The Year-Long Home Maintenance Checklist: When to Do Big Chores?

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Every year you aim to start good habits with your health, your career, your relationships. But what about your home? The space you spend time in every.single.day should receive some TLC and attention, too.

Instead of vowing to get your body in shape, let’s get your home in shape! In 2018, you may have neglected your home and we’re not judging. (I mean, who really knows the last time they changed their air filter?)

Your 2019 Home Checklist

But 2019 is the year to change that! We’ve curated a handy-dandy checklist to map out the year ahead. If you accomplish each task every month, your home is going to be a well-oiled machine. Now let’s get to it!

Note: Tasks marked with * are recurring tasks you’ll complete multiple times over the course of the year.

Winter Tasks

When you’re stuck inside due to the cold, you might as well put your downtime to good use. We both love starting the year with a nice purge. And if you haven’t seen the new Marie Kondo show on Netflix (seriously, where have you been??), then it just may give you the kick in the pants to part with all of your stuff.

While there will always be recurring tasks to complete on the checklist, the winter time is all about purging and organizing every nook and cranny in your home.

Split it up over the next 3 months and it won’t be quite as overwhelming!

January

February

  • Compile tax documents; set up a time to complete taxes
  • Purge and donate kitchen gadgets
  • Purge and donate pantry foods
  • Wipe down fridge*
  • Clean garbage disposal*
  • Change furnace filter*

March

  • Purge and organize toiletries
  • Purge and organize the linen closet
  • Check caulking around bathtubs and showers
  • Clean car inside and out*

Spring Tasks

No duh: the springtime is all about spring cleaning! You spent the past few months purging and organizing spaces in your home, but now it’s time to give everything a nice deep clean. (And don’t forget to clean these 6 overlooked areas).

Not to mention, the springtime is the start of all your big outdoor projects. Get your lawn and garden cleaned, manicured, and ready for new life to grow. These are especially crucial because you really can’t do anything about it once you miss your window!

April

  • Get air conditioner serviced
  • Aerate lawn
  • Wash drapes, rugs, upholstery
  • Launder shower curtain and liner
  • Wash windows and screens*
  • Clear your gutters*
  • Dust light fixtures*
  • Wipe down baseboards*

May

  • Setup outdoor patio furniture
  • Inspect home’s exterior and roof for necessary repairs
  • Prune overgrown bushes
  • Clear dead plants and shrubs (early May)
  • Plant flowers (late May)
  • Change furnace filter*
  • Change batteries in smoke & CO2 detectors*

June

  • Replace outdoor lights that have burned out
  • Clean grill and check propane tank
  • Clean deck and make necessary repairs
  • Power wash sidewalks and walkways
  • Clean car inside and out*

Summer Tasks

Oh, the sweet summertime. It can be easy to let your household chores slide during the summer months. We get it, summer is about vacations and relaxing. But these are worthwhile tasks to accomplish when the temps are warmer and you’re spending more time outside (hopefully).

Also, as you near Labor Day, school will be on the mind. That’s when you’ll want to make sure your home is still organized from your hard work earlier this year. Purge paper clutter and books so you can start the school year fresh!

July

  • Fix broken screen doors
  • Add fresh mulch to landscaping
  • Organize and sweep out the garage
  • Dust light fixtures*
  • Wipe down baseboards*

August

  • Hose down garbage cans
  • Purge office and organize paperwork for the upcoming school year
  • Purge and donate books
  • Clean faucet and shower heads
  • Wipe down fridge*
  • Change furnace filter*

September

  • Service chimney
  • Empty out planters
  • Store lawn furniture
  • Clean car inside and out*
  • Wash windows and screens*

Fall Tasks

Keep that momentum going into the fall season! Fall is the time to prepare for the cold months ahead. Focus on prepping the exterior of your home to protect it against the snow and ice that will soon be here.

With the holidays approaching, this is also a time when you’re the most likely to host guests. Luckily, your home should be running smoothly with all of the work you’ve put in this year. We also encourage you to keep December a little light on the home projects, since you will most likely have limited free time.

October

  • Plant spring blooming plants, shrubs, tall grasses, etc.
  • Remove hoses from water spickets
  • Fertilize lawn
  • Check your sump pump
  • Clear your gutters*
  • Dust light fixtures*
  • Wipe down baseboards*

November

  • Check weatherstripping on doors and windows
  • Have heating systems serviced
  • Rake and gather leaves
  • Purge pantry and donate (good timing for the holidays!)
  • Change furnace filter*
  • Change batteries in smoke & CO2 detectors*

December

Free Printable – Home Checklist

If you’re ready to make 2019 the best year yet for your home, then we encourage you to download or screenshot this free printable. That way, you can print it out and check things off as you go. (Trust us, there is no better feeling than checking off those little boxes!)


