Home Decor

How To Organize Your Face Masks

They’re a necessity for leaving the house—but how do you keep them from piling up in your home?

A mask rack with masks hanging from hooks, reading "time to mask up"

(Photo: Etsy / APlusTeacherr)

Leaving the house now involves checking for phone, keys, wallet *and* your mask.

Wearing a reusable cloth mask when you’re out and about is important in the fight against COVID-19, especially as cases rise in parts of Canada. By now, we know that COVID-19 is spread through small liquid particles secreted when we cough, sneeze and even talk. By providing a physical barrier that stops droplets from landing on surfaces or being inhaled by others, masks help curb the spread of the disease.

There are a few things to be mindful of when using reusable cloth masks. First, they need to be washed. Narveen Jandu, an assistant professor at Waterloo University’s school of public health, says that masks should be washed after daily use. This can be done either by hand with soap and water, or they can be tossed into your washer and dryer (or hung to air dry) with the rest of your laundry.

When you’re out and about, make sure your mask stays clean and maintains its shape. Rolling your mask down to your chin, or cramming it into your pocket isn’t optimal since “it’s getting bunched up, it’s getting folded up and you’re potentially soiling it,” says Jandu. “Soiling it or compromising the integrity of the mask, and then putting it on, would not be ideal.” Use a Ziploc bag to avoid this, and replace the bag every few days. You can also use a small reusable bag, like a sunglasses bag or a jewelry pouch—just remember to wash it as often as you wash your masks.

At home, it’s important to keep your clean masks somewhere they will stay dry, keep their shape and stay separate from your dirty ones. Here are 7 possible mask organization solutions.

Repurpose a wall-mounted coat hanger

If you have an old coat hanger kicking around in your garage, now’s the perfect time to hang it up in your entryway. Or, shell out for a dedicated mask hanger—like the pretty one at the top of this story, from Etsy, $49.

A photo of Ikea's LOSJÖN Hanger, mixed colors $8.99/ 5 pack for a piece on how to organize masks

(Photo: Ikea)

Get some adhesive hooks

Grab a pack of adhesive hooks and stick them onto the wall near your home’s entrance for a quick mask organization solution.

$9, ikea.ca.

A grouping of baskets from Pehr

(Photo: Chantell Lauren / Pehr)

Fill some baskets

Get a couple of cute baskets or bins to store your masks by the front door so you always have clean ones on hand when you’re rushing out.

$30, shoppehr.com.

A mesh bag for washing face masks

(Photo: Etsy / thelunababyboutique)

Keep dirty masks in laundry bags

Need somewhere to keep your dirty masks? Store them in a mesh laundry bag and toss the whole thing into the washing machine when you wash your clothes.

Etsy, $13.

Upcycle your food storage containers (hello, cookie tins)

Round up some empty cookie tins and place your masks in them for an easy DIY solution.

Two green shopping bags hanging from a rack for mask storage ideas

(Photo: iStock)

Use tote bags, and your existing coat hooks or hangers

Need to separate a bunch of kids’ and adult masks, plus filters and mask bags? Make use of all those canvas tote bags you’ve collected over the years, and any existing coat hooks or hangers to corral and sort (added bonus: you can still hang your coat overtop). Or, shell out for a cute bag, like this one from Okayok.

A homemade mask drying rack, using clothes pins and a coat hanger

Make your own indoor mask dryer

Use a coat hanger and some clothes pegs to make what is the world’s quickest craft project: a mask dryer. Or, if you just have a couple of masks to dry, repurpose an old hanger—the kind with clips on it.

A set of masks drying on a homemade mask drying rack

Home Decor

Do You *Really* Need To Rake Up Leaves?

Why you should switch up your fall yardwork routine.

Fall used to be the time for articles about which rakes to use and how to protect your back as you gather all the leaves on your lawn and send them to the curb. But over the last few years, there’s been a shift. What if you knew that you didn’t have to rake up and bag all those leaves? These days, organizations from the Nature Conservancy of Canada to the Audubon Society are recommending that you leave your leaves.

