Thriving in Small Places, Kitchen Edition

Welcome to my little kitchen!

A kitchen with barely three feet of counter space may work well for a bachelor, but when you have a family and make all your meals and breads and snacks from scratch, the limited space presents a challenge.

Besides the three feet of counter space, a washing machine, fridge, oven and table fill up the rest of the room snugly. At first, our new kitchen felt claustrophobic to me, but with a bit of creativity and organization, anyone can thrive in the little space.

Think up: Shelving is a great way to “add space” in a small kitchen. Joshua added a couple shelves above our table and it transformed the kitchen! Big decorative boxes are perfect for storing less used items like paper goods or snack foods, plus they add charm to the kitchen.

Glasses, jars of food and dishes all are pretty stored on shelves and free up cupboard space.

Limit the gadgets: Sort through your appliances and kitchen extras and only keep the items that are regularly useful.

Whenever possible, find multiple uses for items. For example, my big bowl doubles as the washing bowl. The large pot serves as a compost bucket when not full of soup.

Keep the counters cleared: Of course, the kitchen is the center of much of the domestic life. It is supposed to be used. But don’t permanently store items on the counters. Find an easily accessible spot for items (like the coffee maker) that are used consistently and put them away in between uses. It only takes a few seconds, but makes the kitchen more useable the rest of the day.

Do you have a small kitchen? How do you make it work for you?

$5 Bridal Shower or Graduation Gift Idea

Just hours before one of my student’s graduation party I realized my original gift idea was out of stock in town. (Yes, I’m a procrastinator!)

Panicked, I racked my brain for a new idea: a personalized cookbook.

All you need is a photo album and recipe cards.

Copy out your favorite recipes on recipe cards (or pretty cardstock) and organize them in a photo album. If you have time, collect recipes from her family and friends. Slip the blank cards into the back of the album for her to fill up with new recipes.

Spice it up with a few kitchen utensils or spices and some homemade cookies for a cute, inexpensive gift!

This idea works especially well if you know the recipient and her tastes, but with many high school graduates heading to live on their own for the first time, tried, true and easy recipes are sure to be a hit.

Now that the graduation flurry is just about over, we’re ready to enter the season of wedding showers. Wouldn’t this make a fun little gift?

Radical Frugality with Radical Rewards

While we were up in Missouri, Joshua’s sister Crystal and her husband John Mark closed on a new home: a lovely nice home that you would not expect a young couple to be able to afford.

Especially a young single income family that have never earned more than 30,000 a year.

Yet in just under six years, they saved enough money to buy the home of their dreams with more than half down. They plan to finish paying it off in five years.

How did they do it? By always spending less than they earned.

John Mark began his job making minimum wage. They saved then. When his income rose, they saved more.

Pulling up into the driveway of their home filled me with inspiration. If they can do it, so can the rest of us.

They gave up expensive meals, date nights, new clothes and all the extras that we come to consider necessities. For years they went without cell phones and even internet.

Crystal is an avid garage saler and few things in her home (that weren’t gifts) cost more than a tenth of the retail value.

Packing a lunch for work is the obvious frugal thing to do, but when John Mark learned that a meat and cheese sandwich cost 25 cents compared to 10 cents for a pb&j, he said he didn’t need the meat sandwiches. He wanted to save the 15 cents.

15 cents a day won’t buy you a home, but radical frugality in all areas will.

They are radically frugal and have already reaped radical rewards.

part of Thrify Thursday and Frugal Friday

photo by Oliver Gruener

Thriving in Small Places

Disclaimer: Of course, it is practically impossible to pinpoint a definition for a small house. A tiny home in modern America would be extravagant to medieval peasants or many around the world today.

Here I mean small in the American sense: a duplex with two little bedrooms and living room, a tiny bathroom and a kitchen with just barely enough room to squeeze in a few chairs and a table.

Cramped.

That’s how I felt when we first moved into this little duplex so that Joshua could attend law school. With just barely three feet of counter space, the kitchen was especially bad.