Illustrations by M. Dean

How to Decorate Your Home for the Holidays on a Budget

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As home decor enthusiasts, the holidays are an opportunity to swap out our everyday decor for pieces that add some magic of the season to our homes. You could even say that decorating for the holidays is kinda like our Super Bowl!

New to holiday decorating? Go to the store and it might seem intimidating and kind of expensive to transform your space from top to bottom. But we are here to reassure you that you don’t have to go out and buy tons of new decorations to give your space that extra sparkle. Instead, there are plenty of budget-friendly (and free!) ways to deck the halls.

First, Choose a Color Scheme

If you want to make a big impact without buying tons of new items, we recommend starting with a color scheme. It can be gold and red, blue and silver, or honestly any color palette that you personally like. Choosing a few key colors/metallics will make decorating a lot easier.

Stick with your color scheme and we promise you’ll end up buying fewer items to decorate your home for the holidays. You can leave a lot of your everyday decor up in your space, but add these key colors for a pop of holiday glam that will really make your space look different from the everyday.

Wrap Faux Gifts

This tip may seem a little silly, but it’s actually a great one! If you’re an Amazon Prime enthusiast like us, then you probably get packages on the reg. Save a few of these shipping boxes, then use them as holiday decor.

It’s as simple as it sounds. Wrap the empty boxes with pretty wrapping paper and ribbon – in your color scheme, don’t forget – and use them throughout your home.

We both use these “gifts” as bookends on our built-ins, and place them strategically throughout our homes for a budget-friendly holiday touch! It doesn’t get much cheaper than that!

Use Grocery Store Finds (Food!)

One of our favorite holiday crafts is using fresh cranberries in glass hurricanes with candles throughout your home.

Cranberries are inexpensive and they add a colorful touch to your space. We especially love this idea, where you use water, faux greenery, cranberries, and floating candles to make a gorgeous centerpiece for your dining room table.

While you’re at the store, grab some cinnamon sticks too. You can group a few of these together in a mug and display on a shelf for a decoration that looks and smells good! You can also pick up some branches from the grocery store (or even better, your backyard!) to place in a tall vase in your home. This brings a winter touch to your home’s decor.

Get Cheap Faux Greenery From the Craft Store

During the holiday season, we’re at the craft store just about every weekend. (Seriously.)  And the one thing we recommend everyone picks up is some faux greenery. You can buy a bunch of small pieces for a steal and this greenery can be used all over your home.

Drape it on your mantle, put it on your dining room table, and add small pieces to your bookshelves. While you’re at it, pick up a few scented evergreen sticks. We love sticking these in the faux greenery to add a fresh winter scent to our spaces. Nothing says the holidays like the smell of fresh evergreen!

Gather Up and Display Your Holiday Cards

One of our favorite parts of the holiday season is all of the snail mail we receive. Instead of just throwing your holiday cards in a pile on your kitchen counter, get creative!

In the past, we’ve used a big chicken wire frame to display all of the cards we receive and we hang them up with clothespins. This acts as wall art and it’s fun for guests to see all of the cards from loved ones everywhere.

Another cool thing we do is save our holiday cards every year to make a little booklet of the many cards we receive. We display these booklets on our coffee tables so guests can flip through them when they visit. Plus, it’s a fun way to look back and see how families have changed over the years as this booklet gets bigger and bigger!

Go Crazy With Glass Ornaments

Glass ornaments are a major protip. You can buy a giant pack of ornaments for a few bucks. These always come in handy when we decorate our homes because they’re so versatile. Add some to a festive bowl, place some in a clear vase, and place a few next to holiday items on your shelves to add a sparkly touch!

Frame Special Holiday Moments

Don’t forget to change up your picture frames for the holidays!

We love the idea of framing special holiday moments and places that matter to you during the season. Want to save the most money? We channel our inner photographer and head around town to snap photos of favorite winter spots. The local ice skating rink, the big Christmas tree in town, a snowy tree … there are so many photo ops you can use to fill those frames! Or to make it easier, start a tradition now to take a special photo every year that you can use to display when you get out all of your holiday decorations.

We hope you feel inspired after reading this list to get in the spirit of the season. We promise you don’t have to spend big bucks to make your space feel special during the holidays. Turn on some holiday music, heat up some hot cocoa, and enjoy yourself as you deck your halls!

How to Sell a House: A Guide from A to Z

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If you’ve ever sold something on Craigslist, you probably know how much work even just that can be involved. You’ve gotta take photos of the item, figure out a good price, and then post it online with a descriptive caption and details about the piece. Afterward, you’ve gotta field the emails and calls, then wait for a random stranger to come pick up your item.

