Sunday, September 22, 2013

Clothing and Canned Goods, Update.

First phase of clothing organization: Complete.

Immediately following my last blog post I got to straight to work.  I cleared out the area adjacent to my side of the bed and spent a couple hours cleaning and arranging the various shelving components.  It was more difficult than usual due to space constraints and I realize it may need adjustment as the unpacking continues.  I actually factored earthquake safety into the process and made sure the shelves were stacked firmly together at a moderate height.   Because of this there were a few shelves I didn't use in the setup and haven’t decided yet whether I’ll use them in the bedroom for clothes, in my office downstairs in the dining room, or share them with my husband for use in his office.  I guess it depends on how the unpacking organization unfolds.

The stacks of clothing in the after photo are separated between sleeveless, short sleeve, and long sleeve tops with each category further divided by either solid/printed or warm/cool/neutral colors.  There are separate stacks for built-in bra camis, knit sweaters, and jersey knit turtlenecks.  The bottoms are separated by shorts, capris, and long pants with each category further divided by either leg width (ex: bootcut, skinny), fabric weight, or frequency worn.  This is by no means the extent of my wardrobe; the whole shebang is worth its own post.

While cleaning and reorganizing my old dresser I found one drawer’s slide guide had broken off underneath.  This came as no surprise; the dresser is old and has certainly seen better days.  I think I once wrote about refinishing or updating it, along with the matching desk (that I didn't bring to Japan with me).  All I ever did was replace the knobs and, as you can see from the photo, they didn't fare so well during the move.  I often just want to dissemble the thing for firewood but, for the first time, we don’t even have a fireplace to burn it in.  I guess I’ll make it work somehow.  I asked my husband to fix the slide only because I didn't feel like messing with it.

The next phase of my clothing organization is my shoes, my hanging clothes, and my closet.  This will get done within the week.  It must, I can’t put it off any longer.  I’ll be sure to take some before and after photos because it is a very challenging project.

Middle portion of kitchen organization: Complete.

Within two days of our household goods arriving I had every kitchen box unpacked.  Since we had already been living in the house for over a month I kind of already knew how the kitchen organization would work.  Kind of.  It’s impossible to know precisely how to organize a space until you are living in it, day-to-day, with all your tools and belongings.  So, this weekend, I reorganized a few areas to better suit how I am using it.

This organize-as-you-go method is new to me.  As a perfectionist I like to do things correctly the first time so as not to waste time re-doing it later.  Sometimes this process, however, would freeze me in my tracks if I didn’t know exactly how to proceed.  This time I forced myself to loosen up and realize that it is okay to put things away in a temporary home until a better place was found.  So far, this method is working because I am actually following through on the “better place” part.  For most people this is nothing significant, but it is a true testament to the efficacy of combination drug and talk therapy for those living with any anxiety/depressive disorder.  Small victories, I say.

I re-worked the pantry almost to the point of completion; there are a few minor changes I’d like to do but that will always be the case.  The other most difficult areas are the upper, corner cabinets and the lower, corner, lazy-susan cabinets.  I hate them both.  The lazy-susan cabinets have plastic shelves that cannot bear too much weight and the doors have hinges that are time bombs waiting to break.  I hate them enough that I won’t even continue writing about them now.  I have some before and almost-after photos but I’ll share them later when the almost-after becomes a more actual-after.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Unpacking Progression, Day Six.

I should be unpacking my clothes right now so this will be a short update.

Biggest success in my area of unpacking is emptying all the kitchen boxes.  Pantry and cabinet organization is a work in progress. I'm adjusting as I work in kitchen, figuring out where items live as I use them.  Second is my desk set-up, consisting only of my desktop computer unpacked and running, which I didn't even do myself; My very competent in-house tech support takes care of that.  None of my office boxes are unpacked yet.

My current task is my clothing, which I have a lot of.  Almost embarrassing, really.  I use a hodge-podge system of stack-a-shelves to house my folded clothing for a few reasons.  First, dressers/bureaus are ridiculously expensive, especially for the shoddy quality you find in most stores.  Second, I like to see my clothes, kind of like how you stand at the refrigerator, stare at the contents, and wish the door was transparent.  I hate opening a multitude of drawers searching for something and find that out-of-sight-out-of-mind runs rampant through wardrobes.  Lastly, stack-a-shelves are inexpensive and very versatile.  They can be rearranged depending on room size and can be used throughout the house for any purpose.  Granted, the tetris-configurations are not always the most aesthetically pleasing, but very few people see the bedroom and those who do know me well-enough to appreciate the creativity, or to at least expect it.

