Get Clothing Clutter Under Control

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I have a dilemma. I find my bedroom becoming cluttered very quickly with clothes that are “too clean to wash” yet “not clean enough to put away”. I was a single mom for many years, going to school or working, sometimes more than one job, and as a result, I didn’t want to spend more time on laundry than I had to. I’d wear clothes until they were visibly dirty, overly wrinkled, or they became… umm… odiferous.

When I was a single parent, that didn’t take as long as it does now! Now, I’m married and have one teen at home (who is responsible for his own laundry). I work at home caring for my elderly parents, and the piles of “not clean, not dirty” clothes are overwhelming. In our bedroom and my parents’! Sometimes, items in the pile have to be washed simply because they have been there so long, they’ve become wrinkled.

What do other people do with their clothes? Do they wash every item, every time they wear it? Do they wear the same thing until it needs to be washed? Do they hang up or fold and put away slacks and jeans and tops that have been worn but aren’t dirty?

Help me get out from under this heap! If you need something cleaned, I’m your girl. I’m not a very physically organized person, and “stuff” is my great foe.

Signed,
Clothes Horse

Heather says:

I’ll let you in on a secret, I’m a bit disorganized, too. Ok I struggle a lot with organization, but I do try.  I tend to be a perfectionist control freak -no comments from the peanut gallery, thank you very much- about my own space, which in a weird cruel twist of fate means stuff often piles up as I wait for the “right” time to take of something. It takes a huge amount of -wait for it, I’m about to say a dirty word- self-discipline for me to do the daily upkeep that  organization requires.

When I read your dilemma my first thought is that perhaps you have too much clothing.

Generally speaking those of us who live in relatively affluent Western cultures have too much stuff and that stuff causes misery. If we aren’t careful we tend to enter a cycle where we work to buy things and then work to take care of our things and then work to buy more things to replace the things that fell apart due to neglect. I’m tired just thinking about it.  (You all know that this is where some people are going to tell me that they live with exactly 3 pieces of clothing not including their underwear and that they have no idea what I’m talking about, right?)

So outside of those people who claim to have 3 items of clothing, what are you to do?

Don’t pile your clothing. 

Piles are the enemy.

Hang everything you possibly can, ESPECIALLY the items that have been worn but aren’t ready for washing. If you can’t hang everything, then you must find storage for out of season clothing and I don’t mean a pile in the corner of your room. Space saver bags, a box under the bed, a box in the attic, anywhere except a pile that’s going to get knocked over and them trampled on.

Hanging allows clothing to dry thoroughly, preventing that musty now I have to wash it condition.

Go into your closet(s) right now and hang everything backwards on the bar.

As you wear items and wash them, hang them the normal way on the leftmost side of the bar. Just keep shoving the stuff hanging backwards toward the right. Over six months or a year (depending on your climate) you’re going to get a better idea of the clothing you actually wear. Donate or consign the rest and do not feel guilty about it.

Just let it go. Someone else needs that item much more than you.

Don’t hang onto items for “when I lose ten pounds” and certainly don’t hang onto items “in case I gain ten pounds.”

Just let it go.

While you’re undergoing the great clothing weed out, do not buy more clothing. If there is an item you cannot pass up, something in your closet has to leave the house before that item can be introduced to your wardrobe.

This isn’t an overnight fix, but  over time you will notice a significant reduction in the amount of laundry done in your home.

Good luck!

 Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Quick Beef and Cabbage Skillet Recipe – Hearty Winter Fare

Bobbie SezBobbie says:

Winter was almost ignoring us here in south central Pennsylvantia:  not too frigid and hardly any snow, and heck, I even wore shorts last week. Well, indoors, at least.  Then that stupid groundhog saw his shadow on February 2, signalling six more weeks of winter. And then, someone must have passed the message along to Winter,  because it started paying attention again. Now everything’s completely white, and it got cold. I hate groundhogs and I hate cold weather and snow, but hey, at least the food’s good. Perfect for a cold winter’s day, Quick Beef and Cabbage Skillet is hearty and filling, but still budget friendly.  Oh, and delicious.

To be honest, the first time I cooked this combination of ingredients, I was being kind of selfish: I love cooked cabbage, and I thought I was kind of alone in that. At least, I knew my husband hated cabbage rolls, and although this has no rice or tomato, and is almost completely unlike cabbage rolls in any way, aside from the cabbage and meat, I still felt as if I was throwing caution to the wind.  I was amazed. My husband kept saying how much he liked it, so he could be sure I’ make it again. Talk about win-win. And cheap-cheap, too. Cabbage was recently as low as 49 cents per pound at my favorite store, and even when it’s not “on sale” it’s still one of the best deals in the produce department. Learn to love cabbage  and your budget will love you.

