1.15.2018

Building a Homekeeping Library

I'm one of those rare individuals who not only enjoys cleaning, but also enjoys reading about it. (I'm a riot at parties)! Truthfully, though, the act of cleaning and getting your house in order can be an enjoyable process once you've learned to appreciate the benefits and rewards they bring: not only do you achieve an aesthetically-pleasing space but one that is easy to navigate, simple to maintain and comfortable to live in. By reading about some of the best practices for cleaning, organizing and maintaining a home, I've come to understand some of the best ways to do "chores" as well as how often to do them, what tools to use, even what thoughts to keep in mind while doing them!
Building a homekeeping library is something I've done over a period of time. I didn't go out and buy every single book on cleaning and organizing I could find. Instead, I've curated a small library of good reference materials that I do source often for good advice or for a refresher in the philosophy of clutter-free living. Below are the books and publications I have in my own personal library that I find informative and inspirational with a brief description of each.

1. Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook

It should really go without saying that "Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbookis essential to every homeowner or apartment dweller. I refer to it constantly in my own pursuit of domestic organization and I recommend it to every new homeowner, including to young friends of mine who may be moving into their first apartment. Put simply, the book has all the answers to all the questions any homeowner or renter might conceivably have about the maintenance, layout and function of a home's exterior and interior spaces. It contains specific, detailed instructions and how-to's for all forms of cleaning and organization. It has checklists, timelines and trusted techniques that are beautifully presented in an organized and well-formatted book that is encyclopedic in scope and size. If you only get one book on the subject of homekeeping, get this one.

2. Laundry by Cheryl Mendelson

The author of "Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping Home" (another book worth adding to your library) also penned this 400 page book on the subject of laundry. Not only does the book instruct you on how to wash literally every form of textile in your home (from the canvas of your shoes to the fabric of your drapes, to every form of carpet and rug and table cloth) it also deconstructs and evaluates the chemical compositions and effects of the various detergents and solvents we use to clean those textiles. Every form of washing is researched at length, from hand washing to every cycle of the washing machine to every cycle of the dryer: every type of stain and every single way that stain can be removed. It's the most comprehensive book on laundry ever written and the information here is invaluable. "Laundry" will truly change the way you think about your clothing and how you do laundry.

3. Good Things for Organizing by Martha Stewart Living

All of the best organizing tips from the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine are gathered into this slim but inspiring volume of tips and ideas. Good Things for Organizing does a great job of incorporating truly innovative solutions that blend seamlessly into the way your home functions and looks, often using items you already have around the house or old pieces of furniture whose purpose you may want to reevaluate before relegating it to that upcoming garage sale. For instance, I love how the editors converted an old armoire into a charming hideaway office or how they made attractive bulletin boards for the bedrooms, the home office and the kitchen. The book is organized by room: kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom, etc., with simple but inspired ideas for how to keep those spaces functional and livable. The book has a warm feeling to it - it respects the notion of "home". Anyone who loves to DIY or craft as much as they love to organize will find lots of great project ideas here, too, from building your own shelves and storage units to converting an old hutch into a media center.

4. Organizing - a Martha Stewart Living Special Issue

The Organizing special issue that Martha Stewart Living magazine published in 2012 is an updated adjunct to the aforementioned Good Things for Organizing book, which was published in 2000. The contents here are also organized by room. There are an additional 12 years of organization and homekeeping ideas from the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine that have been gathered into this collectible supplemental issue that are worth having; it feels updated and modern. Advertisement-free, it is basically a book in its own right. The magazine can often be found on eBay or Etsy, or from private sellers on Amazon.

5. Clotheskeeping - a Martha Stewart Living Special Issue

Another publication worth tracking down is the 1998 "Clotheskeeping" supplement that was published by Martha Stewart Living. Though nowhere near as comprehensive as Cheryl Mendelson's Laundry book, it succeeds where Mendelson's book falls a bit short: inspiration. In addition to examining all the basic washing, drying and folding techniques, the publication examines subjects like the classic white shirt and how to know when something fits. It looks at shoe care and how to store vintage clothing, the various kinds of wool and how to update tired garments with new buttons, collars and embellishments. There are craft projects and an inspiring look at buttons, too. This magazine is harder to find but copies do show up on eBay and Amazon from time to time.