But over the past two years I’ve come to realize the blessings of less space: the impulse to accumulate stuff is balanced by the lack of room to store it and you are forced to be creative. Plus, limited space encourages communication and makes holding a grudge nearly impossible.

Before digging into specifics for each room, there are a few principles that work for the entire house.

Be content: Enough room is mostly a matter of the heart. We have way more than we need. Discontentment with a small home won’t disappear with a move. Choosing contentment makes even a small home seem big.

Gratefully accepting the room you have encourages you to be creative with it. Almost the moment I accepted the kitchen, I thought of simple (and obvious) ideas to make it more functional.

Simplify, simplify: Whether it’s the decorations or the children’s toys-keep it simple. Even when stuff is cheap or free evaluate whether it will really add to the peace and charm of the home. By keeping it simple, you are able to enjoy the things you truly love.

Continually evaluate what you have: pretend to be a visitor walking through the front door. Looking at the stuff through someone else’s eyes highlights things you don’t use anymore, the toys that really could be given away or sold … and the dust on top of that old shelf.

Keep things picked up: Homes are to be lived in. No home with little ones is always tidy, but unabated clutter wreaks havoc in small spaces. Determine a place for everything that you really love (and ruthlessly get rid of the rest!) and then make sure it gets put away. Even little children are able to put their own toys and clothes away. Tidiness not only makes the home more peaceful, it makes it feel roomy.

Do you live in a small home? How do you make it work for your family?

And no, that is not our house, isn’t it cute thought? Photo by Eva Schuster

Gardening on a Dime

The garden blossomed while we were gone and the sunflowers are almost big enough for a toddler to hide behind now! I could scarcely believe my eyes.

We had fresh salad to accompany dinner the past few nights and it looks like before long the squash will attempt to take over the entire the kitchen. Today Rosalind tried her first taste of fresh mint and begged for more of the “candy.”

Even if gardening didn’t save money it would be worth it. Playing in the dirt is fun, but the teaching opportunity is invaluable. Food doesn’t magically appear on the shelves in Wal-mart, but starts as little seeds and with water and sunshine and the blessing of God grows into tomatoes and mint and spinach. Eating salad from seeds you’ve planted and tended helps dispel the divorcement of food from its source that is so easy to fall prey to.

But most of us garden to save money. Building a beautiful garden on next to nothing is definitely possible, especially if you work with others and “scrounge.” In addition to the small garden behind our house, a couple neighbors and I started a community garden by the apartment complexes.

It is beautiful and thriving and cost very little to start.

Soil: If my limited gardening experience (and failures) has taught me anything it is that soil is key.

Good soil equals a good garden.

But improving the soil doesn’t have to cost much. Borrow a roto-tiller from a friend or “rent” one on Craigslist.

Make your own compost or if local colleges have an agriculture department chances are they have a source for inexpensive compost. We were able to get rich compost for $10 a truckload from the University.

Farmers or owners of horses often have aged manure you can pick up for free.

Plants: When at all possible, plant from seeds. Rare Seeds sells heirloom seeds for a reasonable price and if you just want a couple plants, many hardware stores let you purchase individual seeds for a few pennies.

Although it’s too late to start many of the summer vegetables from seed, quick growing plants like cucumbers and squash could still be started from seed and it will soon be time to plant seeds indoors for a fall garden.

Established gardeners often are willing to give you starts of herbs (and lots of helpful advice!) if you ask.

Weed control: An appealing weed-free garden doesn’t have to cost a dime or take hours of work. Discarded bricks scrounged from construction sites and friends work perfectly to divide the plants from walking areas and form pretty beds.

Pine needles, straw or grass clippings are free (or very cheap) and work well to keep the weeds at bay in the walking areas. Depending on the type of plant, they can also be used in the beds to check the growth of weeds, retain moisture and keep the soil from eroding.

