How I Painted My Boring Oak Kitchen Cabinets White.

August 22, 2017

How to paint oak cabinets white.

How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate

How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate  


I recently painted the slightly dated, builder-grade oak cabinets in our kitchen white. This was by far the largest DIY project I’ve ever taken on and it was a ton of work but it was worth every single bit of effort.

Overall, the project took me around 50 hours. In my kitchen, I have 10 double-door cabinet “sets”, a singleton, and an island. (See? I’m so green – I don’t even know what those cabinet “sets” are called! If I can do this, you totally can.) 

This is not really a full set of DIY instructions for this project. There are SO many great posts at there that already provide detailed instructions for this project. Instead, I’ve just provided a brief overview of my process, my supplies, and some tips I garnered along the way. At the end, I’ve provided a list of posts that were invaluable to me and provide great tips and tutorials. 

If I did this project again and applied some of the lessons I learned along the way, I could definitely shave off 30% of the time.

Here are a couple of things you should know about my process and end result:

  • I did not remove my cabinet doors to paint, but painted everything in place.
  • I did not paint the inside of the cabinets. I did, however, paint the inside of the doors and drawer lips. 
  • I did not cover the inside of the cabinet doors with the same care that I painted the outside. I just wanted to make sure that when someone opened a cabinet, the color wasn’t dramatically different. If you look carefully, you can see some spots I could have covered more thoroughly. 
  • I did not sand everything by a long shot, but I did “spot sand”. If there was a particularly difficult piece of grime, wood that was splintering, or varnish that looked less worn (and thus less absorbent) than other spots, I would give it a quick sand. I did not sand thoroughly between coats but I did sand a bit more in between coats, especially if I had drip marks. 
  • Although I did not remove the doors, I did pull out drawers as I painted.  I just set the drawers on the counter (on painting paper). This made both the inside and outside of the drawers and the frame of the cabinet much easier to paint.
  • For corners and edges that were really difficult to reach with my large paintbrush (you’d be surprised how many of these I found in a pretty straightforward, vanilla kitchen!), I just used a tiny crafting sponge to press some paint into place. A tiny paintbrush would have worked equally well (better, probably!), in retrospect.
  • The representative at the Benjamin Moore store and all of the tutorials that I read emphasized “thin” coats. While this is true, I think I took this too literally. The paint I used was supposed to cover in 2 coats and it definitely took at least 3 for me (with a bit of patching afterwards). If my coats had been just slightly thicker, I think the end result would have been a bit smoother and I would have achieved it much faster. This is probably especially important to keep in mind for that curved decorative area on the front of the doors, where I really struggled with consistent coverage.
  • Since I didn’t paint everything all at once and because of the process I used to paint each door, I lost track a couple of times of which cabinet doors were in what stage. If I did this again, I would use sticky notes (maybe color-coded?) or a more methodical system.
  • I still have two false drawer fronts disconnected – the ridiculous snaps holding them into place both broke at the very beginning of the project. They are a HEWUUUUGE pain to reinstall and totally not worth the effort because THEY ARE FALSE DRAWER FRONTS. So I need to get some really fine screws and some caulk and patch it all up still. Can you find the picture that shows the holes in the cabinet?;-)
How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate
Halfway through – SUCH A DISASTER! But I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate
Real Life! The kitchen was SUCH a disaster during this project. Also, word to the wise: do NOT climb on top of the refrigerator without another adult around.

How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate

How I chose my paint

I used a “bonding” primer (just Behr from Home Depot that I had in the garage) which is supposed to help with surfaces that are already finished and, most importantly, surfaces that haven’t been thoroughly sanded. I highly recommend using this rather than a regular primer if you don’t plan to sand completely. 

I used Benjamin Moore Advance paint which is specifically designed for cabinets. Regular wall paint in high-gloss would probably work, but I knew my painting project was going to be time-consuming and I wanted it to last. Forever, ideally. The paint was a pleasure to use – it was thick and applied easily and little ridges and bumps disappeared as the paint dried. It was also fast-drying. 

How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate
The original “before” – closing day!
How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate
Oooooohhhh the oak!

How I chose the shade of white for my cabinets

I chose Benjamin Moore’s Cotton Balls white paint for my cabinets. Deciding on a white took me FOREVER. Maria Killam and Laurel Bern will never know it, but their posts were so so helpful. I scoured everything they had on choosing a color and white and light and learned all sorts of interesting things about colors and paint. 

I also plugged my paint color into Google images to see shots of rooms that used the paint. For instance, I typed in “Kitchen cabinets Cotton balls Benjamin Moore” and then just scrolled until I found a few images that showed me examples. 

Cotton Balls is, for me and this kitchen, the perfect perfect white. I’m so happy with it. The oh-so-popular Simply White was too cold for our house and our kitchen faces north so I felt like it was going to look green on me. And I wanted to avoid anything that looked even slightly beige-y. My house is already so beige/warm cream and I wanted to cool it down. Cotton Balls feels JUST WHITE, not grey or cream, but it seems like every-so-slightly warmer than some of the other whites I considered. Not yellow-er, just deeper. Or something.

How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate
That top row is just primed. That’s what the in-between coats looked like!

How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate

How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate
I spy missing false drawer fronts!