I brought my entire wardrobe with me.  Everything.  Clothing and leather do not store well and would be ruined after three years boxed up in a warehouse in the middle of Texas.  And I love clothes, always have.  This passion for fashion should be motivating to get me going but the task is so daunting I need to split it into smaller tasks.

My first order of business is to set up my shelving system, which entails clearing out the bedroom of shoe boxes, clothing stacks, and miscellaneous items strewn about.  I diagrammed my previous setup but this bedroom is much smaller then our previous one.  I always say that creativity is spurred by limitations and this will certainly test that.

So before I get lost in planning the next steps I just need to put some music on and get to work.  Here is an idea of what I have to work with:

(These photos were taken with an iPhone and are by no means intended to be "real" photos, just snapshots of where I was and what I saw.)

Monday, September 16, 2013

We Really Live Here.

Finally, after three months, we really live here.  This past week sealed the deal.

Sunday of last week Enterprise, The Best Kitty Ever, arrived at Narita Airport.  Navigating through the procedures and paperwork unfolded like a scavenger hunt where we were rewarded with our kitty at the end.  He is adjusting well, though he seems a bit older than I remember.  Someone here said her dog was affected similarly, traveling takes a lot out of our little furry ones.  But he is eating well and is as sweet as ever.  He is not using the little carpet pieces I used on the stairs, which is fine because he doesn't seem to have trouble with the smooth tiles; they are still there if he ever chooses to use them.

The Best Kitty Ever.

On Tuesday we received the long-awaited notification of our household goods' arrival and scheduled delivery for Friday.  That morning, Friday the 13th, our temporary furniture was hauled away and a couple hours later the truck carrying our four crates of belongings arrived, three months and thirteen days after being packed up in Texas.

The four Japanese movers were cordial and efficient and the process of checking off item numbers went relatively smooth.  A number of furniture pieces arrived damaged due to how they were loaded into the large, wooden shipping crates and some items (like vintage cabinet speakers) arrived unwrapped when we witnessed them being wrapped in blankets during our pack-out.  We know why this happened though – at the time of our pack-out we still did not know exactly where we were moving which meant that our household goods were packed into temporary storage then re-packed for shipping later.  It wasn't until we arrived that we knew we were staying here near Tokyo, therefore we did not witness the re-packing, which we knew would cause issues later.

Once the movers were done and paperwork was signed we held on to tradition and opened a bottle of sparkling wine, turned on some good music, and got to work.  My husband worked on the entertainment equipment while I unpacked kitchen items and dish pack boxes with breakables.  The only broken glass was a wine glass I really liked but that didn't necessarily hold great sentimental value, those all made it through unscathed.

So most of the weekend consisted of unpacking, organizing, notating damage and taking photos.  As I sit here now, the hubs is putting my desktop computer together because I finally cleared off my desk and shuffled enough stuff around the dining room to make space.  Since this is only a two bedroom house we compromised and my office space will live the formal dining room, a room we've never had before and will require some creative space planning.

Still cooking through the mess.

With the computers and entertainment components set up I feel accomplishment but so much more work remains.  Our new kitchen is half the size of our old one and incorporates the laundry facilities as well.  The pantry organization has stalled until I have space to empty and re-work it.

The largest project is my clothing.  Ei-yi-yi.  I unpacked most of my shoe boxes to check for damage (none!) but my new closet is vastly different than my previous one and the bedroom itself is much smaller as well.  I have boxes and bins of clothes to go through and I cannot put the chore off too long because the room is too small to remain so unorganized.  We also have two closets in the hall upstairs that need serious organization in order to fit health, beauty and linen items still currently packed in boxes.

In all, about half the boxes are emptied, but empty boxes don't necessarily mean the items contained in them are put away in new homes in an organized manner.  Unpacking always gets messier before it gets neater and we haven’t seen the real mess yet.

