DIY Mail Sorter


That word can mean several things.  Some might think of ducks, some might think of a past president or celebrity.

When I see that word, I think of money: dollar bills, and the pieces of paper that come in the mail and take those dollar bills away.

Over the past few months, Sam and I have shed a bit of our newlywed status by becoming more independent and accepting more responsibilities.  That means paying for things we didn’t pay for in college: cell phone service, electricity, water, rent… It’s a lot to keep up with, and it’s exhausting to think that the bills will keep coming for the rest of our lives.

Since Sam is busy with his first semester of teaching, I’ve taken over most of our financial obligations.  I’m still looking for a job, but I’m still running into constant dead ends because I don’t have enough experience.  I only graduated last spring, so I don’t know how I’m supposed to gain experience if no one will hire me.  So, at this point, Sam makes the money and I spend it!  I don’t go on shopping sprees, though; I spend our money through bills, making sure we don’t get kicked out of our apartment for not paying rent, or get left in the dark when our electricity provider shuts us off.  I spend our money on groceries to make sure Sam doesn’t starve.

Keeping up with our mail has been an issue for me because it tends to float all over our apartment.  Sometimes I drop it off on the kitchen island, sometimes it ends up on the desk in our bedroom… It’s easy to lose track of it all.  I’ve been looking for a good mail sorter for a few weeks now.  Our town has several great antique stores, but none of them had exactly what I was looking for: I needed something that would have vertical slots for me to sort our mail so our bills don’t get lost.  I found baskets and other containers that were close to what I needed, but not quite.  I even went to Office Depot and considered buying a $40 stacking tray set, but couldn’t bring myself to spend that much money.

So, what’s a girl to do when what she wants doesn’t exist?  Do it herself!

Here’s how I made my simple mail sorter for my kitchen counter out of three basic magazine holders.  It was an easy and fun project that I completed in less than an hour, but it makes a huge difference in my house.

First, I started with three black magazine holders I found at Target for $4.99 each.  They’re made out of sturdy cardboard.

I removed the metal label holders on the front of them.  They popped off pretty easily.  After that, I stacked them on their sides and decided how I wanted them to fit in the corner on my counter.  Here’s what the corner looked like before:

Clutter!  An ugly, cheap toaster we never use, Sam’s Gatorade powder, some random ribbon, and a stained plastic cutting board.  The only thing I deemed worthy to stay was our adorable desktop panda calendar.  I wanted the mail sorter to fit in the corner where our Darth Vader cookie jar was, so I planned accordingly and glued them together with a hot glue gun.

Looks great, but I wanted to dress it up a bit.  I found these old reading flash cards at a local thrift store and thought they were charming.

I love the classic font and the antique, stained look.  I cut them to size and glued them to the side to give the mail sorter a fun, whimsical feel.

After that, the black top felt too plain.  I pulled out an old paperback copy of The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty that I used in a previous craft project.  A professor assigned the book in a Southern Literature class in college, and I ordered this copy off Amazon for a penny.  It arrived with the first chapter missing, so I replaced it and use it for crafting now.  It has beautifully yellowed pages because it’s so old.  I used it to decoupage the top of the mail sorter.

Then, I cleared off my counter.  Everything found a new place, including Darth Vader, who now guards the fridge against Rebel forces:

And the mail sorter looks great on the counter!  It adds a lot of character to my kitchen.

This is a great project because it’s completely customizable.  You could use different patterns of scrapbook paper to make any color combination you want.  You could even make cute labels for each of the slots.

What do you think?  Should I have sprung for the stacking trays, or was this a good alternative?

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I Fought My Ugly, Mismatched Furniture and Won!

That’s what my living room looked like this morning.  I’ve been hating on our living room furniture for a while now, but we don’t have the money to go out and buy a fancy living room set.  So, I’ve long since adopted the British mantra, “Make Do and Mend.”  I can make do with our ripped garage sale couch and mend our hand-me-down furniture.  No problem.  Today, I took on a huge project by gathering all of our mismatched living room furniture and painting it all a pretty matching green.  Why green?  Well, green is my favorite color, if you can’t tell from my blog.  When we moved into our first house, I promised Sam he could have his favorite colors (red and black) in the bedroom if I could have some green in the living room.