As I said, I didn’t paint everything at once. I started on the island, because I had no idea what I was doing. I figured that if I screwed up completely, the island could look different than the rest of the kitchen and it wouldn’t be a disaster. As time and paint that needed to be used up in my tray corresponded, I moved to the other sections. 

I’d suggest that you determine your painting sequence at the beginning and start at the smallest section. That way, you won’t get completely overwhelmed at the beginning. 

Cleaning – First, I cleaned every surface that was going to be painted thoroughly. These cabinets are 16 years old and, after cleaning them, I very much doubt they have ever really been scrubbed. Regardless, the kitchen is a pretty filthy place and cabinets don’t often get cleaned as frequently as they should. This step is the one on I was most diligent. You can re-sand and repaint, but none of the paint will adhere properly if the surface isn’t clean.

To clean, first I scrubbed with a bit of dish soap and warm water and a cloth and dried (avoid letting the moisture really soak in. Then I went back over the surface with a mixture of 1 part vinegar, 1 part water that I heated. (Simply microwave 1 cup water and 1 cup vinegar for 3 minutes.) I scrubbed with this mixture with the steel wool side of my sponge. This accomplished two things: 

  • The hot vinegar mixture REALLY tackled grime, dust build-up, gross sticky residue, and helped wear away a bit more of the varnish (thus providing a little bit of sanding effect).
  • The steel wool provided a bit more texturing of the surface. If I did it again, I would have used the steel wool for the soap cleaning step as well.

Ultimately, I painted with 1 coat of primer and 3 coats of cabinet paint. As I mentioned before, had my primer coat and my first two cabinet coats been more thorough, I think I could have saved myself an entire coat. PRIME THOROUGHLY. I allowed each coat to dry for at least 24 hours in between (although some coats sat there for much longer because of what my schedule allowed).

After a great deal of trial and error, here’s the basic painting sequence that I found most efficient for each coat of paint.

  1. I painted all of the edges that were hard to reach once the doors are open, especially paying attention to the outside side edges of the door on the hinge-side. (These becomes extremely hard to reach once the doors are open.)
  2. While those edges dried, I opened the doors and painted all of the frame. Most of these edges wouldn’t be reached well with a roller. This included flat edges on the hinge-side of each door, around the top and bottom corners, and normally the top lip as well. 
  3. Then I painted the inside, first covering the large flat areas with a roller and then edging whatever didn’t get full coverage with the brush.
  4. The outside of my cabinets has a little trough area – many builder-grade cabinets do. This is what I tackled next, with a brush. This area proved particularly difficult to cover thoroughly, fyi. Pay special attention to the thickness of your coverage here as well as drip marks.
  5. Then I painted the flat edges and the main panel of the outside of each door. 
  6. Of course, I didn’t forget to tackle the trip, the crown molding, the side panels, the bottom panels of the cabinets, and any remaining random edges.
  7. I allowed each complete coat to dry for 18-24 hours before adding another coat. I let cupboards and drawers sit open for 10-12 hours before shutting them.

How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate

How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate

How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate


I switched back and forth between rollers and paintbrushes. I still can’t decide which was more effective. The roller coverage was much faster but it definitely left some weird little air pockets and the final texture wasn’t as smooth as the paintbrush coverage, but the drip marks were fewer. Play around with both and see which you like. In the end, here’s what I used:

  • Behr Bonding Primer from Home Depot
  • Benjamin Moore Advance Cabinet Paint in Cotton Ball White
  • Wooster paintbrushes (I was told that Wooster is actually preferable in some cases to Purdy and they are MUCH less expensive. I loved them.)
  • Dynamic roller brushes – I tried different kinds and naps. I ended up using one for the primer and first coats and a different one for the later coats. Try them out on the inside of the cabinet doors until you figure out what you like. 
  • Paint trays
  • Butcher block paper – I used paper drop cloths from Home Depot but this would work too.
  • I didn’t cover anything in plastic, but in the end, I sort of regretted not properly prepping. I still have little spray marks I’m scraping off from my counters and floors. Covering the counters and floors with this in advance would have been easy and saved me a lot of time (and would be totally necessary if you have dark floors or counters and don’t want a disaster). 
  • A little craft sponge.
  • Hardware – I found mine from Home Depot but I loved the selection on Wayfair as well.
  • A paint spout. 
  • Rags
  • Rubber gloves –  wore gloves for every step of the process. It will totally save your hands during the cleaning process and keep you from constantly having paint marks on your hands during the painting process.

How to paint oak cabinets white | The Orange Slate

Other posts about painting cabinets white

  • I think this post by Dear Lillie was the one that really turned the tables for me. I thought “I can do this!”. She goes into great detail about two different approaches and how she repainted the cabinets in two different houses. (Also, I could just stare at her room re-dos all day anyway).
  • This post from Remodelaholic was one of three that basically sealed the deal for me. She does not remove the doors for painting and provided lots of specific instructions and tips. It’s worth noting that she used Benjamin Moore Advance paint that is specifically designed for cabinets, which is exactly what I used. 
  • Kate from HouseMixBlog provides the details about painting her bathroom cabinets here and her kitchen cabinets here. She does not remove the doors either, but does more a “cheat” paint job like I did. Her kitchen went from blah to sparkling white!
  • This post is also so helpful and her transformation is breathtaking. She uses the Benjamin Moore Advance paint as well. 
  • Made in a Day hired painters, but the transformation from oak to bright white is lovely. 
  • Jeanne Oliver writes about transforming her kitchen by painting her cabinets using Annie Sloan – I personally have so much peace of mind with the cabinet paint I chose. I feel like it will age well and I love knowing that, aside from cleaning, there is basically no maintenance. But if you’re into chalk paint, you’re into chalk paint. Regardless, her kitchen’s transformation is beautiful and there are some great tips.