Now, take that process and multiply it by 100 … that’s what it’s like to sell a house!

We’re not gonna sugar coat it; there is a lot of work and serious effort involved in selling a home. That’s why we wrote this post to outline the entire process for you. Understanding what you’ll be doing is the first step towards slapping “SOLD” on the sign in your front yard.

Craft a Selling Gameplan

Once you decide to sell your house, you probably would like if it all happened pretty quickly. But nothing good happens without a plan. So the first order of business is to make a selling gameplan. This is what that looks like.

Agent or No Agent?

The first major step in the selling process is figuring out if you’re going to hire a professional real estate agent or sell your home yourself. If you go the “For Sale By Owner” route, you could, in theory, save some money. But if you’re new to the home selling process, you may be way over your head if you DIY it. Ask yourself if you have the time, knowledge and marketing skills to sell your house all by yourself. If you come away with a resounding yes, it could be the right move for you!

Though if you decide to go with an agent, take the time upfront to find a good one. Ask friends for referrals, read reviews online and interview more than one agent before you hire the winner. A good agent should educate you throughout the process, and it ultimately should be someone you deeply trust.

This post outlines tips on who to contact, when, and how to do it.

Choosing the Right Time

The best time to sell is March through June. That leaves parents an entire summer to get their kids adjusted and ready for the new school year. So if you can wait until the spring and early summer months, do it! It’s always best to avoid selling during winter and the holidays, as most people aren’t looking to buy homes during that busy time of year on average.

Find the Right Price

The first 30 days of activity are crucial when it comes to selling your house, so price matters. You may assume that you should start high and then lower your price if you don’t get any attention, but if it sits on the market for too long, your listing can become stale. Buyers may stay away if you price too high or assume that you’re not serious about selling. Price it right from the start and you’ll probably sell your home much faster.

If you’re using an agent, they will work with you to figure out the best price for your home. You can also research other comparable homes in your area, and maybe even attend some open houses. Plus, there are many online resources that will help you track down the perfect number for your area. These things will all get you a good feel for the market and how your home compares.

Prep Your Home

Painting the House

Before you can officially get your home on the market, you need to get it looking it’s very best. If you fail to make your home look presentable, then you may not get the asking price you’re looking for, or even worse … it could sit on the market for far too long. You need to showcase your home in its best light, and the only way to do that is with some hard work and effort. Here’s how to prep your home for the market:

De-Clutter and De-Personalize In Six Steps

This first task will cost you literally zero dollars. Yep, you can already make your home look 10 times better without spending a dime. Here’s how.

  • Find a spot where you can store items out of sight. That could be an attic space, shed, or even a storage unit that you rent while you’re selling.
  • Remove excess bulky furniture. The more space to walk around, the better.
  • Try to pare down at least 10% in each room. Gather extra accessories and items that are taking up space.
  • Permanently clear all counters in your kitchen. And try to get rid of most items on surfaces (i.e., desks, dressers, etc.).
  • Donate everything you clear. (Or add them to your designated storage spot.)
  • Remove any personal items from around your home. This means things like picture frames and family knickknacks.

These six steps will have your home looking so much more sellable. Your space will be lighter and brighter for the photography and showings later on! Don’t forget about closets and drawers too. Buyers are nosy, and they’ll be checking out every nook and cranny in your house.

Make Small Home Upgrades

You don’t necessarily need to renovate your kitchen or bathroom to sell your house, but there are small upgrades you can make to improve your home. Here are some ideas that will instantly improve the look of your space (and potential home value!).

  • Give your walls a fresh coat of paint. Be sure to consult this list of paint colors with the best resale value first!
  • Upgrade your kitchen on a dime. Swap cabinet hardware, replace your faucet, and add new pendants for a quick and budget-friendly new look!
  • Boost curb appeal with a painted door. This post will help you pick the perfect hue. (Also helpful is a cleaned up yard and fresh flowers.)

Finally, if something has been broken (and on your to-do list for years), now is obviously the time to fix it!

Clean From Top to Bottom

There’s another essential (but free) task you’re going to be doing to make your home look a lot better: cleaning everything! Grime and dust can quickly deter buyers from truly considering your home, so get every nook and cranny sparkling. These posts will help you channel your inner Mr. Clean.

Marketing Your Home

If you’ve gotten to this step, your home is in tip-top shape from all of your hard work and it’s ready for its debut to the world! Marketing your home is by far the most important step of the home selling process. You can have the most gorgeous house on the block, but if no one sees the listing it’s never going to sell.

Stage and Photograph Your Space

You’ve already prepped for the staging when you got rid of personal items and removed clutter. Good work, that’s 90% of the battle. Now it’s time to add the finishing touches before your home’s photo shoot.

