50 Days Happier: Day 7 – So Many Jars

With the exception of our unfinished basement, the kitchen is the room in our house that makes me unhappiest.  More than any other space, the kitchen screams “cheep rental home amenities!”–from the vinyl sheet flooring (that I gather is supposed to look like ugly tile) to the laminate countertops (that are supposed to look like some sort of mossy green “granite”) to the out-of-the-box oak-ish Home Depot base and wall cabinets.  All together, the “infrastructure” of the kitchen creates the kind of space I would never choose to live in.

My efforts to try to rectify this situation combined with our over-abundance of belongings have birthed something truly insane. Case in point, the “pantry.” Though this eat-in kitchen is one of the largest we’ve lived in, it’s not the most well appointed space.  Conspicuously missing is anything that can be easily used as a pantry.  A few months after we moved in (almost two years ago), I got the bright idea to turn two old, broken down particle board bookcases on their sides, attach them to the wall (supported by a couple of random Ikea furniture legs I had laying around), and use some wooden boards to create a top surface and divided shelves.

Violà! Pantry.

I am more than a little bit embarrassed to admit that this project lingered in a state of half-completion for more than a year.  I got the bookcases mounted, the legs on, the exterior panted and the top surface placed.  But the painting of the interior, and the dividing shelfs remained undone month after neglected month.  It looked simply awful, was marginally functional, and did not produce a lot of happy feelings.

Just before I started the 50 Days Happier challenge, I got my act together and finished painting and dividing the shelves.  It’s still not the most amazing thing in the world. but with no real pantry, this gives us some much needed storage.

After more than a year of half-completion, the bottom half of the bookcase pantry is more or less complete.

Way back when I originally built this thing, I hung a couple of cheep shelves for dry goods and a shallow case that I intended to use as a spice rack above the bookshelves.  The actual use of these shelves has been all over the place.  The top shelf is filled with jars of dry goods.  The middle shelf is home to about 20 pint glasses, roughly half of my collection.  And the spice rack is mostly empty, save for some cast off spices we never use (mace, anyone?).

The upper half of the pantry. Used…sort of well.

Tackling this part of the kitchen also required me to empty out part of one of our wall cabinets.  We (okay, really just my spouse) are jar savers.  From salsa to tomato sauce, pickles to peanut butter,  our empty jars enter a kind of countertop doldrums where they float around, soaking in soapy water until they eventually make it into the cabinet or (sometimes) get recycled. A large amount of cabinet space has gone to housing these jars that seem to never get used and an entire drawer (we have few) has gone to a ragtag collection of lids.

All the lids.

Today’s Challenge: Jars

I started by pulling the pint glasses off the shelf and packing them up to take to the new fermentation studio. I definitely experienced a pang of loss while packing the glasses into a box, but I’ve made the decision (or rather been beat over the head with the stark reality) that the kitchen cannot effectively multitask.  If my beer and brewing equipment, accessories, and collections are going to remain an important part of my life, I need to treat them that way and give them their own space. Prioritize. Organize.

Next, I dumped the lid drawer, emptied the jar cabinet, and pulled most of the dry goods off the shelf.

So, so much crap.

While the DIY pantry solution isn’t making its way onto any HGTV specials, I would like it to look as “nice” as possible.  As such, I hope to cull down our collection of jars so that we have as many matching jars and lids as possible. The sorting took a while and I ended up transferring a lot of bulk grains, rices, nuts, lentils, and obscure flours into new jars.

Sorting the jars. So many different shapes and sizes!

Finally, I reloaded the shelves with sorted jars.  I even included several empties in a couple of sizes so that we have room to add more dry goods (in the event they come out with a new flavor of nutritional yeast or something).

To be 100% honest, the pantry doesn’t look noticeably “better,” but after recycling all the unused jars and lids, I gained half a wall cabinet and an entire drawer worth of kitchen storage.  THIS is a huge deal for me and quickly a number of random things that have been looking for homes found their new, and more organized, resting places.

All the jars, all in one place.