Quick Beef and Cabbage Skillet Recipe

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 large onion
  • an approximately 2 pound head of green cabbage
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  •  2 bay leaves

Choose a large, heavy skillet or pot with a lid with a capacity of at least 6 quarts. I used my 8 quart stock pot, which gave me plenty of stirring about room. Set it over medium heat, and add the ground beef.

Peel and coarsely chop the onion, and add it to the meat, stirring it up a bit with a sturdy spoon. Stir the meat and onions occasionally while you prepare the cabbage and carrots.

Using a large chef’s knife, cut the head of cabbage in half from the top, through the core, then cut each half again, so you have 4 pieces approximately equal in size. Carefully slice away the core and discard. (If you don’t get all of it, don’t worry. It’s perfectly safe to eat – it’s just a bit tough sometimes.) Roughly chop the cabbage – neatness doesn’t count, cleanliness does, so keep it off the floor. I usually cut the cabbage into approximately one-inch chunks, which works pretty well.

If you have a box grater or other tool for shredding foods, use that for the carrots. Otherwise, just use the chef’s knife and finely chop them. Sometimes, I leave them out if I’m in a huge hurry, or just don’t have carrots.

Once the meat is browned, stir in the salt, pepper, and bay leaves (these are NOT optional – their flavor is essential to the results),  then add the carrots and cabbage. Stir to mix well. Cover and turn heat to low. Cook until

cabbage and carrots are tender, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. (You shouldn’t need to add any liquid – the juices that cook out of the meat and vegetables should be sufficient, but if it seems dry, add up to 1/4 cup of water. ) Remove bay leaves and discard.

Makes 4 generous servings.

 

Serve Quick Beef and Cabbage Skillet with mashed potatoes or some crusty rolls and butter for a simple, comforting meal.

 

Bobbie Laughman is an elder caregiver, writer and Generally Shy Person, Except On The Internet. She lives and breathes and tries to keep warm and sane in Gettysburg, PA. If you’ve a mind to, contact her at Bobbie@Home-Ec101.com

How to Use Rubbing Alcohol Safely

Heather says:

This is another post in the series on household chemicals. Rubbing alcohol is frequently recommended by frugal and green bloggers for use as household cleaner, and needs to be used with care.

rubbing alcohol safetyRubbing alcohol is a general term that most often refers to isopropanol, but can also refer to ethanol. It is very important to understand that there is a difference between ethanol and isoproponal. Ethanol is the same type of alcohol you’ll find in your liquor cabinet while isopropanol is the alcohol we’re familiar with in medical applications – the pads used to wipe your skin before receiving a shot as an example. Both can be used as a topical disinfectant -think back to all the movies where nothing but a bottle of liquor was available- and this is how the term came about (the topical application, not the movie scenes).

To keep things simple, from this point forward the rubbing alcohol referenced is the white bottle of 60% – 90% isopropanol most of us are familiar with from the pharmacy department.

Rubbing alcohol should always be used in a well ventilated area.

Isopropanol is volatile which means that it evaporates quickly, creating flammable fumes. Never use rubbing alcohol near open flames or while smoking.

Ispropanol is converted to acetone in the human body. Do not drink it, do not use in an unventilated area, do not use over large areas of skin.

To understand why rubbing alcohol is so often recommended as a household cleaning solvent, let’s dive back into high school chemistry for a moment.

There is an adage like dissolves like, this refers to two types of compounds polar and non-polar. Water is a polar compound, each V shaped H20 molecule has an area with a slightly positive charge and an area with a slightly negative charge. Compounds such as fats are non-polar and do not have these charged areas. In most cases, at least without playing chemist, you won’t get a non-polar solution to mix with a polar solution. If you want to visualize this, head into the kitchen put some water a jar and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Close the lid and shake the heck out of it. You’ll see tiny droplets of oil suspended in the water (until they eventually float to the top) but these droplets are not part of the solution.

Alcohols, like rubbing alcohol are also polar molecules, but they are organic compounds, this means they have at least one carbon atom, the longer the carbon chain, the less likely the molecules are soluble in water.  The carbon chain helps the compound bring non-polar compounds into solution. So alcohols like isopropanol (which pretty much makes up rubbing alcohol) can act as a solvent for non-polar compounds like dyes and fats.

This is why you see both rubbing alcohol and hairspray recommended to remove ink from fabric. The alcohol brings the ink into solution where it can be wicked away with a paper towel or cloth.

Rubbing alcohol, can strip the fats and oils that protect your skin.

