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25 Tips for Organizing and Storing Holiday Decorations

After the ham is served and the presents are opened, there comes a time for all of this merriness to come down. Alas, putting away your holiday decorations is nowhere near as fun putting them up, but it doesn’t have to be as disorganized and scattered as it was last year. Look to these tips for organization tips that will help you store you holiday decorations with ease. After all, storing them properly makes it easier to find them when next December rolls around.

Tips on How to Pack Christmas Ornaments

    1. Take down all of your ornaments at once. Instead of taking down ornaments and packing them one by one, take them all down at once and lay them on a table or on the couch. Make sure small children aren’t nearby where they can ruin decorations or worse, swallow small parts.

    2. Wrap ornaments. Each ornament should be wrapped in tissue paper or newspaper to keep it in perfect condition.

    3. Place light ornaments on bottom. Start a layer in the box with the lightweight ornaments first. On top of these add the heavier ornaments and end with your most fragile ornaments.

    4. Be careful with fragile ornaments.Very old or fragile ornaments like ceramic or porcelain pieces should be wrapped and packed tightly in smaller boxes. Mark the boxes fragile, so family members will be careful if they come across them when searching for other decorations or items in the garage or attic.

    5. Group like ornaments together. Sets of ornaments should be stored together. This way if you decide to deck the tree out in wooden apples, they’re all together versus digging through all of your boxes to find the dozen.

    6. Remove the hooks. If you have your kids help with removing ornaments, be sure they remove the hooks before wrapping and storing them.

    7. Reuse your hooks. There’s no reason for hooks to get lost. Keep them in a small plastic container and place them in the last box of ornaments you pack away so they’re accessible for the following year.

    8. Store ball ornaments loosely. With cheap ball-style ornaments, you don’t have to be quite as careful, so feel free to store these in a long plastic tube or place them in a flat box meant to be stored under the bed.

    9. Divide special ornaments from ordinary ornaments. This allows you to put all of your favorite ornaments up before throwing on the filler ornaments.

More Tips for Storing Holiday Decorations

Packing away decorations can be made easier when you have an idea of what the heck to do with all of the stuff. Instead of getting overwhelmed, follow these simple tips for storing holiday decorations.

    10. Store like items together. We don’t mean items that are alike (such as all snowflakes or all snowmen), but items you normally display together. If you usually put the nativity scene and snow globes on a certain table, pack away those items together.

    11. Wrap all items. Ideally, you should wrap each decoration in tissue paper or newspaper. If you can’t do that, ensure you wrap glass or any fragile items with layers of paper to prevent them from breaking.

    12. Use plastic boxes that stack. Stacked boxes make it easier to store away items. In some cases, the plastic boxes click together, locking the boxes to one another. This makes it easier to bring in or take out a few at a time.

    13. Access what can go. Before you put your items away, access what you didn’t put on display this year and why. It’s time to cut the fat in order to avoid eating up space with your storage boxes wherever they sit the majority of the year.

    14. Use the same boxes. For holiday decorations, use a certain type of box or a designated color. If you already own boxes that match up with other storage items, wrap a red ribbon or label the box with what’s inside.

    15. Decide how specific you want to get with labels. Figure out what works for you. You can simply tag the box “Christmas decorations” or get more specific such as “DIY ornaments” or “Christmas decorations for living room coffee table”.

    16. Don’t overstuff boxes. You don’t want your items to get squashed should the boxes be shuffled around (it’s for this reason, we love those interlocking boxes). Don’t overstuff decorations in a box. Instead, figure out how much comfortably fits in each box before packing it to the brim.

    17. Never put fragile items at the top or bottom. Never store fragile decorations as the top or bottom layer of a box. Placing a layer of items above and below allows for padding for your breakable pieces.

    18. Snag extra hooks and ribbons during sales. If you ran short on hooks or ribbons to hang decorations or ornaments, grab extras during post-holiday sales and put them away with decorations so they’re a breeze to find next year.

    19. Have a box of go-to decorations. You never know what the following year may bring. Have a go-to box holiday decorations that make your home festive without pulling out every decoration you’ve acquired over the years.

    20. Wind Christmas lights. Take your decorative lights and wind them around your hand or a broken down box. Then place the lights (coiled) in a box and leave them alone. Avoid packing too many together, which can tangle if the boxes get shaken up.

