A Guide to Decluttering Your Home

The meteoric rise of organizing guru Marie Kondo and her philosophy of living a tidy life has made one thing abundantly clear for many Americans – we hold on to too much stuff! A cluttered space full of unnecessary things leads to a cluttered brain full of unnecessary thoughts. If the KonMari Method seems too extreme for you (Kondo recommends getting rid of everything that doesn’t spark joy), parting with even a few items and organizing the rest can completely rejuvenate your home. Follow these steps to start living a life free from clutter.

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Improve Your Home and Office with the Benefits of Houseplants

Anyone who spends time appreciating Earth’s natural beauty will tell you how refreshing walking amongst the wilderness can be. “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks,” wrote environmentalist John Muir. The true beauty of plants is that their benefits can be felt wherever we experience them, both outdoors and inside. Adding a few plants to your home or office won’t necessarily compare to a quiet walk in the woods, but the benefits of houseplants will help rejuvenate your space and provide a breath of fresh air for those times when you can’t be outside.

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How to Start Your Own Vegetable Garden

Looking to get outdoors, eat healthier and save money, all in one activity? You can do all this with vegetable gardening! Starting a home vegetable garden is a great way to put fresh, healthy food on your table while saving money in the produce section. Gardening is a fun project that can have the whole family outdoors and working together. Here’s how to get going with your first vegetable garden – even if you don’t have a yard to plant one in.

Preparing Your Vegetable Garden

Before reaching for your overalls and shovel, stop and consider a few important factors for your garden.

What type of vegetables should you grow?

The best vegetables to grow in your garden are ones you will actually eat! Don’t let that hard work go to waste because you remembered your distaste for Brussels sprouts only after harvesting them.

Local climate also plays a big role in deciding what to plant. Certain vegetables do better in certain growing conditions. Enter your zip code into this USDA Hardiness Zone Map for more information on your area’s growing conditions and for a detailed list of vegetables that do well in your area during certain timeframes. You can also reach out to local gardening groups or the staff at garden centers and plant nurseries for advice.

Decide what you’ll be putting into the ground: seeds or transplants. Transplanting a young seedling into your garden will give you a head start on harvesting but will cost more than purchasing seeds. While transplanted veggies tend to resist more pests, some – like carrots, spinach and beets – fare better when planted as seeds.

Lettuce, beets, kale, peas, cherry tomatoes, green beans and radishes are a few safe bets for first-time gardeners.

Where should you grow?

Picking a spot for your garden is just as important as picking the vegetables to grow in it. Spend some time watching your yard to see where the sun hits the longest. Most vegetables like long exposure to sunlight, so avoid shady spots or areas with a lot of tree coverage.

Consider container gardening if you’re working with limited space! A 5-gallon bucket can easily be transformed into a perfect single-plant container for growing vegetables in a smaller yard, a balcony or even indoors.

For those in urban areas, see if your neighborhood has a community garden. Community gardens provide city dwellers with a patch of land to cultivate as their own in the concrete jungle.

Planting Your Vegetable Garden

Now that you’ve picked what you’re planting and selected a spot, it’s time to get this garden growing.

Preparing the Soil

  1. If planting directly into the ground, you’ll need to clear the area of any grass or plants currently growing there.
  2. Till the soil to make the ground loose and fertile for your vegetables.
  3. The garden beds should be 3-4 feet across – narrow enough to reach the center from either side.

Planting Your Vegetables

  1. Use a garden trowel to dig holes with enough room around them to let your plants grow. Consult this handy plant spacing chart for more information on your crops. 
  2. Carefully place your seeds or plants in the holes. Cover the plants with the same amount of soil that covered them in their pots.
  3. Water your plants to settle them into the new soil.
  4. Check the soil regularly for moisture. Water the plants about once a week or when the soil is dry a half-inch below the surface.


Vegetable gardening can help relieve stress while producing delicious food. How many hobbies can you say that about? Don’t be discouraged if your dinner table isn’t piling up with fresh veggies during your first harvest. Gardening involves some trial and error, so if a plant does poorly the first time, look at it as a learning experience to improve for next time. If a full-blown vegetable garden seems a bit intimidating, start greening your thumb on a smaller herb garden instead!

What you need to know about forbearance

If you are experiencing financial difficulty due to the coronavirus and you cannot make your payments,  you need to reach out to your loan’s servicer (the company you make your payment to) immediately.

If you are still able to make your mortgage payments, it is recommended that you do so.