Make sure every room is clean, all beds are made, and blinds are open to let that natural light in! (Natural light is ideal for photos.) It’s important to keep accessories to a minimum, but if you do want to add a few we suggest opting for plants and flowers. This post has lots of tips on how to do it right.

Pictures are the most important part of a home listing, so it’s crucial to get these right. If you don’t think you can DIY it, then hire a pro! Investing in a professional photographer could potentially be the biggest money spent to money gained ratio in the entire process. If you’re using an agent, often times they will pay for this service. A professional is always a good idea because they will know how to photograph your home to make it look its best.

If you’re selling your house yourself (or just want to save some money), it’s possible to take your own pics. We suggest using a wide-angle lens, shooting during the daytime, and using a tripod. For more DIY photography tips, check out this post.

Promote Your Sale

Don’t solely rely on your agent to promote your listing. You can take some of the marketing efforts into your own hands and broadcast your sale to the world! Put your listing on social media sites, email your friends and family, and let neighbors know that you’re selling. You never know who might be looking to buy, so it’s worth it to use your own network to get the word out. Here are some of the most common sites people use for listing and/or real estate research:

Bring on the Showings

Simply put, homes that don’t get shown don’t get sold. So the first order of business is to make your home available for showings. That could mean a few open houses on the weekends and availability during the week. We highly recommend that you leave the house during showings so buyers can really feel comfortable checking out your space. It may be an inconvenience for you and your family, but remember that it’s only temporary!

You’ll also want to do these 10 things before any open house to get your home looking (and smelling) its best!

Keep It Clean

It’s hard to live in your home like a normal person and keep it ready for showings at all times. But you’ve gotta do your best to keep your home clean and organized. Whenever you leave the house, tidy up and wipe down all of your countertops. That way if you need to have a last-minute showing, your home is ready to go.

Get Everyone Out of the House

It’s important for buyers to check out an empty house. So that means that you, your kids, and any animals should make a plan to high-tail it out of there. That could mean taking the dog for a long walk or heading over to a friend’s house for the day. But no matter what, come up with a plan for where your family will go when those last-minute showings happen. And if you do have pets, be sure to remove their items (e.g., dog bowls, cat litter, etc.) from the home before buyers come in.

How To Get Ready For Closing

If you’ve made it this far, then congrats! You’re almost to the finish line. Here’s what happens now:

Appraisal and Inspection Time

After the listings and showings, you will (hopefully!) get an offer on your place. After you’ve accepted an offer, most buyers will do an inspection of your place within a week. You won’t need to be there for the inspection, and you’ll usually have the results within a few days. At that time, you’ll know if all went well, if you need to fix a few items yourself, or if you’ll offer the buyers a credit to fix things themselves.

Here’s our full guide for how to deal with a home inspection.

Next, it’s time for the appraisal. Appraisals usually happen within a week of the home inspection. You can do some homework before the appraisal to improve the chances of getting a higher price. Provide a list of recent home improvements and receipts to explain the value you’ve added to your home.

The results of the appraisal may take a few weeks. If your home appraises, you’re good to go! If not, you’ll have to negotiate with the buyer to find a price that works for all parties.

Prep to Move

After the appraisal, you’ll be on track for closing day. You can finally start to pack things up and get ready to move out of your home. This would be a good time to think about hiring some help for moving day. It’s also time to start packing! This handy checklist will keep you on task so you stay organized and on top of your move.

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Saying Goodbye to Your Home

Congrats, you sold your house! All that’s left to do is say goodbye and toast to all of the memories made in your place. As a bonus, you can also leave your buyers a little gift as you head out (like a booklet of your favorite restaurants or just a note with tips on their new house). It’s a great way to hand off your past experiences to the new homeowners. Onward!

How I Changed Everything So I Actually Work When I Work From Home

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Forget extra vacation days or free coffee at the office; The hottest new work benefit is the option to work remotely. Tons of people who move for a job still find themselves outside of the office. Yep, about 3.9 million U.S. employees are working from home at least half the time, according to reports.

And I’m one of them!

Don’t I look professional? Well, it wasn’t always that way. I recently left my corporate job to work on my small business, and let me just say, it has been quite the adjustment working from home.

I woke up on my first day of work and felt guilty when I wasn’t rushing around to get ready and run out the door to make the train. The first few weeks were a struggle with my new routine, and I found myself working 12 hour days, in my pajamas, with my laptop constantly in front of me. I was quickly on the road to burnout.

Whether you’re underworking, overworking or both, luckily I’ve figured out a smarter (and healthier) way to work from home. I did lots of research and implemented a few strategies into my routine, and I’m happy to report that I am now thriving with my new setup.

I still get dressed for the workday.

