Upcycled Homework Caddy

Ever since Eden started grade 7 and homework became a daily event in our life, it seems like she is constantly “borrowing” my supplies and not returning them and leaving scads of tools around the house. I decided to build her a homework caddy stocked with everything she’d need to complete her assignments. The caddy can easily be transported, so she can choose to do her homework in her room or at the table ~ whatever suits her best. This project was all about the 4 R’s ~ Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and of course, Repurpose.

Here’s What I Used:

The basis for this design came from these items that I had in my project bin. (Remember to click on the images to enlarge them.)

Of course, as I began to brainstorm and pull my ideas together, I needed additional items such as burlap, string, saw, drill and screws, wood glue, magnets and paint.

Here’s What I Did:

1. I removed the cord from the broken lamp and cut the shaft to create a nice pedestal-like base.

2. I attached the pedestal, circular “lazy susan” wooden base and the center post from the mug stand together with a long screw. homework caddy

3. I spray primed and painted the structure.

4. I then took the clean cans (of varying sizes) and wrapped burlap or string around them to give them a bit of a finished look.

5. I then wrapped some string around the center post as well.

6. I used a nail to punch holes in the bottom of each can near the center. I then screwed each to the wooden base.

7. Finally, I glued on a couple of strong magnets to hold paper clips and a mini-stapler.

8. The top pegs from the mug stand act as handles for the caddy.

Eden’s homework caddy contains an assortment of pencils, pens, markers, pencil crayons, scissors, a pencil sharpener, an eraser, a ruler, a stapler and a few paper clips ~ everything she needs, all in one place! Generally, my daughter prefers to do her homework in her own room, but when she needs help, she likes to work at the kitchen or dining room table. The caddy allows her to bring everything she needs with her.

If making something like this seems like too much work, don’t sweat it….pick-up a plastic caddy or something made out of wood or metal with dividers already in it….maybe something like a cutlery storage caddy. You can find many different styles and at a wide range of prices depending on the look you are going for.  The important thing is to have everything in one place and make it easy to transport.  Here are some of the options I found available:

Basement Blitz

Yesterday I mentioned the great date my hubby and I had on Thursday. What I didn’t explain were the details surrounding our “date day”.  About 3 or 4 years ago, we had hydro come out and do an efficiency test on our house and it failed miserably. That was not surprising since our heating bills for our first winter surpassed our monthly mortgage payments. Once the test was done, we were given an outline of suggestions that would help to make our home more efficient. The number one suggestion was insulating our basement.

The basement of our 1921 home had no insulation, but there were a few rooms that had been roughed in. Obviously, these were primarily used for storage and laundry and looked to be at least 70 years old. It was in a very sad state, but provided adequate space for all of our tools and stored items. We had everything put away and organized and although the basement was really only used for laundry, it was tidy and functional.

However, when we decided to insulate and drywall the space to help lower our heating costs, we had to remove everything from the exterior walls and place it in the center of the space, so that Tim could work his way around the exterior. This project seemed to progress in spurts with most of the insulating completed a few years back, but it was at this point that it seemed to stall out. Now, for an organization freak like me, this became a huge issue. It wasn’t so much that the basement wasn’t finished, but more an issue of not being able to find what I was looking for. I absolutely hate wasting time and sorting through a “pile of rubble” was not scoring high with me. Although my husband won’t admit it, I think that he felt somewhat overwhelmed by the job. We have pipes hanging awkwardly from the ceiling and wires that need to be moved as well as bulkheads that need to be built. Between the mess from the renovation, the pile of storage tubs and the construction materials themself, he just kind of shut down and really no progress has been made for a long time. It was a bit of a “hot topic” in our house, but last fall I finally decided to temporarily let go of the idea of having a finished basement and just focus on what was stressing me out the most ~ THE HUGE MESS! So, this is where the date comes into play.