Do not participate in a forbearance plan without asking these specific questions:

  • When will the missed payments become due?
    • Believe it or not, some servicers are waiving payments, but then asking for a ‘balloon payment’ at the end of the forbearance term. In other words, you may skip 3, 6 or 12 months of payments but then have it all due, with interest, at the end of that term.
  • Will I still acquire interest during this period?
    • Make sure that your agreement is clear on if, or how much, interest will be charged during the forbearance period. Most, if not all, of these programs are similar to when you get a furniture credit card. You don’t have to pay any interest until the term comes due.
  • Will this impact my credit?
    • If you simply stop making payments without contacting your servicer, and having an agreed upon forbearance plan in writing, you definitely WILL affect your credit negatively.
  • When will I know, for sure, that I can stop making payments and for how long?
    • Get EVERYTHING in writing. If a customer service rep tells you something on the phone, that is NOT a forbearance plan.

You can find more details in the video below.

Tips to make your home safer

We’re fortunate enough to live in a time of unmatched safety and comfort. However, it’s all too easy to overlook the more mundane dangers that still exist in our homes. Though they rarely grab headlines, threats such as fire, carbon monoxide and falls leave thousands injured or worse every year. Thankfully, many of these dangers can be significantly reduced with some simple precautions, habits or products. Here are four such ways to make your home safer.

Equip alarms

Though sometimes taken for granted in modern homes, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms play a crucial safety role. Fire can spread shockingly fast, and poisonous carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless, meaning alarms are an indispensable line of defense.

Functioning smoke alarms should be installed on every level of your home, in every bedroom and outside every sleeping area. Smoke alarms should be tested every month and replaced every 10 years from the date of manufacture. Carbon monoxide alarms should also be installed on every level of the home and outside each sleeping area. Consider interconnected alarms so that all alarms will sound if one detects danger.

Fix fall hazards

Though it rarely grabs headlines, but some 10,000 people die each year as a result of falls at home, with many more being injured.

To reduce the chance of these kinds of accidents, begin by arranging furniture out of the way of your typical routes around the home. For example, no obstructions should be between your bed and the bedroom door. Place electrical cords, pet bowls and other smaller hazards against walls rather than in walkways. Consider doing away with throw rugs, which can slide or bunch up, or immobilize them with carpet tacks or two-sided carpet tape. Put a rubber mat or nonslip strips in your bathtub and install grab bars if necessary. Keeping your home clean and decluttered is also important.

If mobility is or is becoming an issue for someone in your home, it may be wise to consider a single-level home with few or no steps should be a consideration.

Consider cameras

Who best to keep watch on your home than yourself? Consumer-installable home monitoring systems have become easy and affordable thanks to digital technology and the Internet. With one or more Internet-connected cameras installed in your home, you can monitor your place from your smartphone or computer, checking in on pets, weather effects or other home welfare concerns. Other smart home elements can let you control your thermostat, lights or other appliances from afar for even more security.

However, Internet-connected devices introduce their own risks. Make sure you only purchase products and services from reputable brands, and use unique, secure passwords on all of your accounts and systems.

Block burns

Hundreds of thousands of people are treated for burn injuries in the U.S. every year, and many of them are children.

To reduce the risk of scalds from hot water faucets, consider turning down the maximum temperature of your water heater to the minimum level recommended by your heater’s manual (but don’t go any lower, or you may risk bacteria growth). Keep an eye on children when cooking, and consider installing safety covers for appliance knobs to prevent young ones from turning on hot surfaces.

Practice good fire safety, including educating all members of the household on how to prevent, recognize and escape fires – especially important for young children.


By following these steps, you can be satisfied knowing you’ve made your home a safer place.

Affordable ways to improve your home’s curb appeal

First impressions count, especially when you’re selling your home. Most homebuyers have many options, and whether they’re browsing a real estate website or looking for “for sale” signs while driving, their first look at your home is likely to come from the curb. Whether you’re putting your home on the market or just want to impress the neighbors, here are some simple ideas to improve your home’s curb appeal.

Paint and wash

A new coat or color of paint for the door, trim and shutters on your home is a simple way to make an impact. Consider a color that’s bold but not gaudy and complements the other hues of your house. If your siding, gutters, patio or driveway is looking dingy, a good pressure washing can help restore its original beauty.

Upgrade fixtures and hardware

Exterior lights. Door handles. House numbers. The mailbox. Are the ones on your home stylish, practical and functional? If not, upgrading them could be an efficient way to boost your home’s appeal. When choosing what to replace and what to replace it with, consider any painting the job may require and how well the new items will mount in their predecessors’ place.

Landscape or garden

Add new life to your home with actual life by using plants. Flowerpots, window boxes, garden plots, shrubs or even a new tree can lend color, contrast and liveliness to your property. Keep in mind how the plants will look and the maintenance they will require throughout the year as well as how large they will eventually grow.

With these modest investments, your home will be more likely to catch the kind of positive attention you want.

