Go green: A few changes to the landscaping of your home can make a world of difference! You might want to consider planting some fruit trees in the backyard, adding a touch of color with some bright and unusual flowers, or perhaps finally starting the vegetable garden you’ve always dreamed about.

Add a touch of color: Feeling creative? Why not give the family room, bedroom or bathroom a whole new look? By focusing on the improvement of one room at a time, you’ll find that what can seem like an overwhelming job becomes fun and simple. Repainting a single room can be inexpensively completed over a single weekend.

Bright and beautiful: Replacing the light fixtures in your house with personally selected pieces can drastically increase your home’s beauty and value. Choose a cohesive look for the entire house, or decorate room by room! The installation of new fixtures is generally a quick do-it-yourself task.

Tile it up: While it might seem like a daunting task, installing new tile in a kitchen or bathroom can be easily accomplished with a little know-how and the right supplies. Your local home improvement warehouse will have everything you need to revamp and personalize the flooring of your choice!

The beauty beneath: Always dreamed of having beautiful hardwood floors? Choose a room, pull up the carpet, and you’ll be on your way to accomplishing just that! Repairing, refinishing, and staining the floor is a simple step-by-step process that you can achieve without the heavy expense of installing new wood panels.

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Make a list: Spend some time taking stock of the kinds of maintenance and improvement projects you’d like to begin. A well-considered list will help you to set reachable goals.

Assess your skills: Make sure that you carefully consider which projects you are fully capable of completing. For example, unless you have sufficient experience with electrical, plumbing or construction work, you should probably leave those tasks to the professionals.

Establish priorities: Which projects are most important to you? Which projects will be the most costly? Which is more important: timeliness, quality or cost? Before beginning any do-it-yourself project, it is always wise to determine specific goals and priorities so that you are fully prepared when it comes time to begin.

Create a budget: For each project that you want to complete, make certain that you have a firm budget in place. Allowing for unexpected circumstances (such as errors or the need for additional materials) in your budget will keep you from overspending.

One step at a time: When it’s time to begin, remember to pace yourself! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your new garden terrace will take time as well. Complete one task at a time, and soon you’ll feel the wonderful sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that doing-it-yourself can bring!

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Winning the Clutter Wars Part III – Be Ruthless!

First, you will need four cardboard boxes and a large trash can. Label the boxes as follows:

  • Put Away
  • Fix
  • Set Free
  • Mementos

Set an alarm clock to go off in one to two hours. You don’t want to overdo things! Open the closet or junk drawer and select the first object. Now we will use the four definitions of clutter to help us decide what goes in the trash can or which box to use for each item.

The trash can. You will find plenty of stuff that is absolutely unusable. Be ruthless.

The “Put Away” box. Anything goes in here that is out of place and would be better off in a more convenient location. As soon as the alarm clock goes off you will take ten minutes or so to put all the items in this box where they really belong.

The “Fix” box. If the item is damaged or missing a part, but you are certain you would use it regularly if repaired, put it in this box. Objects can only reside in the fix box for one week before they have to change residence! If you do not repair the item by week’s end it must go into the “Set Free” box.

The “Set Free” box. This box will hold items that you dislike, things you haven’t used in more than a year, orphaned gifts from friends and family (when you said, “Oh, you really shouldn’t have!”), things that still have some good use in them, things that will surely fit again “someday.” This box will go in the trunk of the car. You will take the box to a local resale store or to a charity center. Many charities will even pick up this stuff at your front door—what convenience! You will be doing a good thing, since someone will be getting some good out of these items right now.

The “Mementos” box. This one can be a bit tricky. It’s for things that have true sentimental or family heirloom value. You will want to invest in a cedar chest or other similar sized permanent storage unit. The items from this box will go into that permanent storage. But remember, that cedar heirloom chest will fill up rapidly if you are too casual about “what’s an heirloom.” Consider passing on some of these things to extended family members right now—don’t wait 20 years!

Now you are one closet closer to having a serene, uncluttered home! Next week take this same process and tackle another corner of the house!

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Wining the Clutter Wars Part II – What’s Clutter?