6. Remodelista: The Organized Home

Published late last year, the latest book by Remodelista is all about how to organize the spaces in your home to make them more functional. Employing a "less-is-more" approach, the constant push towards minimalism in Remodelista: The Organized Home can at times feel a bit anemic but the principle of the book and its multitude of ingenious little ideas makes it worth having. The book is not at all prosy - staying true to its minimalist nature - and relies instead on bright, crisp imagery of a perfectly-organized pantry or closet to say what it needs to say. The chapters are divided by rooms and there is a definite emphasis on paring down to the most essential of essentials. The book advocates natural cleaning, living in a plastic-free environment and investing in quality storage that is also stylish. Remodelista has a very definite and recognizable brand and it may not be for everyone: pared-down rooms awash in neutrals with not a stitch out of place. I've personally adopted several ideas from the book already and even if I have no intention of having a DIY cocktail drawer or a colour-coded fridge, the ideas are worth the read.

7. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

This bestseller took the world by storm a couple of years ago and once I found out what it was about, I had to have it in my collection. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was written by professional organizer Marie Kondo, who lives and works in Japan. Essentially, it is about the "Japanese art of decluttering and organizing" but it is much, much more than that. It is a philosophy book. Although it does offer up some step-by-step advice on getting rid of things you no longer need or want, its primary purpose is to get you to think differently about your "stuff": treating objects as though they have energy or a kind of life force of their own. Throwing your clothes on the floor, for instance, is a sign of disrespect for that object; even hanging your sweaters, which leads to stretching and pulling, is a form of abuse. Folding them is a much gentler and kinder option. The book forces you to look at the objects you keep near you as things that have the potential to be sacred. If they are not sacred and have no purpose, they are taking away from your enjoyment of life and sapping you of energy. I find the philosophy to be very positive. My criticism of the book is that too often the solution is to "throw it away." In today's world, the concept of donation and/or recycling would have been a more responsible suggestion. Also, not everyone will be inclined to organize the way Kondo suggests: putting everything of one type (clothes, books, shoes, papers) into a giant pile in the middle of the floor and sorting this way. I'm sure it is effective but it requires absolute devotion and the strictness of her insistence of doing it this way - and only this way - may put some readers off. The book is well worth a read, however, as I do believe it has the power to alter your way of thinking about how we live with objects.

8. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

Scandinavians are known for their organization habits, which is why I trust everything Margareta Magnusson says about the subject of decluttering. That, and the fact that she is "somewhere between the age of 80 and 100." The idea of preparing one's home for an eventual death may sound very morbid, but the book is for all ages. Stemming from the widespread reality of households with too much stuff, the book makes it okay to let go of those things we have forgotten or no longer need or use. The motivation? Getting your house in order before you die so that your family and friends are not left to deal with it once you're gone. By dealing with your surroundings in the here and now, you will also be able to leave the world knowing that what you have is all that you need and want - no extraneous baggage weighing you down, literally or figuratively. And it's never too early to start to minimize, reduce and be mindful of what we bring into our homes to keep. Much like Marie Kondo's book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is a philosophical one. It forces us to look at our surroundings - and the objects contained within - as reflections of ourselves and by doing so enables us to shed what feels wrong or ugly or obstructive.

My home is always a work in progress and there is always a cupboard that could be put to better use, a drawer that could be edited or a storage box that could probably be emptied, but I'm happy with how my home looks and functions, for the most part. Still, these books are nice companions to have in my pursuit of a good, clean, functional living space and I still refer to them for inspiration and ideas. I hope you will too!

1.11.2018

Throwback Thursday: Martha by Mail Kits

Lovers of the Martha by Mail catalog will no doubt remember the vast array of craft kits that was created for the venture. It was Martha's ingenious idea to create kits containing all of the materials needed for various craft projects shown in the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine. From handmade soaps to lip balms, paper flowers to Valentine's Day quilling projects, there was probably a Martha by Mail kit to help you create whatever your heart desired. Each kit included a fully-illustrated instruction booklet to help you complete the project, step by step. One of the best kits - and one of the first - was the pie-making kit, which came with a Martha by Mail pie tin, a pastry brush, all of the tools necessary for making a pie and a copy of "Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts" book, which contained recipes for her best-loved pies. On this Throwback Thursday, I thought I'd share a few of the kits here. Was there a kit you especially loved? Let me know in the comments section!

1.04.2018

Win a Trip to Norway & Spend Time with Martha!

Martha Stewart has teamed up with Prizeo to support the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. Click here to enter to win a trip for two to Norway where you'll spend time with Martha touring the seed vault with the scientists behind its inception. The contest is open to all nationalities and the trip will take place in February. You'll also join Martha on a polar tour, a northern-lights viewing reception and a day of outdoor fun, dog-sledding and exploring a glacial cave! You only have to donate $10 to have your name entered into the contest!
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, shown above, is located near Longyearbyen, Norway, the northernmost town on the planet, just 1,800 from the North Pole. Carved deep into the side of a mountain, its purpose is to preserve seeds of the world's plant life and crops for future generations, in case of a cataclysmic event.
The vault is built deep in the side of Plataberget mountain to protect it from any sort of doomsday scenario.