Find out why it’s beneficial to have a more laissez-faire attitude towards raking in your yard—and what you need to do to keep your neighbours happy.

Why are gardeners being told not to rake up their leaves?

Leaves offer free nutrients to your lawn and garden as they break down into healthy organic matter for the soil, so there are lots of uses for them that benefit the soil on your property.

“We call leaves Mother Nature’s gold,” says Karen McKeown, a horticulturist and the Outdoor Water Efficiency Program Coordinator for the City of Guelph. “Residents reach out to us for advice on how to have low-maintenance, water efficient and cost-saving lawns and gardens.” This means educating homeowners on why it’s a good idea to keep the leaves and emphasizing their role in building your soil. “Healthy soils make healthier plants that are more low-maintenance and need less water to survive,” she says.

Leaves can also provide shelter on your property for beneficial insects and amphibians over the winter, and help birds by creating a place to forage for food in cold weather.

So, wait—if I don’t rake my leaves, what should I do with them instead?

It’s important to note that in most cases you can’t just leave the leaves where they fall and call it a day. However, your property’s leaves can be put to very good use in multiple areas—and they can even be saved for later. One great use for them is as mulch: “A great tip for using leaves is around plants in late fall,” says McKeown. “Our winters now are causing trees, shrubs and perennials to become weakened in our gardens. I spend time in late fall putting a large amount of leaves over my favourite plants, to help insulate them for any winter thawing conditions. Leaves piled around roots will help maintain a more even soil temperature, which helps plants survive where alternating periods of freezing and thawing don’t provide consistent snow cover.” In the spring, when you tidy up your garden, you’ll want to clear some away from the plants if they haven’t broken down. You can spread the mulch around the soil, or move them to your compost pile to break down even further.

Besides being used as a winter mulch, leaves can be used to keep the weeds down in spring, summer and fall. Run them over with the lawnmower in the fall to break them up into tinier pieces to spread throughout your edible and ornamental gardens. You can also leave those bits in the grass. “The leaves will settle into any bare spots in the lawn, which will help stop weeds from germinating and add nutrients to your soil for the lawn to grow better,” says McKeown who recommends mowing the leaves when they are dry. (The small pieces should break down over the winter.)

Leaves can also be turned into DIY compost. If you have the space, McKeown recommends setting up an area in your yard to store them, perhaps in a chicken-wire cage or a protected corner where the wind can’t reach them. “In just a year, your leaf pile will break down a lot and be reduced to a fraction of its original size. When you need some compost, dig down to the bottom of the pile for some great material,” she says.

What if you have, say, a giant maple tree? Do you really want to leave thick mats of leaves on the lawn?

Big heavy piles of leaves will smother the grass, which is great if you want to create a new garden area. Simply rake a layer over your proposed site, and it will be ready come spring. Otherwise, give them a good mow to cut them up into tiny pieces, as mentioned above.

Landscape designer Candy Venning of Venni Gardens has several huge maples on her property, but no grass. That means she can allow leaves to be left where they fall in the garden to break down over the winter. “We also tend to stockpile some and invite people to help themselves to free mulch in fall or spring,” she says.

What should you tell your neighbours who think your leaves are just going to blow into their yard?

You may find this modern approach to fall cleanup isn’t universally accepted. There will still be those who want to adhere to their annual routine. And that’s okay—if they’re sending their leaves to the curb, in many Canadian municipalities they’re going somewhere to be composted! However, if you keep them, McKeown offers a few tips to try and appease your neighbours:

• Wet down the leaves when you rake them into your garden—or put them all in a pile and cover with a tarp.
• Mow them a few times to make the pieces really small.
• Rake the leaves onto your driveway or a tarp and mow them, then rake up the pieces into your garden or into a container.

How can you tell if a tree’s leaves are diseased? Can they be left on the lawn?