P.S.: During this past week I was without my laptop computer again.  Turns out the hard drive was going bad which was causing the recent, incessant problems, putting it out of commission.  On Friday, when I went out on a girls' night, the hubs dug through boxes until he found a spare hard drive which he then installed in my laptop and now all is well.  For the time being.  It is an old laptop after all.  But now that my desktop computer is set up it won't be such a tragedy when the laptop goes down again, eventually.

(These photos were taken with an iPhone and are by no means intended to be "real" photos, just snapshots of where I was and what I saw.)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Kitty Carpet Steps.

In less than 24 hours there should be a kitty here, transforming our house into a home.  Our Enterprise will finally be joining us in Japan after a relaxing respite with family in Washington State.  The thought of his long plane ride, however, is shooting my anxiety off the charts.  It's doubtful I will get much sleep tonight, of course neither will Enterprise.

Preparation for his arrival is keeping me a little busy.  One project involved the steps going upstairs which are tiled with the same smooth, white flooring that covers every room in the house.  Enterprise is not used to this surface and I had concerns about his confidence and comfort using the steps.

Carpet treads for stairs are quite expensive online and I didn't necessarily want to cover the entire staircase, creating camouflage for any creepy crawlies that may find their way inside.  I envisioned small pieces of carpet lining one side so Enterprise would have his own safe path up the stairs.

Last weekend we made a trip to Viva Home, a home and household goods store, and found strips of dense carpeting with a grippy backing designed for steps – perfect!  They measured 25cm x 100cm and cost about ¥400 (~$4.00), based on my prepared list of measurements we needed four pieces.

The project was very easy to execute.  I measured each step from the back riser to the inner caulking edge of the stair's lip.  Since this is an older house the measurements ranged from 20.25cm to 21.75cm, with six being almost exactly 21cm.  I used a metal ruler and a box cutter with a new blade to measure and cut through the back side of the carpet.  Not all the step's angles are exactly 45° but the pieces fit very well nonetheless.  I ran up the steps barefoot using the carpet and not one moved underfoot.   Success!

The bottom piece is shown for comparison, I didn't leave it like that.

Friday, September 6, 2013

DIY: Spice Organizer.

I am crafty.  Not scrapbook-decoupage-art kit crafty but thrifty-reuse-wastenot crafty.  Successful creative problem solving is an extraordinary thrill.  I don't believe in "runner's high", but "crafty high"?  That's real.

The house we just moved into is very different than our previous residences, older and more compartmentalized, not bad qualities at all, simply different.  The organization systems I grew accustomed to are no longer relevant, hence the recent posts on sorting and organizing.

Our rental house in Texas afforded us many small luxuries that family homes provide.  One specific feature I loved was the adjustable spice rack mounted inside a pantry cupboard door.  It had four sturdy, ample, shallow baskets perfect for spice bottles and seasoning packets.  I can't believe I don't have photos, but through some Google Image searches I found the elfa brand door and wall rack system which I'm almost certain was the one used.  If/when we ever own our residence we will certainly use this organization system because I loved it.

NOT MY PHOTO.  The Container Store

We cannot make such improvements to our current house so permanent fixture additions will not happen.  In advance of our household goods' arrival I'm attempting to make "homes" for everything and set up organized spaces.  I am very limited in budget and if I purchase something I must be able to carry it home via train and/or walking.  This is just part of the challenging creative problem solving process.

But let's get down to business: my do-it-yourself spice organizer.

To the right of my stove is a narrow cabinet that makes a natural location for cooking herbs and spices.  It has three adjustable-height shelves measuring 26cm wide and 27cm deep.  I've been looking at spice rack organizers that act as risers so I can see items in the back without shuffling jars around.  Generally I dislike this style and see it as a waste of space because nothing can be stored underneath, however, in this situation it makes the most sense. 

Amazon (my retail love and obsession) is the first place I turn to for ideas and suggestions for almost everything; it's like a product library if you think about it.  I found this expandable shelf organizer that meets my requirements physically but I have a difficult time spending $14 on a piece of plastic.  Call me thrifty, tightwad, cheap, I don't care.  I watch my pennies/yen.


A couple nights ago I was sipping a glass of wine after cleaning up from cooking dinner.  Now what makes this different than any other night?  Well, Mumford & Sons was playing from my iPod and I was simply absorbing my kitchen's surrounding, imaging where my glassware will live, when I'll have to replace the exhaust fan filter, and whether that wine bottle ring stain will come out of the counter top.  Then, out of nowhere, I knew how to solve my spice cabinet riser issue.