Below is Martha's letter to prospective contest entrants:

Ever wondered what precautions are being taken to safeguard our food supply for the future? In a town of 1,100 people on a remote Norwegian island just 1,800 miles from the North Pole lies the answer—the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. 
Carved deep into the side of a mountain close to Longyearbyen, the northernmost town on the planet, is a magnificent concrete structure housing seeds from nearly every country in the world. This February, I want to invite you to Norway for a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to the Seed Vault.
We'll will fly you and a friend to Oslo and cover your hotel and transportation, then we'll be off on the incredible expedition that includes a private tour of the vault, intimate discussions with leading food scientists and global policy makers, Michelin-rated dinners and a champagne reception to view the Northern Lights, intimate discussions with leading food scientists and global policy makers, and even a day of adventures including a polar bear tour, dog sledding, and exploring glacial cave - It’s a trip you'll never forget!
All it takes is a $10 donation to support The Crop Trust’s work in protecting the seeds that will guarantee our food supply. If you want to donate more, you’ll earn extra entries to win, plus get some cool exclusive outerwear and more. It’s my way of saying thank you for supporting this organization’s important conservation efforts.
Bundle up—it’s cold in Norway in February! Sees snart! (That’s Norwegian for “See you soon”!)
—Martha

The January/February Issue + Special Issue Revisited

The January-February issue of Martha Stewart Living is on newsstands now and it's an ode to fresh starts! Simple soups, dinner for two, Valentine's Day crafts, knitting projects and delicious sweets for your sweetie - the issue has it all!
Also, look for the special Organizing issue that is back by popular demand. It was first published in winter, 2016, and is back on newsstands. If you already have it - get it for a friend!

1.02.2018

Daily Habits for a Tidier Home

Ten things you can do every day to help make your surroundings a little more tidy:

1.       MAKE THE BED EVERY MORNING
It may seem obvious, but making the bed is one of the best ways to keep your bedroom looking tidy. The bed is the focal point of every bedroom and when the bed is messy, the room looks messy. Getting in the habit of making the bed every morning starts the day off with a sense of accomplishment and you’ll be more inclined to keep the rest of the house tidy as well.
Good Housekeeping

2.       WIPE DOWN THE BATHROOM ONCE A DAY
After you’ve finished getting ready in the morning, take two or three minutes to simply wipe down the mirror, the sink and the counter with a cloth and a cleaning solution. Keep a caddie of cleaning supplies and a roll of paper towels or a cleaning cloth under the sink so you don't have to search for them. You may also want to keep a small broom and a dustbin under the sink for quickly sweeping up the floor. Doing this daily will keep the buildup of grime on your fixtures at bay. When it comes time for a more thorough cleaning at the end of the week, your time will have been cut in half!

3.       DO A LOAD OF LAUNDRY EVERY DAY
Laundry can easily pile up if it is not regularly addressed. The simple rule of doing one load of laundry a day will minimize dirty-laundry pileup greatly. Be sure to allocate some time to finish the load completely: wash and dry and put away. Doing one load a day will prevent the need for a ‘wash day’ where multiple loads must be done: this is time consuming and can really feel like a chore.

4.       HAVE A SPOT FOR DIRTY LAUNDRY
How many of us have thrown our dirty socks or t-shirts on the floor, or just stuffed them into a closet or a drawer without even thinking about it? Having a spot to toss your dirty laundry (a hamper in your bedroom or a laundry basket in a closet) keeps it all in one spot. When it comes time to do the laundry, there is no rummaging around for dirty clothes to wash and it keeps your rooms looking tidy throughout the week.
The White Company

5.       CLEAN AS YOU COOK
This may sound challenging, or even distracting, but it’s quite simple. As you’re cooking, simply be mindful about where you’re placing the items you’ve used. For example, put the spices back into the spice rack once you’ve finished with them; put condiments back into the fridge the moment you’ve finished using them; quickly rinse and dry the cutting board while the sauce is simmering and quickly wipe the counter of any spills and crumbs while the roast is in the oven. This will make washing up a much simpler task after dinner.

