anywhere in the country, some people might want it badly.  

We don’t use a great deal of imported goods, but we use some.  Canned pineapple, canned and jarred jalapeno peppers, cranberry sauce, tampons, cheddar cheese.

Then there are all the products that say “Made in Greece” on them, but aren’t really.  Chocolate doesn’t grow in Greece; neither does coffee, but both claim to be made in Greece.  Both chocolate and coffee are likely to become more expensive if Greece leaves the Euro, and both make great trade items.

Another issue (that gives me goosebumps to think about) is the possible withdrawal of multinational corporations from the Greek food marketplace.  Carrefour and Lidl are the two multinational corporations in our city that I use.  It’s not unlikely that, in the event of a default and currency change, these companies could choose to leave Greece.  Lidl’s main competitor in many countries, the hard discounter Aldi, had a bunch of stores in Greece until only about a year ago.  Aldi chose to depart Greece, leaving Lidl without a serious competitor.  Several local companies have gone belly-up as well.

If Lidl and Carrefour decide that drachmas aren’t worth their time, the prices at Greek-based supermarkets, which of course are much smaller, could go up significantly without that competitive pressure.  So not only would we lose access to products that only those companies sell, but we may find ourselves paying more for everything at the stores that do remain.

That’s a reason to stock up on pretty much everything that won’t go bad.

Even if all the stores stay open, and all the various products, domestic and imported, stay on the shelves, a return to the drachma means that at least for a while, there will be a period of uncertainty, when the value of the currency will be changing and prices will be fluctuating.  During that time, having a sizeable stockpile of food at home that can keep our family going for a few months to a year will give us food security and allow us to hold on to whatever money, in whatever form, we can get.

While it’s easy to put out of our minds and say “nothing like that has happened so far, so it probably won’t happen,” preparing a stockpile doesn’t have any downsides.  We’re talking about food that doesn’t go bad, that’s stored properly according to what you use and like, that can potentially fill in for shortages, be used for trading / barter, and can allow us to go periods of time without spending money on food.  Since we’re buying this food when it goes on sale, we’re also saving money over buying it when we realize we need it.  And we’re buying it before the unavoidable increases in the price of food.  So we’re doing a good thing here, folks.

To sum up:  if the price of food is going up constantly, stay out in front of it as much as you can.   If it looks like your country might leave a strong currency for a low-worth currency, get in imported food, tradeable food, and … edible food.  It will be one fewer thing on your mind.

frugal tips for crisis thrivers – part 2

Food Storage Tips

Read my tips for Frugal Food Shopping here.

The best way to save money on food is to buy food when it’s on sale.  That means that you have to buy enough when it’s on sale to last until it’s on sale again.  And that means you have to be able to store it without it going bad.  This process is called “stockpiling.”  It’s not about hoarding or buying things you don’t need or won’t use.  It’s just about not paying full price for things you don’t absolutely have to.

  • Designate one or multiple areas of your home as food storage. This can be part of your kitchen, a storeroom, or any other area. You can store food in bins under your bed, in the ‘attic’ of a bathroom drop ceiling if accessible (make sure to protect from humidity), in closets, even in baskets tucked into your Ikea bookcases. If you, like many people living in Greece, have a small kitchen with a tiny refrigerator, don’t despair – many, many foods can be stored at room temperature over the long term with a few precautions.
  • What are good foods to stockpile? There are a few categories to go by:
    • Dry staple foods: pasta (white and whole wheat, spaghetti and shapes – the cheapest whole wheat pasta is AB’s store brand), rice (white, parboiled, basmati, and whole grain – the cheapest rice is the parboiled and basmati at Lidl when on sale), dried legumes (chickpeas, navy beans, lentils, yellow split peas [i.e., Greek fava / φάβα], black eyed peas; others if you can find them, like black beans (can be found at Bahar on Evripidou St. in Athens), kidney beans, green split peas), bulgur (a parboiled wheat product that can be added to salads or cooked with sauces, called pligouri / πληγούρι in Greek – best purchased from the laiki, as it’s very overpriced at supermarkets), unmilled wheat (if you have a grain grinder; even if you don’t, there are recipes you can make with this, but I grind it to make cheap and much more tasty whole wheat flour), oats.
    • Flours: all purpose flour, bread (hard) flour, whole wheat flour (if you don’t grind your own), cornmeal (the cheapest is AB’s store brand), cornstarch, almond flour. Note on flours: Put each package of flour into the freezer and leave it there for at least 48 hours, then store it normally in your pantry. This helps kill bug eggs that were in the package coming from the factory, which is extremely common and if left alone can lead to bugs in your flour!
    • Baking Supplies (some of these obviously can be in very small quantities, and others may not interest you at all): baking powder, baking soda, salt (table and coarse), spices and herbs (whatever you use), white granulated sugar, (cheapest at Lidl) dark brown sugar (cheapest at AB), molasses, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, chocolate chips, chocolate sprinkles, food coloring, vegetable shortening, gelatin sheets, citric acid, cocoa powder, etc.
    • Canned Goods: corn, kidney beans, tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, tomato paste, cranberry sauce – whole berry and jellied (only sold at AB and only around the holidays), jalapenos (canned at Carrefour, jarred at AB), pineapple, sour cherries, peaches, sweetened condensed milk, condensed milk. As a general rule, I avoid buying canned goods that are available dry, because they are usually cheaper dry, but I have never seen kidney beans cheaper dry than canned in Greece.  I buy the Kyknos brand of kidney beans for €0.67/can.
    • Jarred Goods: pickles, olives (usually best to get at the farmers’ market), capers (unless you live somewhere where you can collect your own!), jalapenos (AB), etc.
    • Sauces and Oils: olive oil, other cooking oils (Lidl sells peanut oil), vinegars (red, white, balsamic, apple), dijon mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, mayonnaise, etc.
    • Bread Products: factory sealed tortillas (Lidl has the best price when they have Mexican food on sale), breadsticks, paximadia (rusks); hamburger buns and sliced sandwich bread can be stored in the freezer.
    • Coffees and Teas: Greek coffee, filter coffees, espresso, instant coffees, tea bags, coffee whitener, coffee filters.
    • Beverages: soda water, seltzer, juices, wine, liquor, UHT milk, hot chocolate mix.
    • Nuts and Dried Produce: raisins, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, sundried tomatoes. Once you open a package of nuts, keep it in the freezer.
    • Frozen Foods: beef, ground beef, pork, ground pork, turkey, chicken, fish, frozen vegetables of all kinds, frozen berries, anything you find at the farmers’ market and buy too much of that freezes well (okra, mushrooms, spinach, pumpkin, green beans, brussels sprouts, sliced peppers, sliced zucchini, sliced eggplant), shredded cheese (the cheapest ‘parmesan’ copycat in Greece is shredded myzithra – trimmeni myzithra / τριμμένη μυζήθρα).
    • Refrigerator Foods: eggs (fresh eggs kept in the fridge can last up to 3 months), ultra-high pasteurized milk (will last until exp. date; or can be frozen indefinitely).