The first step in winning the Clutter Wars is to de-bug your own mind! Most of us don’t recognize clutter when it falls out of the closet onto our heads, so how in the world will we conquer it? Let’s start by defining what clutter is. Clutter is anything in your home:

  • That is out of place
  • That is broken
  • That you have not used or worn in more than a year
  • That you dislike

Now don’t panic. I won’t be telling you to throw away everything that falls within the above definition of clutter. BUT once you get a clear picture in your head of what constitutes clutter you will be better able to deal with it! In the next installment we still start in one small place to give you some practice in sorting through all that clutter.

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Winning the Clutter Wars Part I – Introduction

Let’s look at some ways to prevent the clutter in the first place. You can call this your Homeowner’s Declaration of Independence.

Garage sales are events you stage, not events you attend. Unless you are a professional junk or antique dealer, there is no reason for you to ever attend a garage sale. Think of them as the entry level drugs offered by the clutter “drug lord” to get you hooked.

Discover the joys of borrowing. Let’s be honest. There are some things you might only use two or three times a year (fondue set, espresso maker, sewing machine, Super Dooper Foot Spa, etc.). You don’t need to buy these things! Your friends will be happy to dig them out from under their beds and loan them to you upon request.

Throw away those full-color store ad inserts in your newspaper and the mailbox—do not browse them first. I’m talking about the good ones from Walmart, Kmart, Target, Kohl’s, etc. Those ads exist for one reason only—to make you think you need more stuff. I know, you think you are just window shopping, but that is the first step to buying a juicer with ten attachments, a second George Foreman Grill, or a desktop fountain like the one in your attic.

Treat eBay (and other internet shopping sites) like disaster sites—steer clear of them. You will not escape unscathed. Clutter will leap into your shopping cart of its own volition!

Finally, if you absolutely must buy something, do it only to replace something you already have. It’s OK to replace your grill, the refrigerator, your coffee table—just don’t multiply them!

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Using Your Old Stuff to Create a New Room

Have you ever noticed how some people seem to have a knack for creating inviting rooms? One of the joys of owning your own home is having the freedom to decorate a room to please yourself. The only problem is, most of us don’t even know where to start! Today I am sharing with you some simple tips on re-arranging a room that can make the difference between “okay” and “wow!”

Before you start your room re-arrangement, first empty the room completely. Take down all the wall décor and remove any rugs. Now, look at the room as if you are seeing it for the first time. Consider what activities you want to take place in the room. Let form follow function.

The number one mistake people make is to push all the furniture back against the walls of a den or living room. This makes conversation difficult and creates a walkway through the middle of the conversation area. Try pulling your furniture out into the room into a cozy grouping for conversation. Experiment with placing the seating group at an angle instead of neatly lined up with the walls. A rug and a coffee table can anchor the seating group so that it looks like it “belongs” in the center of the room.

Instead of spreading out your wall hangings along the walls, try grouping several pieces together for stronger impact. Also, it is easier to create “random” groupings than symmetrical designs, which require careful measuring and spacing.

Now that your furniture isn’t lining the walls you can add depth to your wall décor by creating three dimensional groupings. If you have a grouping of pictures or accessories on the wall, try placing a small table or chest below them. Dress the table top with two or three favorite objects of varying heights to add dimension.

Make a dramatic impact by slip covering your old furniture. At a fraction of the cost of new furniture you can extend the life of your old sofa and add a new color and texture to your room.

Show off your collections! Whether it’s rocks, seashells, marbles or buttons, you can purchase inexpensive clear glass containers to show off these items on a coffee table or chest.

Take advantage of your new arrangement to get rid of accessories you really don’t like—that old lamp, the dried flower arrangement that is years past its prime, and the afghan that is picked, balled and knotted. Less can be more!

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One of the easiest ways to cut your heating and cooling bill is to make sure that your attic has seven inches (R-22) or more (up to R-49) of fiberglass or rock wool insulation.

A simple step we often ignore—replace or clean your AC vents once a month.

Don’t leave your bathroom ventilator running longer than necessary, as it can drain your entire house of cooled or heated air in about an hour!

During the summer keep your drapes closed in the heat of the day. In the winter keep the south facing window drapes open.