Remember the tale of me in my pajamas working like a maniac those first few weeks of my new routine? Yeah, that wasn’t the best look for me. My husband would return home from work at night, only to find me in the same pajamas I was in when he left 9 hours before. Yikes.

Now, I get up and dressed every morning. I don’t have to put on business casual clothing, just a fresh outfit for the day ahead. This makes me feel better about myself, keeps my hygiene on point, and makes me feel like a total #girlboss.

I don’t work on the couch anymore because I designed my own work area.

I’m guilty of working from bed or on the couch hunched over my laptop. This hasn’t been great on my back (or my productivity). So after reading some more about the problem, I decided to create a designated “office space” in our home, force myself to sit in a real chair, and get real work done.

Even though our small condo doesn’t have a separate room for an office, I just added a slim desk to a blank wall in our bedroom. This makeshift office has been crucial for me. When I sit down at my desk, I know it’s time to get to work and avoid the distractions from the rest of my home.

But if you have an extra room in your house that you can convert to an office, don’t think twice and just do it. That way, you can simply close the door at the end of the day and work mode will be over. If not, find a way to create a work zone in your home, so work isn’t creeping into rooms all over your house.

I go outside before I start to work (even if it’s freezing).

Sometimes there isn’t a reason for me to leave the house at any point during these Chicago winters … I’m totally fine with that! However, I’ve found that morning walks help set me up for success for the day. Just a 20-minute stroll around the block gives me some much-needed vitamin D and fresh air. When I return, I’m ready to sit down and get to work.

I’ve also added a weekly trip to the coffee shop into my routine, and it’s nice to head out for 20 minutes to get a cup of coffee in the neighborhood. Fresh air and fresh java? Yes, please!

I bought a big whiteboard so my daily goals are visualized and in front of me.

I’m a big list maker and absolutely love the satisfaction of crossing items off of a long to-do list. I recently added a large whiteboard to our home, and it has helped me tremendously. I split the board into six sections, one for each weekday and a column for the weekend. Now I look at my week as a whole and plan things out accordingly. I slot in appointments, meetings, conference calls, important tasks and even workouts onto my large whiteboard.

I make time to meet with friends during lunch so I’m not isolated.

Working from home has many perks, but it can also be incredibly isolating. You may be by yourself all day long, and it can get lonely. I’ve found that setting up weekly lunches has made a big difference in my overall morale. I set up lunch with a different friend one day per week, and it has kept me more social … plus, it breaks up the week! If I can’t find a friend who is free that week, I spend one afternoon a week working at a coffee shop. Working amongst other people can be rejuvenating and inspiring.

I write to my coworkers (very) often.

If you’re working remotely for a company, it’s important to communicate all the time. You’re not getting that same face-to-face interaction that your coworkers at the office are getting, so be sure to check-in frequently. Make yourself available via Slack or Google Chat, and make sure you’re responsive when it comes to calling and emails.

This also will show your coworkers and managers that you’re still reliable, even when you’re working from home.

Yeah, I’m really trying to avoid household distractions.

I’m still working on this strategy, but I think it’s so important to set boundaries. When you’re home all day long, it can be easy to get distracted by things that need to be done around the house. Laundry, cleaning, cooking … they can all take you away from getting your work done.

I found that I was constantly multi-tasking while working. This seemed okay at first, but I found that I wasn’t as efficient as I used to be. Now, I take those aforementioned breaks throughout the day to run an errand or do a chore around the house, but the other times I’m 100% devoted to work thanks to my routine.

Do I have the whole work from home routine perfected? I’ve definitely made huge strides after putting that research into pracitce, and I’ve gotta say, I’m loving it so far!

This Is How Easy It Is to Make Your Home Smell Like Christmas

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We love all of the amazing smells associated with this time of year … cookies in the oven, peppermint hot cocoa and fresh pine from a new Christmas tree. But because we’re holiday obsessed, we like to take things one step further. Yes, we have our own recipe for a potpourri to make your entire house smell like the holidays, and it works extremely well.

Plus, it’s a cinch.

Now we know what you’re thinking. Potpourri? Isn’t that the dried up stuff in my Grandma’s bathroom? Fear not, potpourri has made a comeback. And the potpourri we’re talking about is a mixture of fresh ingredients and spices that are warmed on the stovetop or in a slow cooker. Heating things up makes the concoction that much more fragrant, so it can fill your house with heavenly aromas!

Stovetop potpourri ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1 orange (sliced)
  • 6 cinnamon sticks (break them in half)
  • 1 T. cloves
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • 4 cups water

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a small pot and simmer over low for as long as you want. If the water gets low, add more and toss in some more ingredients. There’s no exact science to it, so add more of anything that you like. Personally, we love adding a few extra cinnamon sticks to really let that smell permeate throughout our homes.

That’s honestly it!