  • How to protect your stockpile: buy a bunch of dried bay leaves (dafni / δάφνη) and lay them out or tape them to your pantry shelves. Cheaper option:  find a friend with a laurel tree and dry the leaves yourself!)  Put a couple into each large flour jar. The bay leaves give off a smell that bugs hate, but which doesn’t get into the food and change the taste. These are a good additional insurance policy combined with freezing flours. Dried fruit are another good item for freezing for the same reason.

  • Always write the expiration date on the front of a can / package in clearly visible print. Store like items together in reverse order of expiration, so that the item first to expire is in front. As you add items, add to the back.

  • Your refrigerator foods are your first priority in terms of using them up, because they will go bad first. If you begin to suspect you cannot use up items in your fridge before they go bad, either freeze them as they are, prepare them in some way for freezing (chopping), or cook them and freeze the meals. Even just cooking and refrigerating the food will buy you a week usually, when the ingredient probably wouldn’t have lasted that long on its own! Never let anything go bad on you – that is money dumped straight into the trash can.

  • Your freezer foods are your second priority in terms of using them up. We all have limited freezer space, so making sure that we have room in there for the next great sale is a good idea.

  • It’s okay if your pantry stockpile keeps getting bigger and bigger – as long as things aren’t going bad, you’re just providing your family with increased food security.

  • Store bread in the freezer until it’s been opened; then store it in the fridge. Never store bread in a bread box or on the counter or any other place, because it will get stale and not only do you risk throwing it away, but it’s less filling when the moisture is gone, causing you to consume more of it.

    In my next Frugal Tips post, I’ll address the Greek-crisis-specific issues that we need to keep in mind, especially the “will Greece leave the Eurozone” question.

DIY ziploc bag organizer

If you’re an American living abroad, you probably miss Ziploc bags, zipped Hefty bags, and the like.  Here in Greece, they do sell zipped plastic bags, but they are godawful quality, the zip doesn’t really work, and they aren’t real freezer bags.  So if you’re like me, you beg your American friends and family to throw ziploc bags into anything they send you in the mail (“they make great packing material!”).  And then you end up with a pile of bags, but no real secure feeling of being able to replace them.  So you reuse them.  Enter the ziploc bag mess.

A scary pile of used ziploc bags gathering on the counter, begging to be washed.  No good way to dry them.  No good way to store them.  A drawer becomes home to a messy mixture of sizes.  When you want one, you have to pull out five before you find the right size.  Sometimes the ones you pull out of the drawer are still wet on the inside.  It’s enough to break your American heart.

After struggling with this mess for over two years, I found the solution:  my own personal  Ziploc Bag System!

First, let’s take a look at how I stored my bags before I finally tackled the problem.  I have a lot of kitchen cabinets (yay!) but am severely lacking in kitchen drawers – so much so that I don’t even put my forks and spoons in a drawer!  The bottom drawer is where I store my plastic wrap, aluminum foil, wax paper, wooden skewers, and plastic ice-cube bags.  And my bags.

