10 Favorite Home Organizing Tricks & Pet Peeves Solved

10 Favorite Home Organizing Tricks & Pet Peeves Solved | zenshmen.com

Here are 10 of my Favorite home organizing tricks & pet peeves solved.

If you know me, you know I’m a fool for organizing.  My house may get messy (there are a toddler and two large dogs in our midst), and we definitely still have too much stuff for my liking (that’s a whole other can of beans), but I always know where everything is. 

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Gallery Wall How-To

Hey there!

I’ve always loved displaying photos.  They really tell the story of where we’ve been, remind us of happy moments and show the beauty of everyday life.

The problem was that for many years, we had a willy-nilly collection of frames and no surfaces to speak of for a proper display (for some reason many of them didn’t have a hook on the back) so the overall effect was junky, disorganized and cluttered… not exactly the warm fuzzy feelings listed above.

our old mish-mash of frames

So we decided to do a grid-style gallery wall.

First, we decided to get matching frames (and no more without hooks on the back!).  We headed to the least expensive place we could think of to find frames, Walmart.  We found these classic all-white beauties and bought an armload in different sizes.

Then, we chose which of the original framed photos we wanted to use on the wall, and which photos of our happy new addition (our baby girl!) we wanted to add.  Yay!  The fun part.  Again, we headed to Walmart to use the self-serve photo-printing machines to print blow-ups of our favorite pics.  (They usually have these machines at pharmacies too.)

Then, our first attempt at the gallery wall.  The first time we put it up, it took forever.  Even with the best laser-line level, tape measure and math, well, let’s just say behind each frame was a cluster of almost-right holes.  To be fair, the task is doubled when there are two hooks on the back of the frame, because despite the best measurements they never quite seem to line up.  Oh, and the walls in our 60+ year-old house aren’t straight.  Very frustrating!

Our First Gallery Wall

Once we were done, the overall effect was very sweet.   In retrospect however, they were a bit too far apart and kind of got lost on the giant wall.

Months later, we took it all down to repaint the wall a (much!) darker color.  (Oh, and maybe to repair the holes too.)

Now, how to put it all back up?

Enter Pinterest.  I came across so many gallery wall options, styles and tricks, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  Curious?  Have a peek at my photography pinterest board!  It’s where I keep all my inspiration for beautiful photos, photography tips and display ideas.

I decided to try a really cool trick using wax paper (that I suspected might be too good to be true).  Well, it wasn’t!  It’s so good that it is true.

Check out how I did it:

1.  I measured the space.

2.  We’re adding a backrest to the banquette bench, so I taped off where it would go.

3.  I factored in the height of the crown molding that will go up shortly, and taped that too.

4.  I also took the hanging chandelier into consideration.  No use having photos hidden behind it.

5.  Next, I put down four rows of wax paper on the floor, and taped them together.

6.  I played with the layout of the frames on the ground, making sure all the outside edges lined up and the spaces in between were even.

7.  Next, I flipped them all over (and did a quick remeasure since they all moved a tiny bit).

8.  I gently placed the wax paper on top, making sure not to move the frames.

9.  Using a Sharpie, marked an X right on the wax paper where all the hooks were.

10.  Taped the paper to the wall.  Hammered in some nails on all the X’s.

11.  Hung the frames in the grid, and voila!

Hope you like it!  We love to hear what you think, so please leave us your thoughts!

Till next time,


A Proper Home Office


Here we share the story of setting up a proper home office at no cost, with things you already have.


We were approached to figure out a way to create a functional work space for a salesman who works from home.  At first, he had set up a good work area in the basement for privacy so he could make calls uninterrupted, as well as store all his work materials, brochures and pamphlets nearby.

But months later, he realized he underestimated how miserable he’d be down there because it was dark, damp and cold.  It was also the general stash for everything in the house that didn’t belong anywhere.

There was a TV room on the main floor of the house that the family was willing to sacrifice to create a better work environment for Dad.   In fact, he was happy to keep the TV nearby to catch up on news and sports scores.

The plan was clear:  let’s move the office upstairs a turn it into an optimal workspace.  Here are the before-and afters of how we did it:


The larger couch can be donated to a family member.

