If you’ve already rounded out the basics in your kitchen and acquired kitchen shears, you might be wondering what other items would help you level up your kitchen to achieve a wow factor. Here are my top five affordable items that have both practical applications and give the impression you have it all together in your kitchen.
1. Automatic wine opener – This little baby is one of my favorite kitchen tools. Most wine accessories give off an impressive air, but this one avoids some of the pretention and helps you avoid looking like a fool using a different opener.
2. Spoon rest – I went years thinking spoon rests weren’t necessary. What better would they be versus a plate or say, your plain old countertop? Turns out they can be super useful as long as you get one you will use! In my case I needed to get a large enough spoon rest to hold my cooking utensils and ladles, and I prefer stainless steel because it is easier to clean or avoid staining.
3. Toaster oven – I grew up with toaster ovens rather than a traditional toaster. While they typically take a little longer than a regular toaster for plain bread, a toaster oven has so many more functions and uses. You can make regular toast, cheesy or messy toast, bake cookies, roast vegetabls, broil, and so much more! Also, how does one even fit fancy bread into a traiditional toaster?? (rolls, croissants, thick cut, etc.) I’ve converted multiple friends, roommates, and family members to devoted toaster oven fans.
4. Food scale – Food scales are super helpful if you’re practicing recipes or do any baking. They help you understand approximate measures, portions, or how to scale your preparations to the ingredients you have on hand (e.g., you have 2 lbs of potatoes and not 5). For baking, it also helps with accuracy, as most recipes are developed with scaling or weighting of ingredients rather than measuring cups. If your flour settles, or maybe your eggs are large, your recipe will be just a tad off. The scale is also super helpful if you have any international recipes using different metrics.
5. Ingredients for a fancy cocktail – Hone in on your favorite drink of choice and get a few “fancy” ingredients to make that happen, alcoholic or not. You don’t need to stock up on a full bar to make a quality and impressive drink. Just one of something like bitters, vermouth, or a fancy soda can go a long way across multiple combinations.
I would recommend a good non-stick pan or a cast iron pan. These are very versatile and can be used to get a good sear on a lot of foods. A 12″ pan will get you the most use, but a smaller one (6-8″) is great for just eggs. For non-stick, it doesn’t need to be expensive but make sure not to get a really old one to ensure it doesn’t have chemical issues.
2. A chef’s knife and knife sharpener
A standard chef’s knife is the most versatile and best value. Nowadays you can also get very affordable knife sets if you are looking for additional sizes and types! Look out for sales or check out places like TJ Maxx for big discounts on the bigger name brands. No matter how many knives you have, make sure to get a knife sharpener and try to sharpen it every time you use it. Knives work so much better and are actually safer when sharp because they slip when dull. The sharpeners that have grooves to drag the knives through are easier to use versus the traditional steels (long sticks).
3. A meat thermometer
A meat thermometer is an overlooked secret to ensuring your meat is done to your liking and/or proper safe temperature. You can check for doneness without cutting into the meat or trying to check juice colors or other more difficult factors.
4. Caffeinated beverage maker of your choice
If you are a regular coffee or tea drinker, learn to make your basics or even your fancy favorites at home! This is so much cheaper and faster than buying this everyday, and you can customize whatever you want! My favorite feature is that I can program mine to run at a certain time so I can set it up the night before and wake up to fresh coffee. This should be something you get everyday use from, whether this is a coffee maker, espresso pod machine, french press, tea kettle, tea organizer, or more.
5. Towels. Plenty of them.
I’m glad to say everyone I know now generally has a few towels in their kitchen for drying hands, dishes, etc. Additional towels are helpful for cleaning (I use a completely different microfiber style), rotating them out for laundry, or quickly wiping up spills. Don’t live like a college student with a single dish towel in your entire home.
When you get your flowers home, make sure to put them in water if you’re not going to cut them and put them in a vase right away. If needed, you can tie a small bag of water to the end of the flowers with a rubber band (this works well for a long car ride or carrying them around a farmer’s market before you go home).
To arrange your flowers, you will need a vase, kitchen scissors or small garden shears, and counterspace to work. The kitchen scissors or garden shears are thicker than normal scissors and are better for cutting through produce. I like that the kitchen scissors come apart for easier washing as well. In general, you want to choose a vase that allows your flowers to sit about 50% taller than the top of the vase. Your typical upright vase around 8-14″ tall will work great to start. Shorter or wider vases are more difficult to arrange and may require tape or a foam block to hold the flowers at the desired angle.