A couple weeks ago we went to Ikea to purchase desk components because, due to weight restrictions, we did not bring either of ours with us.  I was very excited to get the exact same Galant Series desk that I researched and decided on in Texas but never had the opportunity to buy.  I assembled it recently and neatly set aside the cardboard packaging for recycling, but the reuse-hoarder in me secretly wanted to keep it for future projects.  

On this particular evening, when my idea hit me, I went straight for the strips of reinforced cardboard I set aside.  

Within minutes I measured and cut them into 26cm strips, stacked them up, arranged them for space, then taped them together.  Done.  

In about 15 minutes I solved a problem that could have cost $15.  My excitement didn't just stem from saving money though.  Sometimes in order to cut costs you also cut corners which may hinder the solution's effectiveness, but not in this instance.  The end result is exactly what the plastic risers would have provided, the only difference is cosmetic.  At some point I could cover the cardboard with a light color duct tape, but probably only if I had another purpose for the purchase, otherwise why spend the money?

When my husband came into the kitchen that evening wondering what I was doing I excitedly told him that I saved him $14 and he owed me a bottle of wine.  Tonight he surprised me with that bottle.

I am really proud of this solution.  My parents raised six kids on one teacher's salary which forced my Mom into creative problem solving every day.  She is the craftiest person I know and would still, to this very day, give MacGyver a run for his money, without question.  I guess that is where the pride comes from, carrying on the crafty legacy from my Mom, who learned it from her Mom and Dad, who learned it from their parents.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My First Earthquake.

For numerous, inexcusable reasons I was still dozing in bed at 9am Wednesday morning.  Grey light peeked through the blinds and the room was cold from excessive air-conditioning.  My husband was at work, the house was silent.  Then the bed shook.

It felt as if someone sat on the mattress, although I knew no one was there.  Then the entire bed began to shake and I sat up, now fully awake.  The earth was moving – it was my first earthquake experience in Japan.

We have very little furniture, nothing on the walls, and no knick-knacks, so all I heard was our aluminum mini-blinds all over house tinging and clinking was they shimmied in their window frames.  It lasted maybe 10 seconds, 15 tops.

When it was over I jumped out bed.  As I quickly changed clothes I actually thought to myself that wearing my nicest satin pajama pants was good-thinking because if the quake had been the “big-one” at least I would look decent during the chaos.

I felt no aftershocks and we never lost electricity or internet connection.  I was online within minutes looking for information.  Japan utilizes an Earthquake Early Warning system that quickly alerts the public through multiple formats.  About a month ago I received such a warning, though I was far from any affected area.  I did not hear an alert on my phone this time, and even through my earplugs I would have heard it and felt the phone vibrate under my pillow.  Hence I installed the Yurekuru app on my phone that translates these warnings into English and allows you to adjust sounds and settings so as not to miss future warnings.

The Japan Meteorological Agency website (which has an English option) was bogged with traffic and it took multiple attempts to access it's Earthquake Information page.  The first image below includes all of Japan and indicates the earthquake's 6.9 magnitude epicenter.  The second image shows locations in Kanagawa Prefecture and our area, Sagamhara-Minami, which recorded the quake at magnitude 3.

Image JMA 

Image JMA 

Earthquake Information
Issued at 09:32 JST 04 Sep 2013
Occurred at (JST)


Region Name
09:19 JST 04 Sep 2013
400 km
Torishima Kinkai

This was not the first earthquake since we moved here, but it was the strongest and the first one I actually felt.  I'm not sure if I would felt it if I had been out of bed though.  Our temporary mattress is horrendous, only one step above an air mattress, the slightest movement disrupts the entire thing.

Earthquakes are common here and this experience certainly conjures concerns for me on the next one, or even the “big one”.  We are practically required to have emergency supplies, including food and water rations for people and pets, and to keep important documents and records organized in one location in case of an evacuation.  I now understand more the urgency for these preparations, even though the likelihood of a disaster is rare.  Looking back only a couple years to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami is a sobering reminder of what can happen and how even a little preparation and a little bit of warning can change your life.