The Best Date Ever:

So, you can imagine my excitement when I got my husband to agree to “a date”. No, this date didn’t involve a romantic dinner or flowers, but something much more meaningful to me. A special date marked on the calendar that would be dedicated to the basement. We would clean, purge and organize as much as we could in one day. That is all I requested…just one day to see what we could accomplish. So, on April 3rd, shortly after lunch, we took the walk of shame and headed down to the dungeon. Honestly, it felt like a clip from the TV show “Hoarders”. There was stuff everywhere and I simply could not live with it any longer. Although we have a large basement of about 1500 square feet, there literally was hardly any floor space. Construction materials, tubs of storage items, tools and sporting goods seemed to be everywhere. So, without much of a plan, we set to work.

  • We sorted out our pile of reclaimed wood from the tear down to determine what we should keep and what should be tossed.
  • We organized all of the scrap wood we were keeping for future projects and placed all of the large garbage items at the base of the stairs. We need to get a BFI bin or something for all of this, but wanted to have all of the garbage ready before we actually order it.
  • I went through all of the cans of paint to determine what was still good and what needed to be tossed.
  • Tim vacuumed and cleaned all of the floor space and moved all of our storage tubs against one wall, so that they are more out of the way.
  • I spent about 6 hours going through all of our “hardware” stuff: screws, nails, tacks, plumbing, electrical and painting supplies. I sorted, vacuumed, organized and labelled until I was almost delirious.
  • I bought a Casio label machine and was so excited as I began to unpack boxes of supplies that had yet to be unpacked from our move to this house in 2008. I think Tim just kept waiting for the day he would have his basement “workshop” set-up and never really bothered to go through some of the boxes. Normally, I would just go do it myself, but I knew that it was impossible. I had tried a few times, but this was his stuff and I was unable to determine what some items were and how they should be sorted or if they even needed to be kept. I knew that the only way to get this done was to work together.

So, after about 14 hours of work (times two bodies = 28 hours), our basement is in much better shape. I was disappointed when the sample roll of label tape ran out and I hadn’t finished my job, but overall it looks much better. There are still many things that need to be done down there, but I can live with this. It is organized and there is once again ample usable space. My hope is that now that the mess is cleared, Tim will feel more optimistic and once again begin to complete one task at a time. We don’t really have a design plan in mind for the “family room” type of space that will eventually be down there, but we have already got the walls up and drywalled for the storage room and we’ll keep the existing laundry room walls. Of course, I have my wish list and even a preference for the order of completion, but for now I will relish in the fact that a job that was long over due is finally done. As I looked around the basement, I seriously got a bit teared up. This basement has been a huge bone of contention for me and the disarray of this space just seemed like a weight on my shoulders. Every time I walked down the stairs, my annoyance would resurface. This was a huge amount of work. It was dusty and dirty and tedious and long, but none the less, for me, the best date ever! My husband scored huge points with me this week. I can find what I need and now have the space to work without feeling like I need to drag everything up to my scrapbook/project room.

If and when we proceed with our basement plans, I will keep you posted. If I had my wish, we would begin by finishing the storage room. Although it still needs a ceiling, flooring, mud and sanding, and electrical work done, it still seems like the most logical space to complete first. Finishing this space, would allow me to move all of the tubs of storage items into their permanent home. It would literally clear-up most of the basement clutter and because it will only be used for storage it seems like a great space to fumble and learn. I’m not really worried about perfect seams and the finished look in this space. I’m merely looking for a clean, organized room banked with shelving and hooks to store our Christmas decorations, off-season clothing and other off-season items. Finishing this room will be another great reason to celebrate.

Now, I had to dig deep to actually have the guts to share these BEFORE/AFTER pictures with you. Anyone who knows me well, would be astonished that my basement looked like this for so long. I certainly didn’t keep it a secret, but few ever saw the state of affairs. The makings of this mess began innocently enough, but I just didn’t know how to get things back on track when I really was not able to do the work. I would love to think I am capable enough to be a great helper or assistant, but the reality is I don’t know the first thing about basement construction and my hubby really does have to take the lead on this. You know what they say about couples and how opposites attract ~ I am a total “get ‘r done gal” and Procrastination is Tim’s middle name. Ugh! I love him to pieces, but sometimes, I can’t figure out how we manage to make it all work. I’ll give God credit for that!