    21. Keep sentimental decorations together. Items that were made by your kids in their youth or ornaments from your own childhood should be stored in smaller boxes and kept indoors. Instead of jumbling them with them with the big plastic boxes, keep this small box in your hall closet or bedroom closet where the items will be safe.

    22. Organizing holiday decorations doesn’t have to cost a fortune. If plastic boxes are too much of an investment for you after all of your holiday spending, swing by your local grocery or big box store and ask for leftover large boxes. Most are happy to help.

    23. Place small items in smaller boxes. You can put all of the small boxes in a big box, but help protect (and make it easier to find) your small decorations by putting them in shoe boxes. This allows the items to stay in a confined area versus rolling about a big box.

    24. Wrap your wreath in a plastic bag. This prevents it from becoming crazily dusty after sitting in the garage or attic for a year.

    25. Wipe down outdoor decorations. Give outdoor decorations a quick wipe down with a wet rag to get them in tip-top condition when they’re pulled out next year .

Storing holiday decorations doesn’t have to be a drag. Have a plan and go in when you have the time to devote to putting decorations away carefully. There’s nothing worse than being in a mood and ending up with a box full of mangled decorations when you’re trying to feel cheery the next holiday season.

23 Tips for Getting Your Fridge and Freezer Organized

When you’re home from a long day at the office and the kids are clamoring for dinner, it can be tough to navigate the black hole that is the freezer and many parts of the average fridge. At the grocery store, we’re ripe with confidence that cauliflower and buttermilk will somehow make their way into our recipes, but often these items simply clutter the space and end up going bad because as the old adage goes – out of sight, out of mind.

Check out our list of tips to get your fridge and freezer organized, making them more functional for your family. After all, if they can see it, they will probably eat it! And the same goes for your peering in after a draining day and coming up with something to cook versus ordering the greasy takeout.

Prep Work Before Food Hits the Fridge

Whether it’s tweaking your grocery store shopping habits or planning things out, there are several steps you can take to cut down on the food that gets lost in the fridge or freezer.

    1. Buy what your family eats. We all have great aspirations for what we may or may not be able to do in the kitchen, but hitting the grocery store after spending the day watching Food Network may put a lot of ingredients in your fridge and freezer that you won’t end up using. Be honest with yourself and what your family regularly consumes when shopping for groceries.
    2. Plan out your meals. Not every meal, but weeknight dinners should definitely be planned out. If you aren’t used to cooking at home, grab a magnetized note pad to go on the fridge with a loose draft of what you’re cooking each night. This gives you direction at the store, so you only buy what you need and are planning to eat in the near future.
    3. Buy freezer bags. Clunky plastic containers simply take up too much space to bother with. When it comes to freezing veggies, sauces or meats, stick them in freezer bags to maximize your space. You can stack the bags or have them all facing with the zip tops up, like rows of books.
    4. Always scan for doubles. You’re headed out the door and need an ingredient for a recipe. Let’s say it’s salsa. Always run to the fridge and double check it isn’t lurking somewhere in there. Having doubles means there’s something that isn’t being used, thus taking up space and going rotten.
    5. Pull everything out. It isn’t a fun task, but before you can get truly organized, you must haul everything out of the fridge and freezer and see what you have. Clear the counters, so there’s plenty of space to view everything clearly.
    6. Dump what’s not being used. Obviously, this won’t be as brutal as parting with clothing, but get rid of anything that stinks, is passed it’s expiration date or your family tasted once and hated.
    7. Check for items that don’t have to be refrigerated. Items like Tabasco and fish sauce often find their way into the fridge, but they don’t actually have to be kept cold to stay good. If you’re short on space, store these items in your pantry or cabinets versus taking up precious fridge space.
    8. Wipe it down and soak drawers. If you’re pulling everything out anyway (and you definitely should be), go ahead and wipe down the shelves and soak the fridge crisper drawers and shelves. Ideally you should do a serious cleanup of the fridge every six months.

How to Organize Your Fridge

The inside of the fridge…just the thought makes us cringe. Not because it’s a space that gets especially dirty, but because it’s often so disorganized that finding anything is a chore and is bound to bring on a frustrated string of sighs. Don’t flip out just yet! These organization tips will get your fridge in check.