Enjoy the holiday smells all day long.

If you don’t want to leave your stove on all day long, we highly suggest using a slow cooker! Just place all of the ingredients in the pot and put it on low for a couple of hours.

We actually did this when we put our Christmas decorations up this year. With Christmas tunes blaring, and this heavenly concoction in the slow cooker, our day of decorating was that much more enjoyable.

But it doesn’t just smell amazing, this concoction is also a feast for the eyes. The cranberries add such a beautiful pop of color, along with the orange slices.

If you’re hosting any holiday parties this year, we suggest you get this potpourri going a few hours before the party begins. When guests enter they’ll be greeted with the amazing aroma of the season. If that doesn’t get you the title of “hostess with the mostess”, we don’t know what will!

Cheers to a magical and fragrant holiday season!

If You Have Kids, Test Your Home for These Things Right Now

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I recently moved while pregnant and let me tell you, the struggle is real! Although there were some unexpected perks (it helps to have a literal built-in excuse not to have to do the heavy lifting), there were also a slew of concerns and precautionary steps I took to keep me and Baby Mac safe throughout the process. (In case you’re wondering, he’s due in February!)
I’m definitely not here to scare any future moms. We all know there’s plenty of material available that can do that. But I also didn’t want to go into my move blind to the potential hazards that a new house can pose to you or your baby’s health.
So as an expecting mom and a special education teacher who sees the effects of these household dangers far too often, I’m here to share important research so we can be diligent in taking the necessary steps to keep our babies safe.

You Need to Get Your New Home Tested for Lead

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), 1 in every 38 kids is impacted by lead poisoning. Exposure to lead at a young age can come from many things, but usually include these lead-based sources:
  • Lead paint
  • Lead in a tainted water supply
  • Lead fumes during construction
When a child is exposed to this dangerous toxin, they are at high risk of developing a learning disability, a lower IQ and/or damaged organs. In some extreme cases, it can even cause death.
We can all agree that we would never want to expose our babies or young children to lead, but the scary part is that sometimes we do so without even realizing it. That’s why with just a little research and the right tools, you can arm yourself with the resources you need to test for lead products. And often times, all you really need is yourself!

How to Test for Lead

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Large companies, such as 3M, sell DIY lead checking products (some for under $10!) that you can purchase and use to test the paint in your home. The directions will coach you on how to swipe the painted surface and almost instantly identify whether or not that paint is contaminated.

If you are an avid DIY-er like us, be sure to use these strips to test any furniture you may be giving a makeover for the new nursery, too. You definitely don’t want to sand down an old dresser that was previously painted with lead paint. That dust can be extremely dangerous when it becomes airborne. You also don’t want to paint over it since your little one could peel away that paint some day and ingest it. There are plenty of old dressers that need a lot of DIY love (so don’t ditch this creative idea entirely!), just be sure to choose one that doesn’t have a history with lead.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 10-20 percent of our exposure to lead comes from water. This is especially dangerous because we may not even realize we are mixing lead-infused water in our baby’s formula and potentially causing serious damage in the process. To test the water in your new home, simply contact your water supplier and ask for it to be tested. If this is not a service they provide, the EPA has contact information for approved testing labs you can reference right here. Just click on your state and search your state government’s resources!

What to Do If Your Child Has Already Been Exposed to Lead

If you have little ones and are concerned that they may have already been exposed to lead (sometimes it can be inhaled through contaminated dust without you even realizing it), don’t freak out – you can often get their lead levels tested at your local pediatrician, just make the appointment today.

Take the precautionary steps to avoid this contamination, and you are your little one will be safe. Just be sure you use the resources available to confirm that your new home is clear of any risk before it’s too late. The bottom line is that lead poisoning is extremely dangerous and fetuses and small children are unfortunately at the highest risk of the side effects.

Get Your Home Tested for Radon

Who knew some old houses could have a dangerous build-up of radon lurking within? I had no idea until right before I moved into my new house and did some investigating. I’m definitely not a pro on the topic, but here’s all the info I found out through my moving experience.

Radon is a dangerous gas that radiates out of the soil over time and is more prominent in some areas of the country versus others. Those areas’ homes catch these gases, trapping them inside and increasing the levels of radon to a point that can be dangerous to live in over long periods of time. According to the American Lung Association, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer … right behind smoking! I don’t want my baby exposed to second-hand smoke and I don’t want him exposed to high radon levels either.

How Do I Get a Radon Test? How Much Does it Cost?

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The great news is that high levels of radon in your home don’t need to be a deal breaker because there are solutions to lower the levels of gases. Each state’s EPA shares resources on which companies you can call to test your home for radon right here. This test costs a couple hundred bucks (depending on location, house size, etc.) and it takes a few days to complete. To test for it, a tracker is placed in your new home, usually in the basement. Note that the longer the tracker can stay in the home, the more accurate the read will be.