We will reuse this shelving unit for work supplies.

The rest can be moved elsewhere in the house.
Functional and organized, but still not as productive as he would have liked because of its surroundings.

His officemates were very distracting 😉


Spacious, bright and streamlined.

He was ecstatic to finally work with some daylight!  We removed the curtains to let in as much light as possible.

Luckily the room was already a nice color so it didn’t need to be painted.  In the coming weeks, the room would be decorated with photos of the family’s travels, a project they’d wanted to start for a while.

We set up a workspace that has everything he needs right at his fingertips:  computers, phone, printer and basic supplies.  There is a little drawer caddy on his left to keep all that accessible and out of the way.

To maximize space and efficiency, we only kept the sales materials he needed in the office.  The rest stayed stored in the basement.

We kept the loveseat to welcome visitors and have a spot to watch TV.

The loveseat was kept to offer seating when family members come by, as well as for TV watching.

We also kept the exercise bike in the office so he could take quick breaks to clear his head.  Overall, he found he was so much happier and now able to work for longer stretches of time.  His productivity improved…  and he was no longer freezing cold all the time 🙂

Total cost of this transformation:  zero dollars.

These kinds of makeovers are the best!


Gold-Dipped Writing Desk Makeover

Hey there,

Here we tell the story of a recent makeover of a desk and chair we found at the Salvation Army.  I love the Salvation Army!  There is so much good stuff to be found, just waiting for another go-round.

Check this out:

Found:  Beautiful desk and chair, yet mismatched.  Not to worry, we can fix that!

The desk actually has tiny gold-capped feet.  When thinking of ways we could make this set match, I thought maybe we could extend the gold feet and give them to the chair as well.

Read on to find out how we did it!



Sand, sand, sand.   With older pieces, make sure to wear a mask and do it either outside or a well-ventilated area because you don’t know how old the varnish and/or paint are – and whether new or old, you don’t want to be breathing in any of that dust.

After that, we primed everything and painted it high-gloss white.

STEP 2: 

Reupholster the seat.  Remove the seat (usually secured by 4 screws under the chair) and find suitable padding for the seat, if needed.  Here we used some leftover pieces we had.  Usually you can strip the existing cover and padding but here I decided to just leave them intact and work on top of them.

You can secure the new padding to the old seat with spray glue.

Cut a piece of batting with a few inches on each side to give you enough wiggle room to fold it back on each side and staple it down with a staple gun.  This step will give you a nice smooth edge.

There are a couple of different ways to secure the corners (we learned how on YouTube – there are zillions of videos explaining basic upholstery, it’s so awesome!) but here we just folded back the corners at 90 degrees and tacked them down.

Next, find the fabric you want and place the seat face down on it.  Do make sure it’s not flimsy fabric because it won’t stand up to use, especially if it’s something you’ll be sitting on.  Repeat the folding back and stapling down process beginning in the middles and working your way to the corners last.

Same fold and tack done here.


If you’re interested in upholstery projects, you can also check out how we redid this chair and how we made our own king-size headboard.   I even made my mom a jewelry display using this same method!


For both the desk and chair set, as mentioned above, we wanted to try something new and give it gold-dipped feet, like so:

The first mistake I made is that I measured off the 5 inches I wanted with painter’s tape right onto the wood, which you can kind of see below under the paint.

Trouble is, when I removed the tape I still had a strip of bare wood to contend with.  Not clever.

I considered leaving it as is, it did look somewhat cool in 3-tone.  But ultimately it wasn’t what I set out to do, and tried to come up with a solution.

First I had to tape above the wood line, paint it white and let it dry for a day.  Then, I taped below the line, painted it gold, and waited a day…   All in an effort to make a sharp line between the white and gold.

If I had any brains in this hat-rack of mine, I would have painted the entire surface white — then taped — then added the gold as the final touch.  Oh well, next time it will be easier.

Here we are, finally getting at the result we were hoping for:



It’s all in the details… I wanted something fun and unexpected when the drawer was opened.  A nice color is cool, but we went one step further and lined the drawer with textured wallpaper, which we had lying around from our bedroom makeover.  The result was really nice!