    9. Get compartments.Your fridge is equipped with some compartments, but when it comes to all of the sandwich goodies or if your family eats an abundant amount of fruits or veggies, you may need extra space. Hit a home goods store for plastic compartments that can store these things so they aren’t loose and tossed all over the place. Let everyone in your family know what goes in each new compartment so they can put things back where they belong.
    10. Store like items together. You do this with your closet, so why not your fridge? Put sandwich goodies in one compartment, all fruits together, do the same with veggies and condiments.
    11. Put the items that are used most at the front. The items that your family reaches for several times a day, such as milk or hummus, should go towards the front of the fridge. While you want to maximize your space, you also want to make the items that are regularly consumed accessible.
    12. Get a system going. Think of it this way – first place the main course (meats and eggs), then sides (extra veggies, boxes of broth), working your way up. On the top shelf should be items for sandwiches and condiments that are in jars or don’t fit in the side shelves.
    13. Avoid stacking things to high heaven. If you have small things like yogurt or pudding cups, it’s best to store them in rows versus stacking them so they spill over every time someone opens the fridge. If you must stack, take it no higher than two cups, including the one that’s on bottom.
    14. Make the most of shelves. Store bottles according to how they fit in the shelves. This may take a little playing around to get right, but instead of going by size or what’s in the bottles, it’s best to store them in a manner that efficiently utilizes the space. This allows slim bottles to be tucked into small spaces that would go unused otherwise.
    15. Keep bread over to the side. If you store your bread in the fridge (or other bread products like bagels or tortillas), put them over to one side. If you try to make room for them on the center of a shelf, they’ll eat up too much space.
    16. Condense doubles. If you have two half-eaten jars of pickles, but all of the pickles are still good, throw them all in one jar. This way you aren’t wasting delicious pickles, but you are making more room in your fridge.
    17. Store tall items at the back. We like this because it allows you to see nearly everything that’s in your fridge at a glance. While it won’t work for everyone, it is something worth trying since a tiered system puts more food in your line of vision for consuming.
    18. Slice and prep your veggies when you get in from the store. OK, maybe not the minute you get in from the grocery store, but setting aside a mere half hour to slice and dice the veggies in your fridge can save you from digging through the crisper and having them go bad (because they roll to the back of the crisper). Slice veggies and put them in zip top plastic bags, allowing even young kids to pop in and grab a handful of carrot sticks or cucumber slices.

How to Organize Your Freezer

The freezer’s no picnic either. Items get lost for years in the back of the freezer, so it’s time to go in and clean house. Make appropriate use of your freezer because we promise, it has a purpose besides serving as a haven for freezer burned meats and desserts.

    19. Eat what you can. A lot of food can last for ages in the freezer. Meats and last up to six months and can go even longer if stored in air tight containers. Veggies can last up to a year and a half, so if all else fails, create a stew or soup with what you pull out of the freezer and nosh on it throughout the work week or take it for lunch .
    20. Keep frozen meats over to one side. Like with breads, you don’t want to store meats down the center of the space because they take up too much space and can get pushed to the back. Keep all of your meats over to one side, preferably whatever side your freezer door opens on so it’s always visible.
    21. Label your sauces. Because different sauces can look the same, it’s best to label and date them so you know what’s what when you need a quick fix for supper.
    22. Label already cooked meats. For the same reasons as the above and because your spouse may not know the difference between ground taco meat and beef ragu when you tell him or her to take it out to defrost.
    23. Get used to frozen vegetables. You can buy them organic and they’re just as fresh as veggies purchased in the produce department. The bottom line is they last far longer than fresh vegetables, so if you get a wild hair and don’t follow through on that ratatouille this week, your ingredients will still be good to go when you’re ready .

Don’t bother waiting for spring cleaning to get your fridge and freezer organized. Set aside a couple of hours to do a good job and you won’t have to face it again for a few months. If you implement the organizational tips offered here, you’ll seldom throw out food or be stuck picking up fast food because what’s available and ready to go in your fridge will be visible.