Unwrap the Flowers
Remove any plastic or paper wrapping from your flowers. I like to cut this along the length of the flowers and lay out the plastic to use as a tablecloth for my work space. The bottoms of the stems will usually be taped or rubber banded. Remove this from your flowers and set aside any packets of flower food that come with the flowers.
Prepare the Vase
Open one packet of flower food and pour it into your empty vase. Fill the vase about halfway with water in your sink. Stir to dissolve the flower food (I usually just use my scissors or a sturdy flower stem).
Prepare the Flowers
First, you will need to remove most off the leaves that are attached to your flower stems. Set the greenery aside for now. You do not want any leaves submerged in the water of the vase, as this leads to rotting and other gross conditions that will shorten the life of your entire arrangement. There is also not a lot of space inside the vase for both the stems and those excess leaves to fit.
Remove all the leaves from your flower stems (non-greenery) that are more than about 4 inches from the top where the flower is. Some of them you may be able to easily pluck off by hand (carnations, daisies), but otherwise you should snip them off with your scissors. Be careful not to nick or cut the stem. Err on the side of having a bit of the leaf stem still attached. At this time, if you see any spines or thorns on roses you can trim those down as well. If you see any wet, rotted leaves or flowers, wipe those off or pick them out of the pile to discard.
Cut the Flowers
Start with your “star” flowers. Hold your flowers up next to your vase to determine how much length you need to cut off the bottom. You want your flowers to ultimately sit in the vase about 50% taller than the vase. A great way to do this is to put the vase near the end of the countertop and then hold your flower stem against the side of the counter so you can actually move it up and down.
Once you’ve determined what length you like, cut the stem at a 45 degree angle. Put the stem in the vase. If you want them to be a bit shorter, trim a little more. As you fill the vase, you may want some stems to be slightly taller or shorter in order to sit in different positions (typically the tallest ones are in the center). Imagine the top of your vase is a circular clock. You will want to add flower stems at different angles (hours) to distribute them throughout your arrangement.
Repeat this with your filler flowers. As the vase gets fuller, you may need to gently wiggle the stems in place to get them all the way inside the vase. I like to rotate my vase around frequently to make sure I am filling it evenly and the arrangement looks balanced.
Adjust and Finish the Arrangement
Once all your stems are in place, I like to pick them all up as a bunch and give it a small lift and drop to “fluff” the bouquet. This helps the stems get in better position inside the vase and redstribute a little bit naturally. If any flowers need to be moved around, or pulled up or down vertically, make those adjustments to your liking!
Finally, take your greenery pieces. To cut these to size, you will want to focus on the length of leaves you want visible in your arrangement, plus enough leafless stem underneath that to anchor the piece in the arrangement. The bottom of the stem for greenery does not need to be all the way in the water like the flowers. Add individual pieces around the outside of your arrangement as well as one or two to pockets in the middle of the arrangement.
When arranging a pre-made bouquet, you’ll still need to do the trimming steps. Take a photo of the flowers before as a good guide for distributing the variety of flowers.
If you find yourself with too many flowers in one vase, it is okay to take them out! I like mine very full and sometimes it’s too much for the vase. Put them in a separate vase or small jar for a second mini arrangement. Rotate your vase around and make any final adjustments, then enjoy your beautiful flowers!
To make the most of your flowers, be sure to check the water every two days and add more as they drink it up. After a few days, the edges of stems in the water may start to brown. Lift up your entire bouquet in one move, trim those off, and put it back in the water! If some of the blooms start wilting before the others I’ll remove those and if needed, transfer everything else to another vase. I can get most of my mixed arrangements to last almost 2 weeks!
Fresh flowers are a splurge that can really brigthen up someone’s day and their home! A great way to save money locally is learning to arrange them yourself versus ordering delivery. I also like being able to pick the colors and variety in my flowers. Depending what is in season, you may save a little money selecting the individual flowers versus a pre-mixed bouquet.
Where to Buy Flowers
In my experience, Costco, Trader Joe’s, and farmer markets or flower marts offer the most affordable, high quality fresh flower options (for both bouquets and unarranged bunches). My local grocery stores (Publix in this example, and Kroger) also have a pretty good selection, and frequently run sales or BOGO deals that make them budget-friendly as well. Publix typically has a 3/$12 section and a “special” bouquet that is cheaper than the others. Kroger often has a clearance section of flowers – some are about to age past their prime, but I’ve found great steals for arrangements in excellent condition they are just trying to rotate out of the display,
Types of Flowers
Think of your flowers in 3 different groups: stars, fillers, and greenery. The stars are the flowers that will stand out in your bouquet, typically from size, color, shape, or all of the above. These are your roses, sunflowers, stargazer lilies, etc. Typically this is the most expensive part of your flower arrangement.