Brace Yourself for the BEFORE Shots:

Basement Before
Basement Before
Basement Before
Basement Before

Basement Before


28 Hours and Two Back Aches Later:

Still so much to do, but I think we might actually be back on track. What a relief!!

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That’s One “Hairy” Mess!

We have a draw of hair accessories and tools in our bathroom. Of course, the males in the house do comb/brush their hair (at least sometimes), so the state of this drawer rests on Eden and I. When we first moved in, I set up baskets for everything, but over time it has literally become a “toss and go” drawer. You know, open the drawer and throw it in. Our collection of brushes has grown and most go unused, there are ponies that are so old they’ve lost their elasticity and half the time you must re-arrange things for the drawer to even close. Every time I wanted something, I would have to search through every basket to find what I was looking for and in the end would often discover that it was not in a basket at all, but sitting in the bottom of the drawer underneath them. It drives me crazy! Cleaning/organizing this drawer has been on my “to do” list for quite some time, but the drawer closes and this mess is really only known to those that live her, so it always seems to get pushed further down the list. However, on one of my last dollar store trips, I decided that I was going to buckle down and get this drawer organized, so I bought some great little clear plastic organizing trays.

hair accessories drawer

I ended up going back to the store for more containers and didn’t end up using the magnet tape….yet

I love the way the dimensions of these trays allow them to fit perfectly together without any gaps in between. These are much smaller than the large baskets that were in the drawer before and they allow me to separate the various items into their own compartment. Love this!!

Organized At Last!

This actually wasn’t much work, but took a while because I tested every elastic, checked the little ends of all the bobby pins and purged anything that was either garbage or not being used. Feels so good! My husband wasn’t that impressed and predicted it wouldn’t last the day, but it has been three, so I already proved him wrong! Here is the finished drawer.hair accessories drawer
hair accessories drawer

It sometimes amazes me when you do what seems like a minor job around the house and yet it just makes you feel like a weight has been lifted. Organized just feels good!!

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Life Hacks I Love: #1 Gift Wrap Storage

It seems as though we are constantly being bombarded with new terms and jargon. I often find it hard to follow my own kids’ conversations as some of the words they use are completely foreign to me.  One of the latest terms that is circulating on the internet is “life hacks”.

What is a “life hack”?

life hack

I often browse sites that share “life hacks”, as I am always on the lookout for new and creative ways to do life in a more efficient way. Here is one that I found, tried and modified to better suit my needs.

Gift Wrap Storage

I saw this great idea for gift wrap storage on Pinterest. This hack was both easy and cheap, but I wasn’t totally impressed with it when I tried it out. The concept is simple. Cut a toilet paper roll lengthwise and slide the cardboard over the gift wrap roll to keep it secure. Unfortunately, it takes very little for the cardboard toilet paper roll to become stretched and not have enough “spring” to hold the paper in place.

toilet paper roll

This gift wrap roll is fat, so it works okay, but I can tell that with only a few uses, it would be stretched out of shape and no longer stay in place.

I was really disappointed as I thought this was a great idea. So, I came up with an easy fix. All you need are regular brads and tiny hair elastics which can be bought at the dollar store. A bag of 100 is $1. (Lets hope you don’t need all 100 for gift wrap or you may have more serious problems than how to store it).

Punch 2 holes in the toilet paper roll, stick a brad in each and stretch the elastic across to hold it securely. The great thing about this is that you can modify it by cutting out a section of the roll to make it smaller to fit around those skinny rolls of paper as well. (Otherwise, the standard size roll actually overlaps and slides right off of it). It literally takes seconds to make these and they work really well.

Now, if you are like my husband you might be saying….”that is supposed to be better than a regular elastic?”  Check out this spoof video on some of the life hacks that are circulating on the web.  Funny.