Perfect Pantry: 80 Essential Ingredients for a Well-Stocked Kitchen

A well-stocked kitchen means there’s always something to snack on or whip up, whether it’s 2am or two in the afternoon. While this list may seem lengthy to be deemed essentials, it packs in everything your kitchen needs in order to be on alert for surprise dinner guests or cooking up cupcakes for your kid’s extra curricular activity. It also means less dining out, since there will always be ingredients for a simple dinner or delicious dessert ready to go.

We put together an extensive list of things you need, but have omitted basics that are probably already there such as milk and eggs.

Spices Cupboard

If you aren’t familiar with go-to spices, you want to get acquainted starting now. Spices can make all the difference in your cooking and can take a cheap cut of meat from drab to fab. Technically, they aren’t all spices, but they’re all used to add a kick to main dishes, soups and stews.

  1. Garlic powder.
    For those evenings when you aren’t in the mood to mince fresh garlic, garlic powders adds the same garlic-y goodness with just a few sprinkles.
  2. Sea salt.
    It’s healthier than regular salt and if you’re a fan of coarse salt, sea salt will knock your socks off.
  3. Various types of whole or ground pepper.
    Fresh ground black pepper is brilliant, but check out white and pink pepper which add an interesting dimension.
  4. Sage.
    Perhaps a vastly underused spice, ground sage is ideal for homemade rubs and marinades and pairs well with chicken.
  5. Red chili flakes.
    A few red chili flakes can make all of the difference when making chicken or beef.
  6. Chili powder.
    Use it for basic chili recipes, but also for fish tacos.
  7. Bay leaves.
    Even a dried bay leaf can add significant warmth to stews or a slow-cooked bolognese.
  8. Ground coriander.
    We’d never choose ground coriander over the real deal, but for some dishes, this spice adds a fresh element that can’t be captured with anything else.
  9. Onion powder.
    If your family is finicky about onions, use onion powder to add the same aroma without getting bits of onion all over the food .
  10. Cumin.
    Ground cumin is one of our favorite spices to work with, especially when making soups or working with pork.
  11. Ground mustard.
    Add serious intensity to your beef with ground mustard.
  12. Cayenne pepper.
    It’s delicious for chicken and can also be used to make Mexican hot chocolate.
  13. Paprika.
    Paprika is a secret ingredient for many for cooking up the perfect burger.
  14. Basic steak seasoning.
    This can be a Montreal steak seasoning or any seasoning meant for beef that your family enjoys.
  15. Dried thyme.
    This is one dried herb that can almost stand up to its fresh counterpart. We love it on pork and in breads.

Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and veggies make a great snack on their own and add some color and nutrition to many dishes.

  1. Potatoes.
    You decide the type (we suggest red potatoes and leaving the skin on), but potatoes are brilliant for roasting in the winter and grilling in the summer.
  2. Mushrooms.
    Portobello mushrooms can be a tad pricey depending on where you live, but they add a hearty punch to many dishes and can beef up quantity when you’re feeding guests.
  3. Onions.
    Onions of every type rank high on our list of veggies to have in the fridge at all times. Shallots, red onions, white onions and chives are some of our favorites (and the most versatile).
  4. Leafy green lettuce.
    Forget about the iceberg. There’s no nutritional value and seldom any flavor. Instead go for romaine or any leafy green lettuce that is rich in color and texture.
  5. Bell peppers.
    No matter what color you choose, bell peppers are delicious fresh or sauteed.
  6. Garlic.
    If you can get used to adding fresh garlic to many meals, you’ll discover that it adds a memorable flavor. If you don’t like mincing, invest in a microplane and grate garlic directly over your saucepan or pot.
  7. Apples.
    A good apple makes a fabulous snack on its own, but it also works well with real honey, plain yogurt and various cheeses.
  8. Bananas.
    A banana works by itself and is brilliant on a slice of toast with Nutella.
  9. Lemons and limes.
    Both are a must for whipping up your own quick marinades or garnishing a drink.
  10. Oranges.
    Throw them in a salad or get your vitamin C by noshing on it straight up.

Meat, Poultry and Fish

What’s easy, versatile and what exactly are you supposed to do with it? When it comes to main dishes, there’s a few that are must-haves for cooking up a fancy dinner or a quick weekday supper.