The fillers are typically smaller flowers that are meant to fill the empty spaces around your arrangement so it looks lush and full. These are typically cheaper for the amount of flowers in the bunch. Common filler flowers include astrolomeria, mums, carnations, and daisies.
I used to dislike astrolomeria (or Peruvian lilies) because some of the colors are a bit softer and more subdued than I prefer for flowers. However, these are now one of my favorite filler flowers. They are very inexpensive, come in a ton of colors, and each stalk has multiple flowers and leaves so you get a bit of bonus greenery with these. They also sit really well in a vase – you don’t have to manipulate them a lot. Because each stem has multiple flowers, they fill in pockets really easily versus a single flower that you have to place with more intention to avoid holes in your arrangement.
Greenery is your literal green leaves or non-flower components that completely fill out your flower arrangement and provide extra color and texture for contrast to the other flowers. Common greenery in floral arrangements includes eucalyptus leaves, myrtle leaves, and fern leaves. I also count baby’s breath in this group. Even though it is white and can be used as filler, the way you can spread and almost drape baby’s breath makes it behave more like the leaf and green components.
Selecting Your Flowers
A simple formula is to pick one flower from each category above. If you’re feeling fancy or you want more volume to your flowers, select a second filler. In this example I picked roses from the star group, astrolomeria and carnations from the filler group, and some eucalyptus leaves for greenery. The roses were on BOGO at Publix, so half off since I just got one bunch!
For colors, I prefer to let my star flower have the boldest color (bright pink, purple, yellow, etc.). For fillers, I’ll either go with white flowers or a complementary pale pink or purple. This is an easy way to pretty much guarantee that everything “matches,” versus selecting competing colors or colors that are almost but not quite the same across the entire arrangement.
Most stores will have the filler and greenery grouped together. You can also look at the pre-made bouquets for a little inspiration or to see how different flowers look grouped together!
If you are going for a really big arrangement of one type of star flower, you may not need very many or any filler flowers (just greenery or something small). For example, a really large bouquet of roses, sunflowers, or peonies can look great with just some greenery or a bit of baby’s breath.
In my next post, I’ll talk about how to arrange those flowers once you get them home!
Disclaimers: These may yield different results for short haired pets. I am not yet famous enough for affiliate links, so any linked items are a truly honest representation of my recommendations.
If your pet is allowed on the bed and leaves fur all over your bed, GET YOURSELF A CHOM CHOM ROLLER. After many years of using a white duvet cover to camouflage Wrigley’s white fur, I was shamelessly about to switch to a patterned one since Tucker has added brown fur into the mix. My initial impression of the Chom Chom was not great and I almost returned it because it seemed overpriced ($24 at time of posting) but ended up keeping it solely for running over my bed. It works on duvet covers, sheets, pillowcases, and even my headboard.
I used to waste a lot of sticky lint roller sheets trying to make my bed look marginally better. The Chom Chom roller is much faster and more sustainable. The rolling motion with the double sided velvet piece is the most effective tool I have ever used to remove fur from sheets in just a few quick swipes.
Others rave that the Chom Chom also works well on any flat fabric surfaces, like microfiber couch cushions. I have more textured fabric on my couches so I can’t speak to this, but I prefer a sticky lint roller for clothing. You need a large, flat surface to lay out any clothing and need it to stay held pretty tautly or the fabric tends to bunch and wrinkle before you can get much fur or lint off.
On my guest bed, I keep an extra fitted sheet over the entire made bed. I use a spare king-sized sheet on a queen bed and am able to cover all the pillows and comforter as well. This is a protective cover against my dogs randomly romping or napping on the bed. I periodically run the Chom Chom over the protective sheet, then do one final pass and take the cover off when I have visitors so they have a clean and ready bed.
This is part two of a series. Read part one on clothing here.
Disclaimers: These may yield different results for short haired pets. I am not yet famous enough for affiliate links, so any linked items are a truly honest representation of my recommendations.
There are several tools to keep in your arsenal here, and the right combo for you will vary on the size of your spaces, materials, and your pets. Sadly, for mega shedders like my pups, robot vacuums and Swiffer cloths are no match without running or refilling them multiple times.