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A Simple Cleaning Routine for Spring (and a free guide).

March 13, 2017

simple cleaning routine 1


simple cleaning routine 4


Keeping a home clean and tidy with two toddlers (or any amount of children of any age!) is not for the faint of heart. I have become frustrated on numerous occasions when I start to feel like a hamster on a wheel – moving from one room to the next cleaning just in time for new messes to spring up. I don’t think housekeeping is less challenging when one parent is home full-time, but my work-from-home schedule means that I have to be very thoughtful about what I am doing when, which has helped me to be disciplined about establishing a cleaning routine.

Our current routine seems to be working for now and has give me a lot of peace of mind. I have certain tasks defined for certain days, but a flow that makes it easy to move chores around if something unexpected arises. Also, if something falls completely through the cracks, I know it will get taken care of soon anyway. 

Spring seems like just the right time to start re-thinking through home systems that may not be working or may need a refresh, so I’ve outlined our home’s systems below to inspire you. I’ve also created a customizable guide for you to use – click here to access it (if you’re already subscribed, it will magically appear in your inbox tomorrow!).

Right now, I have a weekly schedule pinned in my kitchen that includes 3 lists:

  • Daily tasks (basic room maintenance, things like dishes and sweeping that should happen almost every day)
  • Days of the week with cleaning tasks for those days.
  • Monthly (or less frequent) tasks that need to be occasionally tackled, but don’t merit weekly attention.

Daily Tasks

Daily tasks include things like making the beds, doing a quick clean of the main sink/toilet area, cleaning the kitchen after meals, sweeping after dinner, etc. Every day I also make sure that I full wash, dry, and fold at least one load of laundry. Having a list of daily chores helps prevent total chaos from setting in and frees me from constantly wondering whether I should keep cleaningor if things can wait. If there are a couple of loads of laundry to be done, but I’ve already done one and things are busy, I can just mentally check that chore off until the next day, knowing that today and tomorrow I’ll keep working through the dirty.

simple cleaning routine 2

Weekly Tasks

I’ve done this system differently through the years. When we first got married, all of our cleaning would happen on one day. When we first moved into this house, I tried to “batch”, by vaccuuming one day, mopping another, tidying another – this system outlined below is the best one I’ve found for right now. I don’t feel like I’m constantly trying to keep up or catch up and if something gets missed, I just take care of it the next day and roll everything forward by one day. In general, following this little schedule has kept our house at my “happy level”* of clean without too much stress. It also takes into account our busy days, days I run certain errands, Mark’s schedule for certain days, etc. 

I separated our main, primarily used areas into Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday cleaning sessions and do all of the cleaning for each area on the designated day. On Monday for instance, I dust, vacuum, and steam** the living room. 

On Tuesdays, I meal-plan and order groceries (if I’m ordering that week) or I go to Costco with the kids in the afternoon.

I designated Wednesday as my paperwork/receipt/bills/whatever day and I pick up groceries if I’ve ordered.

Thursday is our biggest laundry day. I start early and no matter how much laundry is in there, I make sure that the room is empty by the end of the day with everything folded, dry, etc. I also take some time on Thursday to clean the washer and dryer bodies, dump out the trash can, and sweep and steam the laundry room.

On Friday, I change all of our sheets and knock out a few big occasional chores. I also take an opportunity to sweep up any rooms that may be collecting dirt or dust.

Over the weekend, I deep-clean our main bathroom and maybe do an extra sweep of major areas or an additional big monthly chore if there is time.

simple cleaning routine 3

Room Cleaning Routine

When I say I “clean” a room, I generally do the following:

  • Pick up and put away clutter
  • Use a cleaning cloth and damp water (or this oil soap on wood furniture) to quickly dust major open surfaces. 
  • I use this feather duster to dust shelves, nooks that have more “stuff” on them, lamps, gallery walls, etc. 
  • I use this duster to dust both sides of blinds, high corners, and floorboards as well as to quickly sweep beneath any furniture. 
  • I use my steamer to clean the floors (sweeping first if there are a lot of dust or dirt partcles).

This sounds like a lot, but all of the steps outlined above except the steaming take me no longer for any given room than 2 or 3 minutes. Steaming takes maybe 5 minutes for our largest room. 

Also, knowing exactly how I clean has allowed me to slim down the cleaning supplies I keep around to just a few basics, which the clutter-buster in me LOVES.

Ready for a guide? Here is  a free customizable planner to help you refresh your home’s cleaning routine.

So now I’d love to know – what is the most challenging part of keeping your home tidy for you? Or do you have a schedule that just magically works? Tell me below!

*This is different for every one and every stage. Some would probably be shocked at things I’ve left off or the infrequency of certain chores, others by how often I do certain things. This is just some encouragement to try systems until you find the one that works for you and your home. 