If you see big black polka dots on your maple leaves, you’re looking at tar spot, a fungal disease that doesn’t really harm the tree, but that you want to avoid spreading. Those leaves should be cleaned up and not saved for the garden. Composting them is not recommended, as most home compost piles don’t generate enough heat to kill the spores.

McKeown says it can be hard to clean up every single leaf, so a good approach is to try to keep the plant as healthy as possible so that it can fight infections. “Water, prune and fertilize properly to keep the tree in good health, so that it can withstand these disease and pest attacks,” she says.

Do I need to keep ALL the leaves from my tree?

If you think you’ll have a use for them, then yes! However if you want to scoop the ones you don’t need into a yard bag and send them to the curb, that’s okay, too.

McKeown says she’ll put leaves into an old garage container and then use her weed whacker to chop them all up. Those wee pieces will be put in the garden in the spring. “It makes a great, free mulch, especially for my vegetable garden,” she says.

Are there any other plants you can leave be until spring? And should you clear them up then?

You can further extend your yard maintenance break in the fall by saving your plant-cleanup to-dos for late spring (end of May). As McKeown explains, beneficial and pollinating insects overwinter in plant stems and plant debris on the ground and do not emerge until it is warm enough for them. “Previous years’ leaves and plant stems will help fertilize your soils and make the soil healthier, which results in less water needed to keep plants healthy,” she adds. “Healthy soils can also hold water longer for plant use.” (Seed heads left on perennials can also offer food for birds.)

Aside from any root or cool-season crops, like carrots, beets and kale, that are still in the ground, you should, however, clean up your veggie garden, sending spent tomato plants, cucumbers, etc. to the compost.

Originally published in 2019; updated in 2020.



Inside A Prefab Cottage Transformed Into A One-Of-A-Kind Home

This cottage went up fast—in just two days!—but its warmth is testament to the time and care its owners spent turning the empty shell into an inviting home.

A photo of a woman in a kichen with wood floor and dark cabinetry

Hulking Douglas fir beams support a rustic pine ceiling and complement the light white-oak floor.

Mary Abbott and Kevin Gormely’s four-bedroom cottage outside of Collingwood, Ont., is, in one sense, a giant Lego set. The roof, walls, floors, windows and doors were built in pieces at the nearby factory of Legendary Group, a prefab company. The various components were shipped on rumbling flatbed trucks to Mary and Kevin’s site, a two-acre tree-covered patch at the base of the Beaver Valley Ski Club. In less than two days, contractor Martin Mansikka, owner of Talo Green Build, snapped it all together. “The equivalent would have taken up to two years without prefab,” says Mansikka.

The speed with which the structure went up belies the months and months, both before and after, it took Mary and Kevin to turn the empty shell into a warm, inviting home. All of the finishing touches—the Spanish tiles in the master bathroom, the open kitchen where Kevin bakes sourdough bread, the felt tapestry hanging above the stairs that Mary found in a textile shop in Stratford—required slow care and intense consideration. For the homeowners, that was the fun part.

The great room of a new-build modern cottage, featuring lots of windows and a wood ceiling.

The Belgian-made Stûv fireplace is efficient enough to heat the whole upper level and minimal enough to not distract from the view.

Mary and Kevin are both busy professionals who, in their downtime, are passionate about design. “It’s an outlet,” says Mary. “I enjoy thinking about these things.” Prior to the cottage, the two had some real-world practice. Their main house in downtown Toronto was custom-built for the couple and their teenage boys, and reflects their passion for collecting furniture and decor, most of which comes from Canadian talents. They have a chandelier by Toronto woodworkers Brothers Dressler, oil paintings by British Columbia artist John MacDonald and a light by Omer Arbel, who co-designed the Vancouver Olympic medals with Indigenous artist Corrine Hunt.

A professional architect guided the couple through the process of conceiving their Toronto home, showing them the thought that goes into choosing functional floor plans, optimal window placements and the perfect finishes. “We learned a lot from that,” says Mary. “It taught us to really weigh out the consequences of our decisions. How will certain materials come together, look in a space?”