For reference, the average level of radon in households across America is 1.3 picocuries per liter and according to the EPA, you need to take action on reducing radon on or above 4.0 pCi/L. Talking to the company who tested your home will be the best resource to start identifying what specific steps you can take to decrease these radon levels now and eliminate them from rising in the future.

Other Harmful Chemicals to Consider

Okay, the two biggest chemicals that may lurk in your home prior to moving in are out-of-the-way, but we don’t want you to forget about the ones that may pop up throughout the moving or nesting process. Here’s a list of other common products that could be useful as you get settled in, but ones you need to take precaution so you are not exposed to:
  • Rodent/Insect pesticides
  • Landscaping pesticides or fertilizers
  • Paints with VOC
  • Polyurethane finishes for floors
  • Paint removing liquids
  • Spray paints (it’s better to roll/brush no-VOC paints if possible!)
  • Arsenic (which is a substance that a lot of outdoor decks or wood is treated with)

Especially if you’re pregnant like me and someone in your home needs to use these listed products, be sure to use proper ventilation, steer clear, or even see if you could stay at a friend’s place until the fumes are gone. It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry, right?

Overall, I went into my move feeling a lot more at ease about these potential dangers because I invested a little time and money into having my house tested for both lead paint and radon levels. Also diving into these topics a little deeper helped me identify how I can take steps later in my pregnancy (or in future pregnancies) to stay safe, which I’m very grateful for. If you’re looking to move while pregnant, I hope you too can find peace of mind by getting your home tested (and cleared!)

Lifehack: Get the Stuff Under the Kitchen Sink Organized With This $7 Tool

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We consider ourselves to be fairly organized people, but there are certain places in our homes that just don’t stand a chance against clutter. Underneath the kitchen sink is definitely one of those disorganized spaces. How can you own so many cleaning supplies, and yet the one place that stores them is never clean?

Check out that “before” photo. Supplies were everywhere, and finding the right spray bottle for a particular task was always an adventure.

Not only did we want to get this cabinet organized, but we wanted to put a smart organizational method into place so it wouldn’t ever get back to that scary before photo.

Like every organization project we tackle, we started by clearing everything out of the cabinet, as shown below:

This is a great time to purge and ditch old items you rarely use. It’s also an opportune time to give the cabinet base a deep clean.

Once we were left with a clean cabinet and fewer items to store, we picked up a few organizational supplies. The first may confuse you…

…it’s a tension rod! Yep, a small tension rod just might be the key to your organizational problems. We found this rod for $7 on Amazon and placed it right under the kitchen sink.

This tension rod now holds the four cleaning supplies we use most often. When cleaning the counters or quickly wiping down a mirror, we can easily grab the right cleaning supply for the job.

It’s also a good spot to dry out wet gloves used from washing dishes. Who knew a tension rod could be so handy?!

We picked up a double-decker basket too. This maximizes the tall cabinet space under your kitchen cabinet because you can fit double the items in the same small footprint.

To take things up a notch, we used washi tape and a permanent marker to label the two bins.

A spot for your wet sponges is always a good idea. A small container with clear command strips fits perfectly on the inside of the door. Again, this uses the vertical space in the cabinet so not everything has to take up space on the cabinet floor.

Overall, this kitchen cabinet looks a heck of a lot better. All it took was a little bit of purging, some storage solutions, and a $7 tension rod to give this hardworking space a new life. Happy DIY-ing!

Take Two: House Movers Get Stuck in the Middle of the Road AGAIN

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The sequel is rarely as good as the original, but Austin Home Movers are giving it a shot.

Last October they got this house stuck among the trees and branches lining in the middle of a residential street in south Austin. Unable to get a permit to cut the trees, they decided to cut the house instead.

Now they’re back, blocking traffic just north of Austin in an all-new predicament.

Hauling a house around a sharp bend on a quiet two-lane road in the Austin suburb of Leander, the trailer being used apparently suffered a broken axle, causing a couple of wheels to come loose. From there it seems the house slid right off the side of the trailer, coming to rest partway on the grass along the left side of the road.

Let’s survey what they were up against: The home looks about 50 feet long. The tractor’s right tires are on the grass. The rear of the trailer is clear over on the left side of the road, early on along the curve, effectively blocking the entire road, though a look on Google Maps suggests there isn’t much traffic there on Rock Cliff Drive.

Predictably, it didn’t go so well. And it would take a lot of work – and some help from a nearby business with some heavy equipment – to get that damaged house up and moving again.