** For some, this would be mopping and not all rooms necessarily need to be mopped every week. But I absolutely swear by my Bissell Symphony steamer. The heat ensures that the floors are really deep-cleaned and it’s as quick as vacuuming. If a room is particularly dirty, I might sweep before running it. I used to get really frustrated by how long it took me to truly deep clean floors and how dirty they immediately got, but the steamer has changed this completely. It’s paid for itself so many times over – it’s honestly saved me dozens of hours by this point!

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10 Suggestions for Simplifying.

February 24, 2017



Simplifying is always on my mind – how can I make this less complicated? More streamlined? I want more time, less “to-do”, ya know? Minimalism is the hottest trend since pancakes, but I’ll never achieve true minimalism. And I don’t particularly want to. But I do want to continually ensure that our possessions are items that we actually need, use, and love, that we aren’t just storing stuff that we will never use. For me, it’s an issue of stewardship and of focus. 

If I have less, I have less to care for, organize, clean, and thus, more time to spend on the things that matter to me. I’m less distracted and I can simply enjoy our home and life more.

I’ve noticed though that sometimes I’m even over-complicating my pursuit of the simple. So I thought I would share a few practices in our home that I rely on consistently to keep things simple, keep us moving forward, keep us connected. Hope you enjoy! What are some practices you would add to this list?


Regularly shed clutter. 

“One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity.” – Marie Kondo

Scheduling an enormous spring-cleaning purge may be cathartic, but I’ve found that my heart and home benefit more from simple consistently shedding things. Do I keep passing up the same shirt in my closet? I toss it into the donation pile. Do my kids keep ignoring the same toy? I hide it to see if it will be missed and then donate it. The likelihood of deeply regrettingthis process is low; the reptition will improve the practice; slowly your home will become less filled with distracting piles of stuff you don’t use and never will and more filled with things that bring you joy and items you truly use.

Practice a routine. 

“We become what we think about.” – Earl Nightingale

A routine is not the same as a schedule. A routine helps eliminate the overwhelm of choice and gives your day momentum. For instance, almost every day, my morning looks like this:

Wake up. Make coffee. Drink a cup of coffee. Nurse Violet. Feed my kiddos breakfast. Get everyone (including myself) completely dressed and ready for the day. Make beds and clean up the kitchen and bathroom. Performing the same basic activities every morning helps to propel all of us into the day. Hesitation and listlessness seem to breed frustration and grumpy hearts while a sense of direction and purpose put all of us in a better mood. 


Enjoy daily rituals. 

“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” – Gretchen Rubin

A ritual can be part of a routine, but it is not the same thing. A ritual is something done regularly that fuels your heart, body, and or mind. Some of our family’s rituals include:

  • My cup of coffee in the morning
  • Snuggle time with our babies first thing in the morning.
  • Reading a short devotional together. 
  • Reading stories to my little ones before bedtime (this is a great way to introduce kiddos to Bible stories!). 
  • Summer evening walks after dinner.
  • Enjoying cups of tea together after our babies are in bed.

Rituals provide moments throughout the day for decompression, connection, and slowing down. I can be swamped with work and our schedule can be filled to the brim, but if a few of these rituals are scatted through my day, I still feel as if I have margin. Start by writing out a few of your favorite daily moments. These are probably your rituals, or some of them. Begin to prioritize them, to build your day around them, to use them as moments to connect with your loved ones. 

(A quick note on rituals and children: Kim John Payne has some wonderful suggestions for establishing rituals with children in his book, which I HIGHLY recommend!)

Reduce choices on things that don’t matter. 

“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

8 different kinds of mascara, five different brands of creamer, 5 breakfast options, 18 different pairs of pants – an abundance of choices isn’t necessarily beneficial. In fact, it can be downright frustrating. I’ve slowly begun the process of elmininating the quantity of choices I need to make every day. I have certain brands of makeup and personal care for me and my children that I know we like so I just stick to buying those when we *actually run out* rather than constantly trying out new products. For instance, we’ve begun offering limited choices for meals, especially breakfast, for both ourself and our kiddos and it has reduced the morning/meal craziness immensely. Menu-planning has helped me make grocery and meal choices once a week rather than having to make 12 different decisions afternoon at 4:00 p.m. (Do I go to the store? Do we go out? What do I cook? How long do I spend cooking? How old are those zucchini?) I’m trying to carry this ove into the wardrobe department, but we’re still working on that. 

Bottom line? If you find yourself standing in the same place every week (or day!) trying to decide between the same options, start there. Commit to one small decision and elminate the back-and-forth. Then do it again. It’s refreshing! 


Don’t fight your nature.

 “Define yourself as one radically loved by God. This is your true self. Every other identity is an illusion.” – Brennan Manning

I will never be the world’s greatest interior designer. It’s just not in me. I’m impatient and have a pretty short attention span when it comes to perfecting a room – I also get frustrated by the (pernicious?) message of consumerism that seem to subtly hide underneath the perfect “minimalist” rooms of my dreams. Most of our furniture (all?) is used or inherited; neither one of my children had a nursery designed before they were born.

Our furniture is meant for rowdy rough-and-tumble, for messes, for littles. The pieces we’ve purchased either can endure all of the above or I plan to replace them and so am not terribly attached. These things used to stress me out (“We will never have our gallery walls designed!” “My couches look dated!”) but I’m slowly learning that quickly perfecting a house is just not something that really interests me.