If this is allowed to happen for a long time, this can lead to cracking which can set you up for dermatitis and other even less fun infections.  Use gloves or limit the contact with your skin.

guide to chemical cleaners

Click this picture to learn more!

When used properly rubbing alcohol is a fairly safe cleaning agent. The main problem is its effectiveness as a solvent, sometimes it will destroy the item you’re trying to clean. You must use care and understand that alcohols are not always a safe choice for some surfaces and finishes.

Keep rubbing alcohol away from many painted surfaces, shellac, lacquer, and some man-made fabrics.

In some cases denatured alcohol -ethanol alcohol with bittering agents to make it unpalatable- may be a better choice. Don’t worry, I’ll get to denatured alcohol in a future article.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

Can You Make Your Own Powdered Sugar?

Heather says:

Yesterday a reader commented on Beet Sugar vs Cane Sugar:

Where do you purchase organic beet sugar? Have you found it in powdered form? I have only found it on an Austrian site so far and would prefer to buy US grown if it exists.

As I am not, nor was I ever, a pastry chef, I began to research.

It turns out the only difference between granulated sugar and powdered sugar is the size and shape of the grains. Commercial powdered sugar often contains corn starch, to prevent clumping.

Twitter user @MadatMama was quick to point out that you can make your powdered sugar by running it through the food processor. This morning I’ve done a little more research and it appears as though people have the best luck making small batches of powdered sugar in their blenders.

There is a caveat: I have the feeling that unless you are especially careful to blend each batch very thoroughly, there may be an inconsistency of texture¹. Any frosting made from homemade powdered sugar may have a slightly grainy texture. However I believe that slightly grainy frosting is superior to no frosting.

¹Well that is unless you have a Blendtec. You have seen the Will it blend videos, right?  Enjoy.

 

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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Chicken Thighs and the Reduced Budget

Dear Home-Ec 101,

My husband was recently laid off -sound familiar?- and we really need to cut our food budget while he looks for a new job. In your opinion, what’s the most economical cut of meat or poultry I can get to feed our family? I pretty much stuck to boneless skinless chicken breasts before, but right now they don’t seem to be such a good deal.

Signed,

Stretching in Stratton

Heather says:

First of all, I feel for you guys. I hope he finds something soon.

When budgets are tight, it’s really hard to beat chicken thighs as an economical cut of poultry. I’m not a huge fan of dark meat, but I’ve matured enough to know that sometimes my preferences just don’t matter that much.

Some people will try to argue that the thigh bone makes the difference in cost between BSCBs and chicken thighs acceptable. I completely disagree. Whether you first remove the thigh before cooking or separate them after cooking, those chicken thigh bones are valuable. Save the bones in a freezer bag and use them to make chicken stock.

If you’ve never made chicken stock before, here are two ways to make chicken stock, and Eugene in the comments offers his method for making stock in his slow cooker. Homemade chicken stock sounds like a luxury, but using it to make rice or vegetables can significantly improve their flavor and boost the nutritional value without adding a ton of sodium.

So what can you make with these budget friendly chicken thighs?

Any recipe calling for boneless skinless chicken breasts can be made with skinless, boneless chicken thighs. Debone the thighs yourself.

Any recipe calling for a whole, cut up chicken.

Examples:

Any recipe calling for leg quarters.

Examples:

And if you don’t want to bother with the bones, there are still plenty of ways to cook chicken thighs. I wrote a post sharing ten easy chicken thigh recipes over on Blissfully Domestic, a few months ago.

If you find a recipe for chicken and want to alter it for chicken thighs, here is a guide to altering chicken recipes based on cut.

Additionally:

Whole chickens are economical in their own right. Here’s how to cut up a whole chicken. With a little practice, this takes about five minutes and gives you a break from only dark meat.

Don’t forget your side dishes.

When you are trying to reduce your overall food budget side dishes become extremely important. Ounce per consumable ounce, vegetables, grains, and legumes are often significantly cheaper than meat.

When planning your meals allot your 10 – 35% of the calories to come from protein. That leaves a LOT of room for vegetables and whole grains. Treat your protein source as the after thought and focus on filling your dinner plates with other lower cost items. This doesn’t mean only empty calories, sides like: lentil pilaf, rice and peas, roasted broccoli, collard greens with northern beans, and roasted vegetables all are filling, but not terribly expensive. -With the broccoli, peel and slice the stems so they don’t go to waste). And don’t forget the poor maligned potato, just keep them out of the fryer. Try your hand at roasted potatoes or ranch potato wedges. Don’t be scared to get creative.

Good luck.