Here is that drawer in action:


 The knob was painted the same as the gold feet.

Gold-dipped chair’s feet:

 The finished chair:

I chose this modern rose-pattern fabric (which was actually a tea towel!) because there is a rose carved into the chair, and I thought they went nicely together.


The final result… A lovely matching set made from two refurbished mutts!

We love your feedback and hearing your thoughts.  What do you think of gold-dipped feet?
Till next time, 
Val 🙂

Crib Makeover

Hey there!

This is a really cool project that we were recently approached to do.  My sister-in-law had a hand-me-down crib that was still safe and sturdy, but had really seen better days.  Its wooden finish was dinged, scratched, had torn stickers on it and, in some places, the varnish was peeling off.  Not quite the look they were going for.

So, together we came up with a plan to refinish it in a baby-friendly way.  We chose to repaint it a vibrant turquoise color that would go wonderfully in the festive, lime-colored nursery.

 The Nursery Color:

SW 6715 Lime Granita by Sherwin Williams

The Original Crib:

The Desired New Crib Color:

Seaside Resort (725) by Benjamin Moore

 Here’s how we did it!

We took it apart.
Scraped off the torn stickers.

Covered the wheels with cling wrap and rubber bands (they were not removable)

Taped over the safety labels, to leave them intact.
Sanded, sanded, and then sanded some more.
Primer: this stuff covers and seals every manner of ugly.

We were surprised how many cans of primer we blew away (maybe 6?)
Paint choice:  Baby-Friendly No-VOC, no odour paint from C-I-L

We sprayed layers upon layers of C-I-L baby-friendly paint with our paint gun, then sealed it up with lead-free varnish spray. 

Here’s the final result!

What do you think of this turquoise crib?  I’m dying to know!

till next time,

Val xo

More Counter Space

More Counter Space | ZenShmen.com

We Need More Counter Space!  In our kitchen and in yours, counter space is prime real estate.  Ours has very little of it, and it’s in high demand!

To create more counter space, we decided to sacrifice some cupboard space by building a shelf for the microwave.

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Staging a guest room/office… at no cost

Recently, some close friends decided to put their house up for sale.  They had very little time to complete dozens of projects, and asked for my help to clear out and stage their office slash guest room.

Quote, “can you come over and do what you do?”  Haha, of course I will.  The part I loved most about this challenge was finding ways to make the most of the space, furniture and decor at no cost, just using clever tricks.

Here are some before and afters of this home staging project.


Originally, this is what you saw when arriving in the room.

To the left, a single mattress and boxspring served as a spare bed, while two connecting reclining leather chairs sat at the center of the room, facing the TV.

left-side original view

 To the right, the TV sat on a shelving unit of cubbies, which housed work materials near the desk.

right-side original view
On the same side was the desk, filing cabinet, printer, office supplies and so on that my friend needs to run his successful business from home.

Original office area

First things first, we needed to address the layout.  To have more space to work and pack up boxes, we needed to remove the double recliners from the center of the room.  So in came the muscle and out went the chairs, to be stored off the premises until the move.

I suggested moving the bed horizontally under the window and lining it with pillows like a daybed, which could make the room feel more welcoming to visitors.

Also, we could center the rug instead of having it near the desk (as a protective layer for the rolling office chair).  Oh, and we could flip it 180 degrees in the other direction to hide an unsightly stain under the bed — oh how I love solutions that don’t cost a cent.

It was simpler to leave the desk where it was because all the wiring was already set up (and my friend needed to keep working in his office).  However, we removed the extra pieces like the filing cabinet (being used mostly for archives) and some stacks of office supplies for more breathing room.

The TV and entertainment unit were to be moved to the other side of the room to balance things out.


Next, we needed to pack up all the excess stuff to bring the room to its bare essentials.  We needed to show visitors the room’s potential as both a guest room and functional office…  So everything else being stored in there had to go.

My goal for the room was to be spacious enough and clutter-free that you could actually see the baseboards and get a good sense of the size of the room.  We tend to shove a lot of stuff up against the walls, and some people have a hard time visualizing a space.  Can we pull it off?  We shall see.