Pest Control: Thankfully we haven’t had to deal with many pests yet this year. Companion planting, or the strategic planting of certain herbs, flowers and vegetables next to each other, helps repel many bugs. Some of the most common are garlic and marigolds. Wikipedia has a very cool table of companion plants.

If (or rather when) the bugs arrive, we plan to use a homemade bug spray made of garlic and cayenne pepper. I’ve heard it works great.

part of Thrify Thursday and Frugal Friday

11 Creative Uses for Canning Jars

Canning jars are one of my favorite kitchen items. Not only do I love to see the pantry lined with home-canned goodies, canning jars have so many other practical uses.

When you find them used, canning jars make one of the most economical glass storage containers ever. I keep a look out for canning jars at garage sales and thrift stores to add to my collection. 

Canning jars aren't just cute. Here are 11 practical and creative uses for canning jars.

11 Creative Uses for Canning Jars

  1. Fill with flowers. They make cute quaint vases, especially with ribbon or raffia tied around the top.
  2. Use as cups for little ones. They are sturdy and don’t tip over easily.
  3. Collect loose change. It’s amazing how quickly it adds up!
  4. Store smaller portions of bulk purchases like beans or barley and use them as part of your kitchen decor.
  5. Keep weevils or ants from infesting your pantry by storing sugar, flour, and other tempting food in glass jars.
  6. Fill with cookie or brownie mixes for inexpensive gifts
  7. Use canning jars as adorable holders for homemade candles (another wonderful gift idea!)
  8. Keep your favorite bulk herbs fresh by storing them in a tightly shut canning jar.
  9. Hold drippings from bacon, sausage, chicken, etc
  10. Use canning jars to store leftover soup or other liquids. Not only does the glass not leak chemicals, but you can see what’s stored and use it before it spoils.
  11. Store homemade herbal salves, toothpaste, and other natural products in small glass jars.

As you can see, a cupboard full of canning jars opens up the door to many practical and pretty uses.

Canning jars help prevent chemicals from leaching into your food (which might happen with plastic storage containers), protect your pantry from pest infestation, and turn homemade projects into beautiful DIY gifts.

These are just a few creative uses for canning jars. What is your favorite use for them?

photo credit

If You Were a Millionaire, What Would You Keep Doing?

If you were a millionaire, what would you do?

For most of us, the thought of millions of dollars to spend brings up dreamy visions of grand European tours, villas on the beach front, a new Mercedes, or the opportunity to construct an orphanage in a war-ravaged area.

Thoughts of being a millionaire bring up all sorts of grand visions. But what things would you keep on doing if you were a millionaire?

If I were a millionaire, I would still want to garden. (photo credit

What would you still do if you were a millionaire?

Lately I have been thinking about a different question though: what things would you continue to do if you were a millionaire?

When you are trying to be frugal, it is easy to focus on all the ways you can save a few dollars and make the paycheck last.

Living within your means is an important part of being a faithful steward, but so many frugal things are truly enjoyable—things that are enjoyable whether you make $30,000 or $30,000,000 a year.

In his fascinating book The Millionaire Next Door,  Thomas Stanley points out the frugal habits of many of the world’s wealthiest. Do these millionaires do these things because they have to? No. They do these frugal things because they want to.

So what things that you’re doing right now would you continue to do if you were a millionaire?

Here are a few of my favorite frugal activities that I would want to keep doing if we were millionaires:

  • Stay home most days.
  • Hang sheets and towels outside to dry in spring. The smell of clothes hung outside is intoxicatingly delightful.
  • Enjoy simple days outside and soak in the golden glory of creation.
  • Watch (most) movies at home. I’d much rather watch a movie cuddled up on the couch with Joshua than in a crowded theater.
  • Grow a vegetable garden. There are few things I love more than playing in the dirt and watching food spring from the ground.
  • Live minimalistically— I hate clutter and shopping

This list looks different for everyone, but treasure the things you would not change if you were a millionaire.  They really are finer things!

What about you? What would you still do if you were a millionaire? 

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]