6.       EMPTY THE DISHWASHER EVERY NIGHT BEFORE BED
How nice it is to start the day with an empty dishwasher! After dinner and before bed, run a dishwasher cycle and be sure to empty it before you tuck in for the night. This way, when you wake up the next morning, all the dishes are clean and at the ready. You may also be in a rush in the morning and may not have time to empty the dishwasher. Emptying the dishwasher the night before prepares you for the following day: you’ll wake up to a clean kitchen and clean dishes, and all the breakfast dishes can go into the empty dishwasher. (If you don’t have a dishwasher, the same principle still applies: wash, dry and put away the dirty dishes before you go bed each night.)


7.       TIDY THE KITCHEN BEFORE BED
Once the dishwasher has been loaded and the cycle has begun, take ten minutes to quickly tidy the kitchen. Make sure everything is put back into the pantry and the refrigerator, clean the counters and wash up any large pots and pans and then put them away. Finally, sweep the floor. At the end of the dishwasher cycle, put the dishes away. You’ll wake up to a clean kitchen with everything at the ready.

8.       HAVE A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING – AND PUT THINGS AWAY
It may take some time to get organized, but design your home so that everything has a specific place: magazines go in the magazine rack; books go on the shelf; toys go into the toy chest, DVDs go in the cabinet, etc. If you don't have a spot for something yet, create one. In much the same way you have designated a kitchen cupboard for your dishes and a jewelry box for your jewelry, make similar decisions in other rooms in the house: clear a drawer in the bedroom to store electronic devices, headphones and batteries, or designate a plastic bin in the spare room for craft supplies. Making sure there is a place where everything “lives” - and that everyone in the household knows where those places are - will make it much easier to put things away once you’ve finished using them.
greenfrogcleaning.com

9.       START A DONATION BIN
Keep a box or a bag in a storage closet, the laundry room or the basement where you can place items for donation: clothing or books or items that are in good condition but that you no longer use or need. Try adding one item a day: a book, a sweater you never wear, a stuffed animal that's been outgrown. Once the box is full, donate it to your local charity or take it to a donation bin. This will help reduce clutter in the home and keep you aware of the items you find useful and those you don’t.

10.       KEEP JUNK MAIL OUT
Junk mail can easily pile up. Often it collects on the kitchen counter, the dining room table or the coffee table. Sort the mail as soon as you remove it from your mailbox and quickly separate the flyers and the ‘junk’ from the bills and correspondence. Before coming into the house, toss what you don’t want into the recycling bin. If you do enjoy looking through flyers, a recycling basket can be set up where the mail is usually sorted. The flyers and ads can be easily tossed into the basket once they’ve been browsed. 

Adopting even a few of these measures and making them part of your daily routine will help keep you organized and your surroundings looking their best. 

12.29.2017

A Treasured Scrapbook

Recently, during my parents' move to a new house, we unearthed something quite astonishing and meaningful: three beautiful scrapbooks that had been put together by my great grandmother in England during the late 1940s and early 1950s. They were sent to Canada to my grandmother (my great-grandmother's daughter) in 1956 with a letter explaining that she wanted her grandchildren (my mother and my aunt) to have them. 

Each page of each scrapbook is filled to brimming with the most perfectly-cut images. One book is devoted to flowers. One is devoted to houses. And the third is devoted to depictions of childhood: children, birthday cakes, etc. It was the flower book that most charmed me when my mother and I came across it in her new basement as we were opening boxes together. I thought it would be nice to share some of the pages with you. Below are some photos of the books. You can see how each flower was painstakingly cut out and pasted in a pleasing composition to the page. We are not sure what sort of adhesive my great grandmother used, but it has stood the test of time! Nothing is even remotely coming loose. Enjoy the photos!

12.26.2017

A First Look at Martha's Next Book: "Martha's Flowers"

On February 27th, Martha's 91rst book will be published. "Martha's Flowers" is Martha's second book on the art of floral arrangement. Unlike the first book, "Arranging Flowers", which was published in 1999, the new book will provide tips for planting and growing your favourite flowers, as well as arranging them. Martha worked with her friend and colleague Kevin Sharkey on the book. He is known for his spectacular arrangements and is often charged with the lucky task of harvesting and arranging flowers at Martha's homes before parties and events.

My friend David Pantoja received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher and I'm pleased to share his photos of the book here: an exclusive first look! (Thank you, David!) He tells me the book is absolutely gorgeous, very reminiscent of "Martha's Entertaining", which was published several years ago, with many photographs of Martha's homes.
The book is hardcover with 288 pages of full-colour photographs.
A photo of Martha planting hundreds of bulbs at her farm in Bedford, New York.
One of Kevin's beautiful arrangements.
Another arrangement at Skylands, Martha's home in Maine. I'm so looking forward to this book!