Often times, some of the “life hacks” seem like they are way more work than they are really worth, but I like this one because I find that tape damages the paper and an elastic often ends up cutting the paper.  Of course, if you make several of them, you can re-use them over and over again.

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The “Crap” Basket Solution

Do you have a two or three-story house ?  Are you constantly finding your kid’s belongings on the main floor instead of in their rooms?  This was a constant battle in our house.  “Take this upstairs.” (and many other variations of the phrase had me feeling like a broken record.  (Wow! That phrase ages me, I guess!)  I found this idea on Pinterest and just had to make my own version.  I think that I borrowed the original idea from www.haleymorgan.com, but I can’t remember for sure.

Is the Word “Crap” Offensive?

I hope not.  If I offended anyone, I apologize.  I’ll be honest, my mom was a Christian woman with very high morals, but she said the word “crap” and so do I.  As a kindergarten teacher, I am often hearing children say that words such as hate and stupid  are “swears”.  In my family, none of those words were considered “swears”, but were also never directed at a person.  There is a difference between saying “you are stupid” and “I can’t get this stupid thing to work”.  The words certainly don’t have a positive connotation, but I am not completely convinced they are “swears” either.  Of course, I would never tell my students this, but clearly not everyone is brought up banning those words from their vocabulary and thus we have “situations” in the classroom.  I have found the same to be true with the word “crap”.  I do believe the word is banned in some homes, but clearly not mine.  Just to clarify, I wanted to demonstrate that there is more than one definition and when I use the word “crap”, I am referring to this definition, so don’t get your knickers in a knot.

definition of crap

You will notice that this definition (taken from the New Oxford American Dictionary) does say “vulgar slang”, but I choose to ignore this because since when is “rubbish” vulgar?  I am not sure that my children necessarily agree that their belongings fit with the definition, but for me it works.  You could certainly make the baskets without using the word at all and just put their names on their baskets ~ whatever works for you.

Our Crap Baskets

Okay, now that we got that out of the way….we can actually get to the project.  I loved the original poster’s idea to use wicker, but thought that the baskets would probably scratch my painted stairs, so I opted for a little dollar store tote.  It looks like one of those canvas ones, but it is actually not…I think it is some kind of a nylon fabric (can be wiped).  I simply printed the words on my computer and used my Cricut machine to cut-out the tags.  I then used a stamp, eyelet, ribbon and hearts to embellish them.  They were super easy and have been very durable. The baskets sit on the stairs and it is the kid’s job to take up their basket, put away their belongings and return them to the stairs.  I find the baskets work really well.  Anytime, I find a bottle of nail polish, book, toy, etc., I just pop it in their “crap basket”.  I no longer have to hound them, but rather just pop their things in their baskets.  We have never found them to be in the way either.

crap basket



crap baskets

Eden and Shay’s crap baskets

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September Preparations: Menu Board

September is crazy busy at our house and I know that I need to plan ahead in order to remain sane.  My job is always demanding, but September is generally off the charts in terms of work load. I tend to put in very long hours and bring quite a bit of work home with me as well, so I always need to try to get life at home organized in preparation for the pending mayhem that will follow in the weeks ahead.  I have found that menu planning really helps.

Menu Planning:

I must say, that for me menu planning helps to keep me organized and takes the stress out of deciding what we should have.  Often at the end of a long day, it is not so much the making of dinner, but rather making the decision about what to have.  With the menu, I know what groceries need to be bought and what needs to be taken out of the freezer the night before.  Sometimes I will even do a few make-ahead meals and freeze them for those evenings when we are on the run to activities and such.  Some simple make-aheads are cooked ground beef (used for tacos, soup, spaghetti sauce, etc).  I sometimes will make double batches when cooking the week before school starts and during the school year. By doubling things up, I always have leftovers to freeze for future meals.  I have to admit we don’t always stick completely to the plan, but it provides a great frame-work for most of the meals throughout the month.  We don’t use a monthly plan every month, but always in our busiest months of the year (September, December and June).  I have used several variations.