I’m slowly learning that the pressure I exert on myself to make a Pinterest-perfect house just isn’t worth it because it doesn’t bring me joy and it distract me from things that do (if it brings you joy, by all means, focus there!) Slowly editing our house to fit our lifestyle and actual needs (rather than a computer image – white is in! So is Danish!) as I have time and inspiration has brought me a great deal more joy and so I try to focus there. 

This is all to say – if Instagram and Pinterest tell you that it’s important, but you don’t wake up wanting to do it, THEN DON’T. You don’t need to grow indoor plants or weave or paint all of your rooms monochrome white to succeed at the things you are meant and called to do. 


Intentionally step away from screens.

“Silence is a source of great strength.” – Lao Tzu

I think we’ve all lectured ourselves on this a million times and anything I could say has been said better elsewhere. I’ll just leave it at this. The peace and joy in our household is almost perfectly proportionate to the discipline I have demonstrated about my devices that morning. My temperment, the behavior and focus of my little ones, my own ability to focus – it’s all related. We don’t all need to have our devices on and available every single second. Make time to just go outside without your phone. Spend time with your kids and be unavailable to the world. Do this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for at least a few minutes and you’ll begin to treasure time without your devices.  

Identify the things that are important to you. 

“You get more of what you notice and affirm.” – Michael Hyatt

On my list? Intentional time with kiddos. Reading. Reading aloud together. Reading by myself. Time together cooking and eating. Time remembering and recording our memories. Time writing. Getting to know my neighbors. Time with Mark. #notmoresocialmediafollowers If your “thing” is growing a virtual audience, go for it. But I recognized a while back that this was just not the area I was ever going to be particularly passionate about or good at. If I have blog readers, great. If some people like a picture I post, fun! But my livelihood and my children’s future is not tied to the time I spend on my screen. So I’ve tried to step away from Social Media more. I’m also never going to be a famous painter. 

“It” stuff – clothes, furniture (see above), shows. Being right on the edge of fill_in_the_blank trend just has never mattered a ton to me. So I don’t spend a lot of time on those things.

Also in this category? Activities with kids that *I don’t care about*. All of the moms in the world may be taking their kids to Wally-Wonder-Goo-Goo-Place on 5th street. If that is not your thing, let it go. My children have never been to the local Children’s Museum equivalent. Or the Trampoline Park. Or anything else remotely that cool. This is because I’m an unashamed germaphobe and we have ton of toys and I’m The Most Boring Mom on The Block. My children are under 3 and will never remember visiting these places. If my kids want to play with something different than our toys, we go outside. Or we go to a different park. This is just us.  Find your “you” and then shed the rest. 




Spend time outside. “The earth has music for those who listen.” – William Shakespeare

Off you go now. 

Meet your actual neighbors. 

“It will be our love, not our opinions, which whill be our greatest contribution to this world.” – Bob Goff

Chances are, you live in a neighborhood. With actual other houses (not Pinterest ones!) with actual other people (not bloggers!). Make some bread or bake some cookies, and go ring a random doorbell. And then do it again. Amazing gifts start to come your way when you realize that friends are actually everywhere, not just on your phone or your moms’ group or church.  The world begins to seem so much more full and simple and beautiful all at the same time when we stop overcomplicating basic things like “do you have some butter I can borrow?” 

Maintain a basic neatness standard. 

“If you can’t find something, clean up.” – Gretchen Rubin

This is different for everyone. For me, this means that beds are made, bathrooms are presentable (sinks and toilets cleaned, trash removed), and the breakfast dishes cleaned. If you would be mortified if someone walked into your house, maybe it’s time to reassess. If you spend half of the day cleaning your house and can’t ever get anywhere before 11:00 a.m., maybe it’s also time to reassess (or see the first item in this list – maybe you just have too much stuff!). 

Hope these little tips help you on your journey towards simplifiying and creating a home life that you love! 

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5 Things Being an Editor Taught Me About Absolutely Everything.

March 8, 2016

Editing and Life 

Sometimes the job of editing gets a bad rap. Editors are seen as the grouchy gatekeepers between creativity and results or the unnecessary frivolous expenditure at the very end of a project. But really? We are all editing all of the time. Some of us have just spent more time developing our editorial senses.

In recent years, there has been a pretty hefty attempt to put the word “curate” into common use. But really, most of the time, we are not “curating” – we are simply editing. Years of editing words has taught me how useful it is to look at all of my other activities through the eyes of an editor. It makes all sorts of difficult decisions easier.

Here are 5 key things that the role of editing has taught me about absolutely everything.



Editors know that behind every brilliant end result is a process – one that takes time and a lot of drafts, each with a different goal in mind. This is not a one-and-done game – there are very few of those in the real world. Whether the focus is a project proposal, a business plan, a book, a blog post, or a gallery wall, it’s going to require a lot of handling and re-handling – and normally more process means more time.


Editors know that it takes a team – a multitude of voices, to produce a strong result. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses; someone else will catch what you may have missed. Genius is rarely a one-man Super Bowl. Generally, in business and in life, a great result is achieved through a group of people supporting each other and contributing from their individual areas of strength.


Editors know that imperfections in a product aren’t personal – they’re just reality. Typos in a manuscript, overlooked expenses in a budget proposal, clothes from the last decade that have managed to hang on – these things happen. We don’t run from imperfect – we tackle it through a process and with a plan.