As you can see, I upheld my end of the bargain quite nicely.  So, this morning I made a 7:30 a.m. trip to Lowe’s and went to work!  Here are the culprits:

Exhibit A.  This is a record cabinet Sam’s dad made in the seventies.  It used to have a record player that’s long gone.  It was used and abused and, frankly, sort of sad looking.  It sat in Sam’s garage for a long time before it began acting as extra kitchen storage in our old house.  Now, it acts as a shelf behind the couch to catch all kinds of knick-knacks we leave lying around.  It was in desperate need of a makeover.

Exhibit B.  This is a table I bought at a thrift store a few years ago for $8.00.  As I began painting it, I realized how much I just didn’t like this table.  It’s wobbly, and I’m currently sporting a huge goose egg on my leg from when I ran into it.  It just clutters up our house, and after I realized how hard it would be to paint with all those nooks and crannies, I had no problem hauling it to the dumpster.  This one didn’t survive the war.

Exhibit C.  This is a nice cabinet that was in Sam’s room when he was a teenager.  It holds our board games and Sam’s Xbox games.  I wasn’t ready to part with it, but it was very scratched and needed some help.

Exhibit D.  In my first photo, you can see our TV stand.  It’s your very basic stand-on-wheels, nothing fancy.  The wood didn’t match anything in our house, and I figure if you’re going to stare at something so much while watching TV, you might as well make it pretty.

So, the battle began.  First, I cleaned each piece with a rag and Windex, and then I sanded everything with regular sandpaper.

I took the sliding doors off of the cabinet to make it less bulky and a little more modern.

Next, I applied a coat of primer.  I tried the kind in a spray can this time, but I didn’t like it as much as the regular brush-on kind.  This coat didn’t have to be perfect; just enough to create a surface for the paint to stick to.

Next came the first coat.  Honestly, I was pretty freaked out at this point.  The paint was looking much brighter than I anticipated, and it reminded me a lot of astroturf.  I wasn’t looking forward to explaining to Sam how I ruined all of our furniture while he was at work.

Sam calls this color “Putt-Putt Green.”

Although the color was a far cry from the “Shady Knoll” I was promised in the paint’s name, I took a deep breath and plowed on.  After three more coats, I had the color I wanted.

I sprayed the tops with a protective top coat because I knew they would be scratched easily.  That’s why they look a little shiny in some of these pictures.

Ignore the dust! It was still a work in progress.

And finally… voila!  My furniture has found new life, and they are forever grateful.

And they look like they belong together!

The cabinet ended up being my favorite.  I love the way the bronze hardware looks against the dark green!

Yay!  Brand new pretty living room!  :)

Here’s a before/after shot, just for fun:

This project took a full day’s work, but it was so worth it!  I hope you enjoyed the transformation as much as I do!

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Fishtail Curls

I’ve always loved the look of fishtail braids, but I had the hardest time figuring out how to do it.  I’d watched tons of tutorial videos and I couldn’t ever figure it out.  Finally, I sat down one night with this diagram from, and made it happen.

I know it looks incredibly complicated, but it’s really not.  It’s like weaving your hair, and once you learn the pattern it’s easy.  These are the three things I had to figure out through trial and error that really helped me:

  1. Use your fingers to separate the hair, just like with a normal braid.  It takes a long time and your arms will get tired, but you have to use both hands.
  2. It helps to do it in front of the mirror at first until you can figure out how to do it without looking.
  3. Most tutorials tell you to braid with dry hair, but I found out it’s a lot easier with wet hair!

So, here I am with wet hair.  I decided to do two braids today, but you can easily do a side braid or a braid down your back.

Now, separate your hair into equal halves and tie back one half.

Start braiding one half using the fishtail technique.  Basically, alternate moving each half piece by piece to the other side.

Remember to pull the hair tight, and finish braiding until you run out of hair.

Now the other side!  :)

Okay, now you could easily stop here and have a great, cute hairstyle.  But one thing I love to do with fishtail braids is wear them during the day, and then take them out for the evening.  They make really pretty curls when you take them out.  You could also braid your hair before you go to bed, sleep on them, and then wake up with pretty curls.  Or, you could do what I did because I was feeling impatient, and dry the braids with a blowdryer and take them out.  Just take out the braids, toss them with hairspray, add a headband, and you’re ready to go!  Now, my hair is naturally curly, but the braids make neater braids than my natural hair.  If you have straight hair, this might be a good method to try if you have trouble getting your hair to curl.  Good luck!


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