September Menu

2012 September Menu


When setting up a menu, I try to consider a few things:  our favourites, variety and a good balance of healthy choices.  (I am still following The Plan and have not done much food testing this summer, so I am planning family meals, but may not always be eating the same meal as the rest of the family.)  This year, I decided to make up a menu with no dates, but rather planned by week #’s. I plan to use the calendar grid and make 6 full week plans that we will work through (and tweak as we go). This way, we can just keep following the weekly rotation and then begin again when we’ve gone through all of the weeks.  I have a weekly menu board in my kitchen that I update every Sunday and follow throughout the week.

I am still tweaking the new 6 week menu plan, but it will be a combination of some of our meals from previous years as well as a few new favourites.  I plan to have “grilled chicken breast with salad” every Thursday.  This is a really clean, healthy meal.  I plan to place it on Thursdays because Friday is a bit of a fun food day at our house.  When we have salad and chicken breast, we use different variations of chicken (ie different sauces, BBQ, oven baked, etc.).  We also change-up the salads to add variety.  I also usually cook a pot of homemade soup on Sundays (especially when the weather gets colder).  I love having homemade soup on hand for lunches throughout the week.  The other thing that the menu does not take into account is left-overs.  I sometimes find that we will skip the pre-planned meal and just clean-up the left-overs in the fridge.

DIY Chalkboard Menu Board

In a previous house, I had two long narrow pieces of sheet metal cut for the inside two of my cupboard doors.  I loved this as it got all of our little notes and business cards off the fridge door and hidden inside the cupboard.  Unfortunately, the style of our new kitchen cupboards would not support the magnetic boards.  I decided to use one of them for a chalkboard/magnetic menu board in my kitchen.  I thought that the magnetic feature would be great, but in hindsite, we never use magnets on it, so it is a waste of a good piece of metal.  I wish I would have used wood and saved the metal for another use.  Having said that, the menu board itself is well used and works well.

To make this, I primed the metal and then gave it 4 coats of my homemade chalkboard paint.  You must let it dry completely and give it a very very light sand between coats.  After the final coat, let it cure for a full day or more.  In the mean time, I used my Cricut to cut out the lettering for the board out of white vinyl.  It is basically peel and stick vinyl, so easy to do if you have a Cricut machine.  If not, you could purchase letter stickers from the craft store.  I adhered the stickers to the board BEFORE priming the surface for using chalk.  This helped to ensure better adhesion of the stickers.  I then primed the surface using the side of a piece of chalk and then erased it completely.  I chose to mount my menu on the wall right beside my stove.  I really like it and it allows me to make modifications to the monthly menu for the coming week.  For example, if we are going to be out for dinner one night, our menu would reflect this.  Here is the weekly menu board.

Menu Board


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Vintage Cabinet Make-Over

I purchased this cabinet for $35.  It was in really rough shape and extremely ugly, but I thought it would be perfect for my scrapbooking room.  The little cubbies were perfect for supplies and the front door opened down as an extra work space.  This project was huge work, but it was well worth the effort.

$35 Vintage Cabinet

vintage cabinet

vintage cabinet interior

This is what the interior looked like. Needless to say it required lots of work.


Vintage Cabinet Make-Over

This cabinet needed to be sanded, primed and painted. The worst part was getting inside every little cubby. I chose to go plain white simply because it was so much work and I wanted the colour to be very versatile. I had to buy hinges, but I re-used the handles from our built-ins in the bathroom that had been replaced during a renovation. I always have paint on hand, so this project cost less than $50, but was quite time-consuming.

vintage cabinet make-over

This make-over was really nothing more than paint and handles, but it made the piece look good and provided a great solution to my organization and storage problem. You will notice that I do not have a snap shot of the interior of the piece. That is only because I am too embarrassed to show the current disarray inside those little cubbies!

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