To add insult to injury, the damage from the incident was not limited to the outside of the house. It seems a certain amount of owner Jesse Husemann’s belonging inside the house was damaged in the mishap as well. This because, as Husemann explains, “everything that was in the center of the house where (the house mover) told me to put it ended up slamming into that wall.”

Wow. Anyone ever hear of loading a moving truck by piling everything up in the middle? 

Neighborhood resident John Sargent says he’s seen a few accidents along that curve and thinks that guard rails need to be installed to prevent more.

Meanwhile, city planners are busy installing guard rails along the entire route of Austin Home Movers’ next job. Probably, anyway.

Here’s What Happened to Me After One Month Inside a Smart Home

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Like most 90s kids, I watched every single Disney Channel Original Movie—and there was no DCOM I loved more than Smart House. I was fascinated by the idea of a house equipped with “Personal Applied Technology” (“PAT” for short) that could listen and respond to every request while providing accurate information on demand. I can’t tell you how badly I wanted a home that could make my favorite smoothie, project any movie or music video I could imagine onto any wall, then turn my bedroom into a virtual beach.

As an adult, I still love Smart House, but for more practical reasons, admittedly.

During the process of making my house “smart” in the modern age, I discovered two common misconceptions. First, building a smart home is expensive, and second, so many gadgets require you to have to automate everything

After doing some serious digging, it turns out that neither is true. In fact, it’s possible to start off with just a wifi signal and one or two smart devices. 

Here’s what happened in my first month of installing a bunch of new devices.

It’s True: I Became Really Accustomed to Talking Out Loud to No One, Like in the Commercials

I’ve been slow to adopt the “Hey Siri” function on my iPhone, but I am all about asking my Amazon Echo to launch my favorite playlist or tell me the weather. Alexa and Echo’s personalities are like a personal butler who has more than 1,000 specific skills. I’ve learned to ask mine for everything from calling an Uber to helping me manage my finances. I felt weird at first about giving commands to an empty room, but I quickly learned to love the hands-free, immediate feedback Alexa provides.

The Echo, Apple’s new HomePod, and Google Home all serve as central hubs for your newly connected home. If you’re still uncertain about smart home tech (or if you want to feel like you’re actually living in Smart House) I highly recommend starting off with one of these gadgets.

I Actually Started to Feel Safer (and Got Accustomed to the Convenience Quickly)

One key reason that people enter the smart house game is for improved home security. It’s possible to go big with wireless cameras, motion sensors, doorbells, smoke alarms and more, but I started with a smart lock after seeing the technology at a few Airbnb stays. You’ve probably used keypad entry locks, but did you know that you can now open your lock with your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone simply by approaching the door or with a single fingerprint? Yes, James Bond, it’s true!

I definitely feel safer living alone after installing a smart lock. The technology is notoriously difficult to “pick,” and there’s no risk of my keys falling into the wrong hands or of forgetting to lock the door when I leave. I can also remotely grant entry to my dog-walker. Finally, I’ve gone a whole month without dropping my groceries, gym bag, purse and lunchbox in a pile on my steps as I search for my keys.

I Slowly Stressed Less About Both Cooking and Cleaning

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Adulting is hard work, and I often struggle to find the time to prepare a wholesome meal and deep clean my home. I’ve long known about the magic of slow-cooking, but the Smart Crock-Pot takes it to the next level. I can control the device from my smartphone, which means I can adjust time, temperature, or power if I’m running late for dinner—no more relying on the appliance itself to switch over to warm or turn off.  

Similar to slow cookers, robot vacuums have been on the market for awhile, and now I’m wondering why I didn’t invest sooner. The Roomba is the most recognizable of the bunch, but there’s a wide range of options for cost and functionality—and most can be programmed and scheduled with your smart home hub. Sigh of relief over here as my robot vacuum takes over the burden of this unpleasant chore.

My Dog Got Hooked on the Automation Too

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Smart home tech also extends to pets. My dog likes to be fed on a schedule—he knows exactly when dinner is on its way and makes sure to remind me if I’m a minute behind. Like a smart slow cooker, a wifi-enabled smart dog feeder is a lifesaver if I’m working late or have other evening plans. My feeder allows me to set up mealtimes and portion sizes right from my phone. I’ve found that my dog is less likely to whine at my feet for food and treats because he knows to expect it regularly from his feeder. He’s even lost a little bit of extra weight since we started using this gadget, and I feel like a more responsible dog parent.

Disney was remarkably prescient about the future of home automation when it created Smart House. It may have seemed far-fetched back then, but it turns out you actually can live out that childhood dream of having your house do everything for you! 


Emily Long is a home safety and automation expert for SafeWise. She loves to geek out on new tech gadgets and home improvement projects. When she isn’t writing about smart home tech, she can be found teaching yoga, road tripping or hiking in the mountains.
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