Our friends had already begun packing up some excess supplies and work stuff, so I finished the job for them.  I packed up every conceivable item they felt they wouldn’t need to access for the next few months.

Note: if you’re helping friends pack up their homes (especially if you’re dealing with important work-related things) make sure to really be as clear as possible when you’re labeling the boxes.

Group like with like so things are easier to find, and always put your description in the same spot on the boxes (I like to write on the top and on one side) so when they’re are all stacked up, someone can immediately spot what they’re looking for.

Also, I like to write ‘heavy’ really big across the top of the box, so the poor soul who has to come and lug it away can brace themselves 🙂

packing away all the excess

now’s the time to clear out the laundry 🙂


Why keep things neutral?  Because you want people to see themselves in the space, not get distracted by too many details of your personal life.   Who wants strangers peering into their private business anyway?

Down came the awards, trophies and goofy photos to make way for some cool art found when my friend lived in the South Pacific, creating both a sense of symmetry and highlighting the room’s cool ceiling architecture.

Neutral can also be true for the wall colors.  Many people have a hard time seeing past forest-green ceilings and fuchsia walls.  If you’re trying to sell, stick to easy, pale and earthy tones that work well together.  Or if you’re really stumped, paint everything white.  Luckily, this room was already a calm ivory color, and had a lovely chocolate-and-tan damask wallpapered accent wall that you can see below.  No need to repaint a thing!


The bed

I knew of an office/warehouse that was closing and looking to get rid of all its stuff, including wooden pallets.  I looked up the measurements of a twin bed online and found that a full pallet plus a 1/2 pallet butted together were the exact width and length of a twin mattress.  So I picked up two sets and built a makeshift platform for the bed (all for free!  yay!) 

Pallets raise the mattresses off the floor, giving the illusion of a regular bed

The new daybed, which also acts as extra seating.  The rug is centered, the art is up.

From outside the room

The office

The desk was centered on the right wall and pared down to its functional minimum

The entertainment unit

On the left, the cubbies hold clutter-busting baskets and a few decorative items

See what you can re-purpose from elsewhere in the house.  These four baskets were a perfect fit.

The room is how simple and straightforward, yet still has everything it needs.  As an added bonus, it feels huge.

* * * * * 

So, ready for those before and afters?

From the doorway: Before

From the doorway: After.

Office Area: Before


Office Area: After

Entertainment Unit: Before

Entertainment Unit: After

So there you have it.  All in a day’s work!  This project was so much fun.  I can’t get enough of this stuff!
What do you think?  Would you have done it differently?  Do you have any tricks to share?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below, we love to hear what you think.
Till next time, 
xo Val

Yard Sale Hunting 101

So…  I love me some yard sales.  Around these parts we also call ’em garage sales.

As you may already know, I adore finding a great piece of junk that can be turned into the best version of itself, or re-purposed into some other awesome, better or more modern thing. 

I live in an area where, in summertime, Saturdays are synonymous with yard sales.  I love this, since they’re fertile ground for New Projects.

As a matter of fact, there’s one day in particular that I really, really look forward to:  here in the Montreal area, where we live, once a year there’s a community garage sale in Beaconsfield.  It is the Motherload of garage sales…  About 100-sales-in-one.  Check it out:

But beware: Yard Sale-ing is not for the faint of heart.  You’ve got to get up early and really hit the pavement to find tip-top junk.

I heart kid-made signs

Some sales are duds.  Some are a waste of time as far as New Projects go.  C’est la vie! 

Most of the time I end up finding like-new toys for my little girl, and that’s pretty darn awesome too.
If it weren’t for the amazing deals we’ve found on kids’ stuff (sometimes still in its packaging!), my little one would spend her days playing with a lost sock and a broken stick.

Here are the rules I try to stick to, or else I’d go bananas every weekend and bankrupt us all:

5 Rules for an Object to qualify as a redo project:

1.  Must have nice lines and a good shape.   

Bonus points for something very unique and so beautiful that you’ll be happy looking at for years to come.  Look for good dimensions and balanced proportions.  You can paint something a prettier color but a badly-made piece will still be ugly, just different.