4. A PLAN.

Editors understand the importance of a clearly defined plan. Great results won’t come from staring at the same page (or screen or closet or canvas) the same way day after day. Define a plan. Move from the big picture to the small details. Give yourself space to clear your head between drafts. This procedure leads to the solution for most of life’s most pressing questions . (Don’t believe me? Try it.)


An editor is the ultimate clutter-buster. Not all of the paragraphs, adjectives, stories, clothes, ideas, strategies, shoes, or colors can stay. Editing is basically synonymous with throwing stuff out the window (head-nod to Marie Kondo). Editors know that something – in fact most things – must go. Out with the good to make room for the best.

Did I miss something? What would you add to this list?

Here’s a fun quote to Pin as a reminder:



Additional Related Reading:

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On Everyday Rituals.

April 14, 2015

The Orange Slate | On Everyday Rituals4

The Orange Slate | On Everyday Rituals3

It’s early morning. The sky is beginning to groggily make its way to light and I’m waiting on my French press. Coffee is such an important morning ritual for me. I just need a couple of minutes of silence and my cup of coffee and I can take on the day. Most mornings find me up just a few minutes before Mark and Miles so I can embrace this simple thing.

Rituals are funny, aren’t they? They’re the tiniest pieces but when they’re missing, the whole day feels like it’s been thrown off, like our world is rocking. Rituals are more than routines – routines, to me, are just what we are used to doing, the rote of everyday. Rituals are those gems that we relish in the midst of the ordinary chaotic mundane, those comforting signposts that whisper “Everything will be ok.”

I can think of a few more for myself. When I was working long hours on the Hill, I would start my day with a few minutes of reading every morning – nothing terribly remarkable, just whatever book I was working my way through at the moment.

The Orange Slate | On Everyday Rituals2

In college, I would read something for a few minutes before going to sleep – something purely for fun (no assigned reading allowed).When my family congregates in San Diego for reunions, we always get donuts from the same shop on the corner. I have no idea whether their donuts actually taste better or worse than any others nearby. The donuts from the Vietnamese take-out shop are in a class of their own, rendered sacred by decades of repetition.

Motherhood brings it’s own set of (ironically ever-changing) rituals with it. There was the nursing ritual when Miles was brand-new – the frequent fill-water-glass-latch-baby-rock-gently while listening to the gentle clicking of infant nursing. Now we have bedtime rituals – a bath, books, songs, a prayer, more nursing.

Marriage, like motherhood,  –  has its own set of rituals, those quiet stakes you hold on to as you’re carving one life out of two. Mark and I don’t put a ton of effort into formal fancy dates, but on the weekends or when we travel, we love to sit outside and drink coffee in the morning. Walking has been one of our rituals. – so many walks. Beach walks and walks in the woods and walks in whatever city we’ve found ourselves in.

Certain shows have become rituals  – Friday Night Lights, Downton Abbey. We try to go to bed at the same time as each other  – it doesn’t work every night between homework and work and baby’s schedule, but it’s more the rule than the exception.

Having a baby makes me think a lot more about rituals, since babies basically measure their whole day in routine. But rituals keep serving the same purpose for adults. Without my rituals in place, I’m as cranky and out of sorts Miles without his bath and story. When my rituals are in place, I’m calmer, I’m happier, I have more breathing space to be creative and give my best. (For more on this, I highly recommend Margin, a book that substantially altered the way I handle time and commitments when I read it in college.)

Part of this could be a planner-personality-problem. I’m sure those who tend toward planning hold on to more routine. But I would venture to guess that all of us, even the most spontaneous and unplanned among us, have a ritual or two.

So what are your rituals, those pieces of your everyday that you cling to, that you build around, that you miss? It’s good sometimes to shake out our days and identify those markers of sanity and calm. Find them. Write them down. Treasure them. (And if you’re willing, share in the comments. I’d love to hear about yours.)

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A List of Books That Inspire me to Create More and Write Better.

March 11, 2015



It’s been a very rainy week. And rainy weeks lend themselves to reading and books and cozy cups of coffee – or if we have a squirmy baby nearby, at least thinking about books and reading.

We all have those books (don’t we?) that have spoken to us at a particular moment in time, that have inspired us to do more or create more or be better or change something. Those books are like markers on the road to our future selves, friendly signposts along the way.

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of various books that have inspired me over the last couple of years, along with a quote from each.

This list only includes non-fiction, just because. Fiction has so much to teach and offer us, but, for me, the lessons of fiction have been different and deeper than the lessons of non-fiction. And so I separate them when I make my lists.

To write better:

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. . . . . There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.


On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

Clutter is the disease of American writing. . . . simplify, simplify.


Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior

To choose a good word, to assign the right name, to arrange proper words in the best order: these are no easy tasks. . . . the getting of meaning . . . is an act of nature and grace.

Like a true friend and a good writer, right words are hard to find. And all of these, like a mother, have the power to give life.


To create more:

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield.

If you believe in God . . . you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius. . . . It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.


Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road by Donald Miller.

We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it? It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out. . . . And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.


To accept more grace for mistakes:

Grace for the Good Girl by Emily Freeman.

Life is so much further from my control than I even know.

Because I care so much about what you think, my hiding has everything to do with you. I desperately want to manage your opinion of me. Nearly anything I do is to convince you I am good.