Make sure all windows are caulked and weather-stripped to save 10% on your H/AC bill.

White window shades or blinds will deflect the heat away from your house.

Lower hot water costs by installing low-flow showerheads and faucets.

Insulate your water heater and set its thermostat at 115° F.

You can cut up to 50% on your lighting costs by replacing 25% of the bulbs in your main-use areas with fluorescent lighting. Fluorescent lights are more expensive but also last six to ten times longer than incandescent bulbs.

Plant trees ASAP. Well-placed trees will not only lower your energy costs but will increase the curb appeal of your home and make your yard a more enjoyable place to be.

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When you first move into your new home it is a good idea to take care of a few small things that can make a big difference when it counts.

Change the locks on all your exterior doors. Unless your house is brand new you never know how many strangers may have a key to your front door.

Replace the batteries in all the smoke detectors in the house. Record the date in your calendar so you will remember to do the same thing next year!

Unless your heating/air units are new, have the vents and filters cleaned or replaced.

Create a fire-hazard plan with your family and conduct a practice drill with the children.

Replace or clean the exhaust hood filter above the range.

Check all your electric outlets for loose-fitting plugs, as these can pose a fire hazard. These outlets are inexpensive and fairly easy to replace.

Have the fireplace chimney cleaned. While you are at it go ahead and install a rain cap and a screen to keep the birds out of your chimney.

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We all want to feel safe in our own homes. Accidents, especially tragic ones, aren’t something we want to think about. But when it comes to accidents, the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is doubly true! I thought I would share with you some precautions against some of the most common household accidents.

Never leave standing liquids unattended. Stay within arm’s reach while your child is bathing or is near any container of water. If the phone rings, let it ring; stay with your child.

Prevent tap water scalds by adjusting the temperature on your hot water heater to 120° F.

Keep medicines and hazardous household chemicals locked up and out of sight. Use child-resistant packaging for medicines and hazardous household chemicals, and call 1-800-222-1222 if a poisoning occurs.

Cut the loops on window-blind cords and call 1-800-506-4636 for a free repair kit.

Make sure your hairdryer has a large rectangular plug. The immersion protection device prevents electrocution if the hairdryer is dropped in water.

Change the battery in your smoke alarm when you change your clock’s setting in October or November.

Have a professional check your furnace for carbon monoxide leaks and your chimney for blockages; put a CO alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area.

Prevent electrocutions by installing a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) in your household outlets.

Installing Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) can prevent electrical fires. AFCIs can sense electrical arc and trip the circuit.

Babies on adult beds risk suffocation from hidden hazards such as entrapment between the bed and wall; entrapment involving the bed frame, headboard, and footboard; or soft bedding such as pillows or thick quilts and comforters.

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Before you begin pick your paint colors carefully. You may love one color, but will it go well with your furnishings, carpeting, and adjoining wall areas? Choosing with care can save you a frustrating and costly re-do.

Use water-based latex paint for ease in application and cleanup.

Buy the correct paint for the surface you are painting. Wood floors, concrete, masonry or metal require specific products.

Before you dip your brush in that paint, assemble every item you will need:

Enough paint for the entire job (you don’t want to take your paint-smeared self back to the store in the middle of the job)

Brushes, rollers (if you settle for the cheapest quality you’ll get brush hairs and roller fuzzies all over your walls!)

Plastic dropcloths or old sheets (yes, you will make a mess)

A large damp cloth for wiping up small drips and mistakes while they are still wet


Screwdriver and claw hammer to remove wall hooks, switchplates, nails, etc.

Plastic automotive tape to edge windows, trim and carpet

Hand cream—you will be so glad you used this on your hands and arms when it comes time to clean up

Prepare the surface. Cracks and holes should be filled with spackling, and old paint should be lightly sanded so the new paint will adhere. Make sure the surface is clean of dirt, grease, rust and flaking paint.

Paint in this order: ceiling, walls, trim, floor. Remember, paint drips DOWN.

Use a roller for the big areas and a brush to cut in from the outside edges.

Tape all window edges, trim, and carpet edges. You will thank yourself for this once you start cutting in with the brush!

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