Good call:  this adorable high chair will look so cute in a fun color.

Cool beat up leather wingback, with nailhead trim.  Pro: solid as a rock.  Con:  covered in cat scratches.  Can it be fixed?  We shall see.

This tray is really not cute.  But it’s beautifully made and reeks of potential.

2.  Must be sturdy (or be very, very easy to fix).

How we learned this lesson: I once picked up a set of 6 dining chairs that I planned to reupholster, and fix the torn/broken caning in the backs of 3 of them.

6 cane-back dining chairs = buyer’s remorse.

Wait – did you say fix the caning?

To do that, I’d either have to study for years under the tutelage of a master caning artisan, or pay one a lot of dough to do it for me.  It was hopeless, as my vote was for neither.
After many months stacked in the garage eating up valuable junk real-estate, I finally passed those chairs on to another well-deserving treasure hunter who picked them up in the night.  Hey, as long as they don’t end up in a landfill, I’m a happy camper.

3.  Must smell good – no mildewed or stinky anything. 

It takes a brave soul to stick your nose into a piece of furniture sitting in someone’s driveway (with them watching you do it), but believe me you’ll be sorry you didn’t if you bring home a stinker.

Stay away from the tell-tale black powdery looking stuff, a sure sign of mildew.  Often found on baskets (what a shame!) but can be on just about anything.

Smells to avoid:  rot/dank/stink from being in a damp basement, shed or garage for too long;  cigarette smoke (especially if the thing is upholstered); cat pee; and mothballs.  Nothing more needs to be said about mothballs, they’re just awful (not to mention known carcinogens).

Ain’t too pretty now, but all redone this will be perfect for toy storage.  And no stink!

4.  Must have an immediate purpose. 

Take it from a gal who has a basement and garage full of pieces waiting to find a home.  If you don’t immediately know who can use it and for what precise purpose, take a pass.

Pounced on some old thing because it was cheap and you might one day suddenly feel inspired to work on it?  Boy’s clothes because you might one day have a baby boy?  Cookie tins because you might someday take up baking?  Guilty, guilty, guilty.  And now my mission in life is to get rid of these things.

Do not buy for someday.  Buy only for today – and only if you actually need it.  (This point is mostly a note-to-self.)

Bad call: This old bench is pretty cool but 100% the wrong size for our needs. 
My tiki-hut moment.  Thought they could be cute with new round seat cushions.  Not gonna happen.

5.  Must be a great price. 

Obviously, pricing is subjective.

But when I saw a cute-yet-broken table that I considered for a brief moment in time, I thought hey, I’d pay 5 bucks for that.   Then I noticed a sticker saying $95 (!!) and recoiled.  What was this lady thinking?  It’s not like it was a fancy antique.  It was just a crappy old (did I mention broken?) table.

While some people definitely need to get a grip, you also need to know what you’re comfortable spending, and recognize a great deal when you find one.  Like the bench below, found for only 5 smackeroos!  Oh, and be polite about your bargaining tactics 😉

Ohh, I can see this now.  Cute fabric, cushy seat, a fun color.  The detail is beautiful. 

For a Toy to qualify as a good find:

Rules 1-5, plus these extra considerations:

– No stuffed animals.  Not since I saw that episode of House where a deadly virus was transmitted throughout the hospital on a stuffed animal.  No sir.
– No broken stuff, or any games with missing pieces.
– No huge hulking plastic playthings that are impossible to put away, and thus permanently on display.
– Must be clean-able.  If it can’t go in the washing machine/dishwasher, or be sprayed down, forget it.
– If it requires batteries: a) it’s in perfect working order or b) if the battery compartment is empty, no battery acid has leaked, it’s perfectly clean, and the owner has confirmed the thing works.
– Bonus points for something educational/ teaches any kind of skill.
– Bonus points for tickle-trunk finds leading to silliness and imaginative fun, like dress-up clothes, costumes, funny oversize glasses and silly hats (but all must be washable).

Some examples of recent great finds:

Fully functional wooden baby grand + bench, with a print-out from Amazon stating its worth of $160.  Nabbed it for $20.