Tips for making your home pet-friendly

An estimated 67% of U.S. households are home to one or more pets. These animals bring a special joy to many homes, but they also bring unique needs. If you have a pet or plan to get one, here are some ways you can make your home more pet-friendly.

Create a special spot

Pets, like people, enjoy having a place that’s truly their own. Provide them with just such a space by designating a spot in your home that’s just for them. You may wish to include a bed, a blanket, a few toys or whatever other amenities your pet loves.

Pet-proof your home

Failing to properly “pet-proof” your residence can be harmful for your pet and your home alike. Secure anything that could injure your pet or that your pet could damage, including garbage cans, cleaning products, pet-toxic plants and fragile or unstable objects. It may be best to limit your pet to certain areas of your home by closing doors or installing gates.

Protect your furniture

If your pet sheds or chews or is accident-prone, you may need to protect your furniture. Consider pieces with easy-to-clean materials like leather or microfiber, or purchase furniture covers to protect your upholstery. Choosing materials that match the color of your pet’s fur can help hide shedding. Furniture with bare wood may be a poor choice if your pet loves to chew.

Choose the right flooring

Pets can be tough on your floors, which is why it is a good idea to be mindful of your flooring choices. Hard floors such as tile, hardwood or laminate are often best for pets because it is easy to clean up fur and accidents from these surfaces. Just make sure your pet’s claws won’t be liable to scratch your flooring of choice. If you prefer carpet, look into varieties with “pet-proof” qualities.

Secure your outdoor space

Protecting your pet from dangers outside your home is also important. Keep their outdoor area clear of any tools, chemicals or plants that could harm them. If your pet is prone to running away, a physical or “invisible” fence may be recommended to safely keep them in bounds.

For more tips on improving the wellbeing of your pets, check out our post on smart home devices for pets.

How to care for your clothes dryer

Caring for your clothes dryer involves more than just cleaning its lint trap. In order to keep your appliance running safely and efficiently, there are several regular steps you’ll need to perform.

These are some telltale signs that your dryer needs extra attention:

  • The machine runs longer than necessary
  • Clothes are still wet or damp after one cycle
  • The machine moves or shakes while it operates

Here are some helpful tips to keep your dryer running well:

  • Clean the lint screen before or after every load.
  • Keep the lint trap clear by removing the lint screen and cleaning its housing cavity with the crevice attachment on your vacuum or a dryer lint brush.
  • Wipe down the dryer’s interior monthly by unplugging the appliance and cleaning the drum with a cloth dipped in warm, soapy water.
  • Vacuum behind and underneath the dryer every three months to help avoid moisture, dirt and lint build up.
  • Make sure your dryer is balanced. If your dryer moves or shakes when in use, it is not level which can cause the rotating components to wear out sooner. Simply adjust the feet at the bottom of the unit to fix this.
  • Ensure that your dryer vent is short and straight vs. long and full of bends.
  • Check that there is adequate clearance space between your dryer and wall. If your dryer is too close to the wall, there is a chance you are crushing the venting material which can restrict airflow.
  • Inspect and clean the vent system. This can be a DIY job, or you can hire a professional. If you have pets or a large family, it may be necessary to clean the vent system as often as twice a year.

Follow these steps, and you can help maximize your dryer’s lifespan and keep it running great. 

Tips to create a workspace in your home

Our surroundings influence our work, whether it’s office work or homework. Mood, focus, creativity, productivity, comfort and health can all be enhanced or hindered by our environment. We don’t always get to outfit our school or office space as we please, but our homes are a different story. Here’s how to create a home workspace where you can do your best work.


Choosing a location for your workspace is the first step. A central, visible place helps with collaboration and accountability, while a more removed area offers greater privacy and fewer distractions. Locating the space near a window can bolster mood and minimize eye strain so long as glare is avoided.


Above all, the workspace should be comfortable and functional. Ensure that work surfaces and chairs are ergonomic for their intended user during reading, writing and computer use. Lighting should be sufficient for reading printed text. Chalk, white, cork or magnet boards can offer a helpful place to organize notes. Built-in storage in the form of drawers, shelves and cabinets helps keep supplies close at hand. Larger spaces can be outfitted to accommodate two or more users (with optional privacy dividers) as appropriate.


The workspace’s decor should be inviting and inspiring but neither distracting nor austere. A bright white desk with matching chair, a basic light fixture and an inspiring element is the simplest approach. Greenery in the form of potted plants is a great way to add a touch of life. Design websites like Pinterest abound with ideas for customizing workspaces to a family member’s age and personality.

Tackling homework, office duties and home bookkeeping aren’t always fun, but with the right workspace, you and the members of your household will be ready to take on the job.