I plan to order a case of small spice jars to load the rack soon.  But for today, I am done and feeling at least a little bit happier about my kitchen.

Dear Amazon Prime fairy, please send these.



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50 Days Happier: Day 6 – The Next Frontier

I’m back from vacation, exhausted, and planning to use the next couple of days to recover from vacation. I know…

I have to admit that I spent more than a few minutes this past week deciding what to tackle next for the challenge. I did, however, manage to pry my mind away from “productive” things from time to time and I definitely feel better, happier, for it. Here are a couple of pictures of the scenery from our camping vacation.

Now that I am back in the house, I have decided to tackle the kitchen.  This is going to be a significant undertaking for a couple of reasons.  First, the kitchen is shared space, which means that I wont be able  to unilaterally make decisions.  This, I am admittedly really nervous about. I am married to a collector of little things and there have been more than a few disagreements about the volume of “stuff” over the years.  Second, the kitchen is home to more than one activity.  Until very recently, the bulk of my homebrewery was spread around the kitchen and adjacent laundry room. Though I have made some serious efforts to relocate the bulkiest and ugliest equipment, there is still a lot of stuff around and it needs somewhere to go.  (Fortunately, I have a place waiting…I’ll cover that in my next post.) Finally, we are renters and there’s only so much “changing” we can do to the kitchen.  Lot’s of solutions that come to mind would require permanent reconfigurations and we just don’t have the freedom to do that.

Still, just chewing on these three considerations has given me enough to start working out a plan.  I think this project, unlike the wardrobe, is going to be pretty long term.  Here’s hoping for good results!


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50 Days Happier: Day 5 – Pre-Vacation Clear Out

For the next eight or nine days I’ll be “off the grid.”  I’ll be spending Friday and Saturday on the road because of an unexpected death in my stepson’s family.  On Sunday, the family leaves  for a camping vacation that will have me traipsing around the  woods, under rocks, and through lakes until Friday morning.  On Friday afternoon, I head directly from the campsite to Chapel Hill, NC to attend the retirement party of a dear friend and mentor.  With everything that is in the works, all the packing and preparations still in front of me, I have decided to give myself a bit of a break with regard to the challenge.  Thus, I’ve resolved to keep my eye out for any impromptu opportunities to organize or dump some trash while I sift through closets and the basement to collect all our camping gear, but no major new projects.

While I did manage to do a little clearing out while I was packing, an entirely different, and far more difficult, challenge dropped into my lap.  Most of my efforts in this challenge have been focused on my physical environment, but today I was confronted with the need to do a bit of emotional purging, prioritizing, and simplifying.

I’ve always believed that “toxic relationships” were a product of bad or mean or broken people.  I realized today that this isn’t necessarily true.  Good people with good intentions, who (at least in theory) genuinely like each other, can simply be ill-suited to maintain a healthy and functioning friendship.  The ironic part is that such friendships are in some ways even more dysfunctional than those with known assholes.  After all, you can generally tell when an asshole is going to strike.  People with bad intentions throw up warning signals like beacons.  But people who genuinely care for you, who have no intention of inflicting harm, who are good people, seem to be the ones with the ability to cut the deepest.  And when those woundings aren’t isolated incidents, but come over and over, maintaining such a friendship is like a roller coaster ride–simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.  Perhaps when I was younger, I was able to manage these kinds of relationship.  Who I am I kidding, I was actually attracted to these kinds of relationships.  They are exciting, intoxicating.  But now, I am just too old for roller coasters and if I ask myself the question, mantra, I have adopted for these 50 days–Does this relationship make me happy?–my most honest self does not want to say ‘no’, and cannot, no matter which way I spin it, say ‘yes’.

Such is life, I suppose.

I am relieved that I’ll have a few days in the wilderness to process these first five days of the challenge–this last one especially.  Though in some ways, I feel like I haven’t really done that much, in others I feel like the ground underneath my feet has shifted just enough to make me a little disoriented.  When I return, I hope to be recharged and ready to rock!


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