Yeah.  That’s not really a long-term solution, is it?  I had been trying to come up with a solution for a long time.  I tried a number of things.  First, I organized them by size and put all the tiny ones into a small one, all the small ones into a medium one, all the medium ones into a large one, and so on.  That meant that to get a tiny one, I had to open about 5 bags and scrounge around trying to find the one I wanted.  It meant that the method was only effective for up to three days.

Then I tried rolling them by size and putting a rubber band around them, and storing each size separately.  Something about pulling the rubber band off, unrolling, taking out a bag, rerolling, rebanding, just didn’t appeal to my innate laziness.

Then I tried rolling them by size and putting them into toilet paper tubes.  1 point for reusing an otherwise recycle-bin item, but -10 points for being only marginally better than the rubber band method.   I briefly entertained the idea of using empty tissue boxes, but they were too bulky and we don’t go through tissues fast enough to generate enough boxes for all my sizes of bags.

The result of all these attempts was the same:

Yup.  Doesn’t look any better the second time.

Unrelated to my ziploc struggle, I also have another kitchen struggle:  that of breaking water glasses.  When we moved here, we didn’t own any glasses (or pretty much anything else, for that matter), so we bought 6.  Then about a month later, we bought another 6.  And so on.  The other day,  when I realized we were down to our last two glasses again, I found our supermarket’s storebrand glasses on sale for only €1 each – a steal, since up til then I’d been paying €2.30 each for the cheapest glasses they sold.  I grabbed a whole box of six – and after bringing home the box, I couldn’t just put it in the recycling bin.  It was too special.  It must have a greater purpose in life.

Well, now you see where I’m going with this.  After sitting on the kitchen counter for about 48 hours, I knew what its greater purpose was.  (Clarification:  the box sat on the kitchen counter for 2 days.  Not I.)

Supplies:

  • 1 repurposed water glass box, 6 sections
  • 1 piece of white contact paper
  • a razor blade
  • a crazy pile of ziploc bags

Total price:  free, baby!

Step 1:  cut your contact paper to the appropriate size.

Step 2:  attach contact paper to the box.  My super high-quality contact paper is very easy to work with, and peels right back up if there are bubbles or wrinkles, so this was a breeze.

Step 3:  admire your finished bag organizer!

I wasn’t quite done yet.  I still had that drawer to tackle.

Step 4: dump all ziploc bags into a pile for sorting.

Step 5: sort your bags by size.  Since I had seven sizes but only six sections in my box, I combined the half-gallon (top right) and the tall skinny (bottom left), since I only had a few of each.

Step 6:  roll each group of bags and put in the dividers, with the largest in the back.

The entire project took about ten minutes, start to finish, and was free, because I had the contact paper on hand.

With such a lovely new home, my bags don’t need to hide in the drawer.  So I found them a more convenient home, which will save me aggravation in the kitchen.

If this picture confuses you, remember:  this is Greece.  There are no laundry rooms.  Washing machines go in the bathroom or, if you’re lucky, the kitchen.  I’m extremely lucky, because my washing machine goes next to my dishwasher.  If you’re wondering about the clothes dryer, forget it.  This is frugal living.  We use the sun.

Before I even tackled the bag organization problem, I had to deal with the washing/drying problem.  In the past, when we lived on a tiny, beautiful Greek island, I would hang them on the clothesline on our veranda, where they would dry gracefully in the breeze.  Now we live in a city, and our balcony overlooks a major street.  They can dry there too, but with an invisible layer of city street grime that I’d prefer not to eat, since I have to wear it anyway.

Do you know how to wash a ziploc bag?  Here’s what I do:  first, rinse out any bits of food.  Then, put a few pumps of dishwashing foam in the bag, and fill it about 1/3 with water.  Close the zip, and massage the bag with your hands, getting the soap into all the corners.  Dump out the water, and rinse.

Then, hang it on the handy ziploc drying line that you’ve got over your kitchen sink!

I usually hang them inside out first, and then turn them right side out and hang again to dry the outside.  Since I keep my clothespins on my washing machine (which is about a foot to the right of the photo), it’s all very convenient.

And when there are no bags to dry, it pretty much fades into the background.  (Please disregard the pizza dough I’m rising on the counter….)

It’s also a handy way to hang pretty much anything that needs to dry quickly and you don’t want to put outside on the line.

To make this, I just used a white cord (€0.50 at Jumbo in the gift-wrapping section) and two no-drill stick-on hooks (€4.95 each at Praktiker) – these hooks are expensive, but they are reusable and we are renting, so can’t drill holes in the tile.  They hold a lot of weight and actually hold up our shower organizer with all the shampoo and soap bottles, so they’re a great thing to have.  In the US, I think they’re called “command hooks.”

That’s all there is to it, and the line can be removed easily if needed.

Let’s take a look at that drawer again:

Much better!

Remember:  if you are trying to save money, washing and reusing bags is a great way to save money.  But make sure you’re not taking any risks with your health.  I don’t store raw meat in these.  For that, I use regular non-zip bags, which I then put inside a ziploc.  I also sometimes put a little bit of bleach in the water if I think it’s necessary.  Use your judgement, and if you think a bag may have lived its food-storage life, repurpose it in your craft room or another area of your home.

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