Adorable and solidly-built table and chairs for $10.  Can’t wait to give it a shot of great color.
wait for it…

Credit where credit is due:  my Mom is a champion garage sale hunter and nabbed this trunk-full of dress-up clothes for $5.

What about you?  Do you brake for garage sales?  What kinds of things do you look for?   And what kinds of treasures have you found?

Come on back soon or follow me on Pinterest to see how we transform our yard sale finds.  See you soon!  xo

One-of-a-kind Father’s Day Gifts

For the men in my life who have everything and need nothing, such as my beloved Pops and one-true-love husband, special occasions always tend to stump me.

This year, for Father’s Day I went with one-of-a-kinders, kinda like they are themselves.

For my husband

Baby girl and I had a little photo session with her holding the letters spelling P-a-p-a.  Lesson of the day:  toddlers do not make for reliable still-life models.

The amusing part is that each letter had its own adventure, and the outtakes are hilarious – one got eaten, one got scrunched up, one got thrown across the room and the other got tossed into the pool.

For my Dad

Even though he long ago declared a moratorium on gift-receiving, I wanted to try my hand at word art with his most-used sayings.

My dad is quite the self-made businessman, and I’ve looked up to him all my life.  He now works with my brother-in-law, who has become quite taken/awed by my father’s knack for coming up with just the right words at exactly the right time.  And sayings, he’s got.

So, when my bro-in-law started writing this stuff down (the basis for a future book, perhaps?) I knew I had a great stash of phrases to work from.

I did this in Illustrator, trying to keep in mind the “rules” I’d read that there shouldn’t be more than 4 fonts, and to keep the color mix to a minimum so you can actually make sense of what you’re reading.

Note:  I formatted all the phrases for this 8×10 frame, then once it was printed I tried it and realized the opening is actually 7.5 x 9.5 (see that black border on the inside?).  Back to the drawing board as it now had to be completely reformatted in the smaller size.  While I was at it, I also left a white border around the text, so it wouldn’t be too crowded.  Lesson learned:  Measure the opening of the frame before you create something custom to go inside it!

The good news?  Both Pops adored their gifts.  Yes!!

And because I knew my brotha-from-anotha-motha would love it too, I made him a print as well and he was very happy.  All in all, a good crafty day.

Handmade Baby Mobile

In the months leading up to our baby’s birth, we searched for a mobile for her room.

We wanted something that wasn’t too babyish; something that would be interesting for her to look at (considering how much time that little one was going to spend on her back looking up!); that meshed with the overall mood & colors of the room; and finally, something natural-ish that could gently twist and sway with the air.

Alas, we never found anything that fit the bill.

After seeing something interesting made on a design show, while around the same time coming across some Martha Stewart Crafts Pom Poms at Walmart, we figured we could make a mobile ourselves…  and we did.

Our Handmade Baby Mobile

Here’s how we made it:

We went with two tiers, wider at the top and narrower at the bottom, like a chandelier.

We got a simple wooden dowel at the hardware store and cut it to size.  To attach the pieces, we cut out notches so they fit snugly together in an X, then secured them with wood glue and a nail.

We attached little eyelet screws at each corner and hung the tissue-paper pom poms from each, with translucent fishing wire.  The pom poms came in different colors, so we alternated them and varied the heights to add interest.

Note:  This seemed like a good idea at the time but it became a real challenge to balance the different weights.  It was always coming out lopsided.  We just kept retying the wire until it was balanced… but it took a while and of course one of us had to hold it up….

Martha Stewart Crafts Pom Poms at Walmart Canada

We repeated the same method of hooks and wire for hanging the 2nd level from the top level.

To personalize it, we used two adorable silver birds stamped with the words dream and believe, which are so fitting for a new little life.

(In their previous life they were Christmas-tree ornaments.)


To hang it, we joined 4 wires from each corner, and attached them onto a regular key ring we had.  We screwed in a plant-holder hook into the ceiling, and hung it.

Hope this post inspires you to make something yourself when you can’t quite find what you’re looking for…

Till next time, xo

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