One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

Our very saving is associated with our gratitude. . . . We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks.


To read well:

A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning by James V. Schall.

There is an intimate connection between our moral life and our intellectual life.


Reading Between the Lines by Gene Veith, Jr.

Thinking, planning, imagining, creating – processes encouraged by reading – remain essential to society. . . . Without people oriented toward language, very little would be accomplished.


To cook more:

Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg.

Cooking and eating gave our days their rhythm and consistency, and the kitchen was where everything happened.


The Kinfolk Table by Nathan Williams.

Entertaining looks different for each of us, but as long as we’re cooking and inviting people into our homes with a genuine interest in connecting, conversing, and eating together, then the way we do things becomes insignificant and ultimately comes naturally. A burned dish or a missing serving piece becomes trivial. The humble soup or homely bread becomes a feast. It all seems quite simple.

Your turn! What have you read recently? What is inspiring you?

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Spring, Creativity, and Success

March 11, 2014

tips for creativity

Some friends and I were talking about the coming of spring a few weeks ago, before spring had actually hinted that it might someday grace us with is presence.

“One day, you just walk out of work and know that it’s different,” one friend commented. And it’s true. A few weeks ago, during one of DC’s deceptive warm spells, I stepped outside and knew that winter had lost. It got cold again; we even got more snow. But this cold was different. It was spring cold, an early spring blizzard, a last gasping of a dying season.

And now we have longer daylight hours and the hope of a 70-degree day and I think I’ve said goodbye to my sweaters and my down jacket and my pink boots and my other sweaters. I hear birds in the morning, birds that must have been curled up under overhanging eaves somewhere during the frigid early morning hours of January and February.

It really does happen all at once, and yet, sort of only in retrospect. All of those little pieces add up when one is looking the other way and then suddenly, a new picture, new warmth, a new season emerges.

Isn’t this how our lives and jobs and dreams change, too? In the wee hours, when we aren’t looking, perspectives and tracks and goals and plans are re-shaped and then one day, we’re surprised to find that everything is different. But we really shouldn’t be surprised we know, because of course it is; if we would only look, we can see all of those little winding paths that brought us here.

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My work is reflective of all of those seasonal changes too. A million little threads of my actual skills and experience and random gigs and assignments and a hodgepodge of work that was terrifying in its unpredictability suddenly all bound together and now make up a much more tangible, realistic, coherent picture. Suddenly I have work and the trust of others and confidence in my own abilities that was only a distant cloudy illusion before. Suddenly, there’s warmth and (some) security and excitement where there was only terror and trembling steps and a lot of unknown before.

And I know that this can’t last, that we aren’t meant to thrive in safe corners, and that more uncertainty surely waits around the next bend. But the reality of small successes, the fulfilled promise of spring, all of those little courageous moments that led to a happy ending of sorts, remind me that insecurity and terror and those uncertain times are ok because underneath that frozen soil, bulbs are preparing to bloom.

So here are some helpful ideas for thriving through those cold times of uncertainty. Keep dreaming. Spring is coming and one day, when you least expect it, you’ll walk out of work and it will have arrived.

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1. Keep building threads. Everyone has a dream or two. Even in hard times, busy times, tired times, keep pushing. Maybe it’s not possible to work on your dream 5 hours a day. But 10 minutes might be a possibility. Maybe you can’t be a full-time writer/artist/musician. But you might be able to do a sporadic project or two. So get up earlier or go to bed later or stay off of Facebook during break and use those ten minutes to write or network or brainstorm or create. Make an album. All of those tiny fragments are far more important than they might seem.

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

2. Hold specifics loosely. Dreams are helpful. Rigid maps are sometimes not. Goals and lists and specific plans are useful in the small moments but sometimes need to be released if the big picture is to happen. Don’t be afraid to let go of your pet steps in favor of the bigger dream.

“Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination.” – Michael Hyatt

3. Expect the unexpected. Very few successes happen on schedule. Most great stories, career or relationship related, begin with some version of “When I was least expecting it.” Be ready for a door to open that you assumed would stay closed; keep an eye out for those open windows of opportunity that you might be overlooking.

4. Remember how the cold times felt. They’ll come again. Discouragement and anxiety and frustration and fear are a part of the cycle of being human. When they re-appear after times of success and excitement and joy, don’t be surprised. And don’t turn back. Accept the season as a part of reality and continue to press through to spring.

5. Stay inspired. Keep reading those authors (I recommend Emily Freeman and Seth Godin!), listening to those podcasts, writing those poems, going on those runs that make you feel inspired and excited and more alive. All of that pent-up energy and inspiration may not have anywhere to land right this second, but one day, you’ll suddenly need that stock of wisdom and inspiration and encouragement.

6. Set small achievable goals. My Project Life projects help me to feel successful creatively, even if larger projects have stalled. Maybe for you this is cooking healthful meals a few nights a week or reading even a page a day. 

7. Step away from work. Go outside for a walk in the (newly warm!) air. Eat a meal with friends. Go for a run. Clean your house. Stepping away from creative work and doing something physical or work that is completely different helps me clear my head and approach work with a different perspective and renewed energy.

8. Seek outside insight. Practice seeking outside perspectives, even when work seems to be slow. Get used to having your work and systems critiqued. Ask for help. This will prepare you to still take advice and work through it even when you’re successful later and things are busier. 