  1. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
    This is the most healthy chicken, but also the most expensive. Still, a single large chicken breast is often enough for filling out a soup.
  2. Chicken thighs.
    Sure, they have a little more fat, but this also means a lot more flavor. They’re fabulous browned on the stove top or roasted in the oven.
  3. A whole chicken.
    This is a must because it creates a rustic, impressive, yet easy dish if you have unexpected company.
  4. Steaks.
    You decide how much you want to spend, but remember that even a cheap cut of meat works when cooked properly.
  5. Short ribs.
    Short ribs can be purchased with or without the bone (the former will cost you a bit more) and can be cooked on the burner, in the oven or even in a crockpot.
  6. Salmon.
    It may not be the cheapest fish to purchase, but it’s health value is through the roof and it can easily be frozen should you catch it on sale.
  7. Catfish.
    This is a fairly cheap fish that can be fried or baked and takes on the flavor of whatever you season it with.
  8. De-veined, peeled shrimp.
    Cut off the tails and you have a quick ingredient for soups, plus you can quickly fry them for delicious po-boy sandwiches.
  9. Pork chops.
    Pork chops are delicious seasoned with dried thyme and can become super soft in a crock pot.
  10. Ground beef or turkey.
    Turkey has less fat and is interchangeable in most recipes. Use them for burgers, meatballs or tacos.

Canned Goods

Canned goods come in handy when you don’t have time to chop or defrost fresh vegetables. Must-haves in the canned goods department are also various types of beans, which add a heartiness to dishes with less (or no) meat.

  1. Canned tomatoes.
    Buy them whole, diced or fire-roasted, but make sure you have them for creating gorgeous sauces and adding depth to stews.
  2. Canned fruits.
    Bathed in syrupy goodness, canned fruits make a quick dessert when served with ice cream or cooked in gooey cakes or bread pudding.
  3. Peanut butter.
    Eat it on an apple, on an English muffin or by the spoonful (we won’t tell).
  4. Black beans.
    These work as a side, but can also beef up burritos as if you’re at Chipotle.
  5. Lentils.
    Add texture to chicken cacciatore or pour them in any soup.

Sandwich Essentials

Nearly everyone loves a sandwich, but we can get tired of the same ol’ thing, day in day out. Shake up your sandwiches by keeping the following ingredients stocked and find out they can even make a delicious dinner.

  1. Whole grain bread.
    Whole grain bread is healthy and the flavor stands up to great quality cheeses and meats.
  2. Baguette.
    There’s nothing like a sandwich on crusty bread. Some grocers now carry whole grain baguettes, so keep your eyes peeled.
  3. Salami.
    Who isn’t a fan of salami? Throw it in a sandwich or use to create an antipasta platter for guests .
  4. Ham.
    A ham sandwich can go simple or be dressed up with Dijon and brie.
  5. Sliced turkey.
    The less processed, the better, since it will pack loads of flavor and is low in fat.
  6. Cheddar cheese.
    You choose the type, though we’re fans of sharp cheddar which is brilliant for a classic grilled cheese sandwich.
  7. Swiss cheese.
    Another low fat substitute that is perfection when toasted with turkey or ham and Dijon.
  8. Avocado.
    If you have a ripe avocado, sprinkle garlic powder to create a paste and use it as a delicious sandwich spread.
  9. Olives.
    Sliced olives can go in a sandwich or stand alone as a side when rolled in herbs and tossed in a vinagarette.
  10. Pickles.
    Pickle spears with a crunch can be served alongside a sandwich or on an appetizer platter for company.

Baking Essentials

Baking isn’t nearly as tough as it looks, but it does take practice. Best of all, it’s ridiculous cheap to cook up biscuits or a cake from scratch when you have the proper ingredients at your fingertips.

  1. Good vanilla.
    By now you’re probably sick of the phrase “good vanilla,” but we mean nothing with additives or filler. Straight up vanilla extract is what you want and it will make all the difference in your baking. Consider it an investment since a little goes a very long way.
  2. Cocoa powder.
    A must for puddings and cakes.
  3. Half and half.
    Sometimes creamier is better. Half and half can also be used in cream sauces.
  4. All-purpose flour.
    Ideal for whipping up a fast batch of drop biscuits.
  5. Whole wheat flour.
    Many (though not all) baking recipes can be made with whole wheat flour. It’s also useful for making your own bread or pizza crust.
  6. Granulated sugar.
    This basic a must-have for those who want to start baking regularly.
  7. Confectioner’s sugar.
    Use it for baking or to add a nice touch to muffins or even store-bought ice cream sandwiches.
  8. Baking powder.
    A must for making biscuits and cakes.
  9. Baking soda.
    Another basic for baking and an essential for breads.
  10. Semi or bittersweet chocolate.
    Real melted chocolate can be what makes many homemade dessert recipes.