My top recommendation is a compact vacuum that works on both carpet and hard floors. I have had a Shark Navigator (picture above) for 5+ years and it is great for all the floors and a deep cleaning of the stairs or my couch. The brush hose extension can be also used on lamp shades, headboards, throw pillows, and more. This is the current available version. It swivels and turns very well, and is modular so you can remove the wheeled bottom and the handle becomes the actual hose/extension piece. For pets, you will want a vacuum with brush rollers or even a “pet” attachment to really grab on to fur. Periodically clean the hair off the bottom where the brush roller is or it will get entangled and be less effective.
Next up is a dust buster, or a mini, cordless hanheld vacuum. Despite my love for my Shark vacuum, I live in a four-story townhouse and lugging even a small vaccum around is challenging. The dust buster is my favorite for quick cleaning stairs and great for nabbing fur tumbleweeds. Since it’s small, you don’t necessarily have to move furniture around either (like around dining chair legs). It’s also great for other small spills like food crumbs or dirt near your doors. This has always been a family favorite for me, and I just recently got a replacement dust buster for the one I had for about 10 years. In my eyes, the only downfall of the dust buster is, by nature of being cordless, it eventually runs out of battery and you have to stop and recharge it (I’ve gone about 25-30 min).
Then we have the rubber squeegee broom. This newcomer is good for a full hardwood room when I don’t want to get out the vacuum or I’ve already vacuumed and then my dogs have a wrestling match. It accomplishes what I wish the Swiffer would do for my floors (and did do, before pets). The main issue is that I would need 5+ dry sweep cloths to do just my living room. Fur and dirt get pushed around easily with the rubber broom, it fits under furniture, and you can also use it on multiple surfaces – hard floors, carpet, couches, rugs, etc. You will need to scrape it with more pressure on soft surfaces versus the sweeping motion on hard floors. You can also use it on the stairs, but I find it kicks the dirt around too much versus a dust buster, and I sweep a little too aggressively and scuff the white paint on my stair risers.
Robot Vacuums. There are some hardore fans of the robot vacuum, and I am not one. First, the container on my robot vacuum is smaller than the dust buster receptacle, and needs to be emptied at least 3 times in our main living area alone. Second, ours needs to be semi-monitored because it will get stuck on something like the corner of a floor mat or under a cabinet. If you have a smaller space, it can be a great time saver.
Dyson Vacuums. I was lucky enough to receive a cordless Dyson vacuum as a wedding gift. It is lightweight, but I think would work better in smaller spaces. The Dyson has a very small storage footprint and you can mount it to a wall or behind a door. I used it more in our last apartment than now. (I did give it a solid test run pre-wedding and cleaned a friend’s entire living area with theirs). The biggest flaw on the Dyson is it requires you to continuously hold a trigger down to run instead of a fixed “on” switch, which is fatiguing if you need to clean the whole house. I also find it less effective on stairs and carpet versus my Shark vacuum. On stairs, when the Dyson whooshes (powers) off, it blows some of the dirt around and leaves it behind. On carpet, I have to empty the fur out frequently and that diminshes some of the convenience of it being cordless.
I’ve got two active dogs with long and medium coats, which means there is dog fur everywhere, all day, every day. I’ve tried a lot of products and tactics to keep the fur at bay to keep my home and clothing in presentable condition. Here are my top recommendations, beginning with your clothes.
Disclaimers: These may yield different results for short haired pets, and represent my experience with medium to long haired dogs.
Wrigley loves to nap in the dark confines of my closet, which means nuzzling against some of my wardrobe. The best rule of thumb to keep your clothes fur free is to keep your pets away from your clothes as best you can:
Keep your clothing enclosed or out of reach. This isn’t possible for everything, but I keep my t-shirts in a dresser drawer, and some shoes in enclosed under-bed storage. There’s tons of storage options at The Container Store, Amazon, Target, etc. Once you know what you’re looking for, keep an eye out at places like Home Goods for budget-friendly options.
Once you’re dressed to leave, don’t nuzzle your pets or sit on any fur.
Change into “home” clothing that is fur-repellent or you are okay covering in fur.
Run a lint roller over your clothing before it goes in your hamper.
Keep clean clothing away from your pets. Fold it on a clean surface and don’t leave it out where fur will collect.
Your best tool to remove fur from clothing is a lint roller. I prefer the sticky, disposable sheets to the velvety reusable ones, as these can pass over the most types of fabric and types of clothing, including lace or textured items. Keep them everywhere – where you dress, your living room, your car, at work. There are miniature ones for travel. You can also roll them on other surfaces like tables or floors to pick up fur quickly.
Note: These pet-specific dryer sheets come in a nice double size, but after a few months I haven’t noticed them being particularly effective at repelling pet fur versus the regular ones.