9. Lay good foundations through establishing routines. Do you cruise Facebook instead of working? Do you lose out on productive hours in the morning by staying up too late binging on Netflix? Shed unhelpful habits now and lay a foundation of good time management, health, energy, and focus so that later, when an opportunity appears, you’re prepared to maximize it.

10. Make rest a practice. Include intentional rest in your routine. The stories of those who worked hard, achieved success, and then burned out because of a failure to rest are many. We are made to rest, to step away from work. Make it a regular part of your day and week now and it will be easier to follow through when things are busier.

How do you stay motivated during the winter-season of creativity?

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15 Creative Ways to Make Memories with Friends and Meet New People

January 14, 2014

meet new people make memories

Humans are defined by their need for other people. Regardless of one’s age, relationship status, socioeconomic standing, career track, or education, we all need friends. But sometimes the same old Happy Hour at the same old haunt begins to feel a little repetitious. Even simply trying new restaurants can start to feel old (and can get expensive!). Also, as life changes, sometimes the same old routines become impossible. Marriages, children, and different schedules can make “the good old days” simply a distant memory. Creating new, fun contexts in which to spend time with people can be a wonderful way to create new rich memories.

I’ve also been struck by how many of my friends have set out to intentionally meet new people and spend time in new social contexts this year. The same principle applies – if you keep doing the same thing and spending time at the same place, you’ll continue to see the same people. If your goal is to meet new people this year, you need to change your routine.


I read a lot of entertaining blogs and am blessed to be surrounded by a lot of creative, social friends, and I’m always impressed by the fresh, fun ideas for parties and social gatherings.

So here is a collection – all in one place – of 15 creative (and fairly low-maintenance) ways to connect with other people, strengthen old friendships, and make new ones. These ideas can easily be modified to fit the needs and schedules of couples in a new city, moms trying to meet other moms, singles trying to reach outside their regular network, or social butterflies who just want more friends.


1. Host a mini-progressive dinner party. Serve appetizers and wine and then head out together to attend a play, movie, or concert. Short on picnic blankets? Use these tablecloths for the table and then use them for a picnic blanket later on in the evening. 

2. Identify a day and time in the week when it is consistently easy for you to host. Mentally reserve that time and have a new person or group of people over each week. Saturday brunch not really your thing? Try Sunday lunch.

3. Host a blind dinner party. Invite 4-6 friends over for dinner (fewer could potentially be awkward and more might be too overwhelming). The caveat? Each of your guests is required to bring another friend along that no one else in the group knows. This can be a great way to meet new people and blend networks!

4. Discouraged by the cold weather? Host a chili party. Chili and cornbread are fairly easy to make and can feed a crowd. As the host or hostess, you won’t have to spend the entire evening watching the meal and will have the freedom to relax and mingle. Want to make it more interesting? Ask a few friends to bring a pot of their favorite chili. Have a taste-off!

5. Share dessert. Invite 5-7 acquaintances over and ask that everyone bring their favorite, homemade dessert. Simply provide the wine. Hosting dessert is often less intimidating than arranging an entire dinner party; also, it’s often easier for guests to commit to a couple of hours after dinner than to an entire evening. Purchase a few of these awesome  tablecloths in advance to make cleanup a breeze. 

6. Host a baking party. Ask everyone to bring a favorite recipe for cookies or another baked good, along with any specialty ingredients. As the host or hostess, you simply need to provide the flour, eggs, and oven.


7. Sign up for a cooking class with a friend. You’re guaranteed to learn something and you know everyone in the room is interested in the same thing!

8. Gather 2 or 3 friends who like to read. Pick a book, set a deadline, and organize a book discussion. The caveat? Again, everyone has to recruit another friend that no one else knows to participate. Here are a few titles to get you started:

9. Plan a hike, a visit to some local wineries, or an afternoon at a nearby beach and encourage friends to invite their friends and co-workers.


10. Initiate a local photography project. For instance, the goal could simply be “30 photos of our city in 30 days.” (To increase visibility, create a hashtag for the event.) Encourage friends to tell their networks about it and to publicize their project on Instagram and Twitter. At the end of the project, invite everyone who participated over for a time of wine and snacks to share the results!

11. Find a local outdoor concert or play and gather a group of people to picnic together and attend. The only rule? Everyone has to bring a dish to share.

12. Arrange a reglar BYOB backyard Happy Hour. Set a regular date (say, the third Thursday of every month) and take turns hosting. Invite friends, acquaintances, and co-workers as the opportunity arises. Soon your new tradition will be a favorite!


13. Pick an outdoor activity that you enjoy like running or biking. Set aside a regular time every week or month to participate with friends who also enjoy the activity. Create an “open-door” environment so that friends feel comfortable inviting others to participate whenever the opportunity arises. Soon you’ll have a fully-fledged running/biking/walking/jogging club!

14. Gather other local bloggers for an evening or afternoon of sharing ideas, inspiration, and disaster stories.

15. Enlist the help of two or three energetic, creative friends and have a dressy, multi-course dinner party. Invite as many friends as you can seat, and insist that everyone bring a date or a friend. Everyone has fun dressing up! (And at the end, if you used your magical tablecloths you can simply throw them into the washer for easy clean-up!)

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