In the Pantry

Crackers, noodles and a few other goodies are must-haves that should lurk at the front of your pantry shelves.

  1. Whole grain crackers.
    Again, these are the most healthy, but any cracker your family is a fan of can fill the void.
  2. Dried lasagna sheets.
    These oven-ready sheets of pasta can easily be layered for the world’s fastest lasagna.
  3. Spaghetti or fettuccini.
    A long pasta is great for tossing in a simple oil and herbs.
  4. Ziti or penne.
    Small pasta is ideal for casseroles, baking with cheese or capturing hefty tomato sauces in every bite.
  5. Egg noodles.
    Quick drop egg noodles are idea for adding to soups or cooking with Asian-infused dishes.
  6. Couscous
    A simple, fast side dish that accompanies meats well.
  7. Quinoa.
    This grain is super healthy and makes a great dish when seasoned and rolled with roasted vegetables.
  8. Pancake mix.
    Many pancake mixes are just as tasty as working from scratch and just need water and a whisk.
  9. Whole grain cereal.
    Use it to add crunch to yogurt and fruit or eat it as a quick snack with milk.
  10. Oatmeal.
    Sprinkle with cinnamon or brown sugar for a delicious morning treat or use it for oatmeal cookies.

Freezer Friendly

While we’re huge fans of fresh food, sometimes frozen options are just smarter for the wallet and more practical for real life. Here’s everything that your freezer needs in order to be useful.

  1. Green beans.
    We’re all for fresh, but when it comes to a lot of veggies, the frozen version is just as delish and far more convenient. Sautee green beans with shallots or give them a Southern twist by adding bits of bacon.
  2. Corn.
    Add butter and cook it up or let it defrost and add color to a salad.
  3. Edamame.
    You can buy these with or without shells and then quickly cook them with sea salt for a tasty, healthy side or snack.
  4. Potatoes.
    When it comes to frozen potatoes, look for the package with the least amount of additives (there are many organic versions on the market these days). Use them for making french fries or home fries when you aren’t up for peeling and boiling.
  5. Bacon.
    Because of its high fat and salt content, you may not use bacon daily, which means it goes bad. Ration it out in wax paper and then in foil for small frozen portions that can be used to add flavor to meats.
  6. Strawberries.
    Most families go through strawberries quickly, so buy the bulk bag of frozen strawberries and leave a covered container full of them in the fridge for easy access.
  7. Blueberries.
    Blueberries are pricey, so usually buying them frozen is a better deal. Use them in pies and remember they can be thrown in frozen for smoothies.
  8. Almonds.
    Nuts are best stored in the freezer (the oils can cause them to go bad quickly otherwise) and almonds can be rough chopped to add texture to anything.
  9. Stuffed pasta.
    Make extra sauce and pull out frozen stuffed pasta for a work week dinner that’s satisfying and fast.
  10. Pre-baked pizza crusts.
    These can be purchased at a local bread shop and frozen or found in the freezer section of your grocery store.

Bonus Essentials

These aren’t musts, but can make it easier to add an extra touch to your cooking.

Red and white wine vinegar.

Perfect for simple homemade dressings.

Honey.
Have it with waffles, in your tea or for adding sweetness to a vinagarette.

Marmalade jelly or preserves.Use it in your dressings or have it on toast or with cheese.

Tomato paste.
Sometimes you need the vigor of tomato paste, even when using fresh or canned tomatoes.

Salsa.
Preferably the freshest salsa you can find. Add it to soups, use it to top a salad or sandwich or simply serve it with chips.

A well-stocked kitchen is something that everyone should aspire to have since it cuts down on trips to your favorite fast food restaurant and prevents you from overspending when you’re at the market. When you have the essentials on hand and know what to do with them, you’ll find out that you’re (almost) always in the mood to step into the kitchen.