For their cottage, Mary and Kevin hired Mansikka to manage the project—but they decided not to hire an architect. “We wanted to save money,” says Kevin. “I also love all the planning that goes into a home,” adds Mary. “I was happy to take it on.” So, they did the brunt of the design work themselves, implementing what they learned from their Toronto house and learning a great deal more in the process.

A dark brown, one-level cottage with narrow horizontal windows.

The number of windows on the north face of the home is limited to reduce the amount of hot and cold air that can escape through the glass.

Finding the lot itself was simple. They stumbled across the land when renting a house nearby in the winter, enjoying skiing and snowshoeing at Beaver Valley. They opted to own something permanent after they realized the area had a lot to offer in the summer. “Our sons fish and swim in the nearby river,” says Kevin. “The Bruce Trail runs right beside our place. It’s great hiking.” Plus, the site is simply stunning. It lies in the nape of a tree-covered valley with views up to rugged cliffs—the edge of the Niagara Escarpment. There are neighbouring homes, but through the windows, all one sees is leaves and greenery in the warmer months and skiers on the slopes come winter.

Less simple: the million and one considerations involved in building the cottage. Going prefab gave the couple a head start. They based their plans on a standard model. But they tweaked just about every single detail, big and small. “For the inside ceilings, the plans had narrow, tongue-and-groove pine boards,” says Mary. “We wanted wider boards and shiplap style, which we thought was more modern. On the exterior, we doubled the number of battens and made them closer together.” (Battens are vertical wooden slats that neatly cover any gaps between the siding.) They also scrapped all the casings around the windows, slotting them into clean, contemporary drywall openings instead.

A black Ikea bookshelf tucked into the end of a hallway so that it looks custom-made for the nook.

Mary and Kevin read a lot, hence the big bookcase at the end of the hall. It looks custom-made for the nook, but it’s actually stacked Ikea modules.

There were some limitations. “The engineering is very precise on a prefab,” says Mary. “We couldn’t just move a column or insert an extra window.”

That said, the place appears to be entirely bespoke. And a few things are custom-made, like the live-edge wood vanity in the main-floor powder room and the inky black metal guard around the stairs to the basement, which was commissioned from local artist Ken Roy Johnson.

Most of the finishes, however, are off-the-rack. Like the $1 subway tiles in the kitchen backsplash. Mary just had them turned on angles to form the classic herringbone pattern. The kitchen itself is Ikea, as is most of the bathroom millwork, closet shelving and bookcases (not to mention some of the bedding and light fixtures). But Mary has a secret for upscaling discount finds from the Swedish giant. “We commissioned our door fronts for our kitchen and bathroom cabinetry from a company in California called Semihandmade,” she says. “They are so awesome.” The fronts are inky, matte-black panels that make the surrounding white oak and white walls pop all the more.

The main-floor master bedroom is adjacent to the great room, as an age-in-place consideration. The rug on the master bedroom floor is a vintage Turkish Kilim.

The master bedroom sits adjacent to the main-floor great room (“having the bedroom and living on one floor provides an option for aging in place,” says Mansikka). The three other bedrooms, two for the boys and a spot for guests, are in the basement (beside a second entrance, with built-in ski racks). Throughout the place, the walls are dotted with Canadian art and just plain Canadiana. There’s a silkscreen of a giant pair of scissors by Toronto artist Alanna Cavanagh, maps of the surrounding Bruce Peninsula and vintage posters from Quebec ski resorts (where Mary grew up cottaging as a child). Mary and Kevin also added some budget-friendly personal touches. They framed their own photos of the Bruce Trail and Beaver Valley, and hung them near the kitchen. In the dining area, Mary cut a long strip of wallpaper, featuring a giant black quill, and hung it as though it were a scroll.

A photo of a long wooden dining table with a dark wood buffet at one end.

The black quill scroll (left) is a long strip of wallpaper, while the red scissors silkscreen is by Canadian artist Alanna Cavanagh.

“I imagine we’ll do another big home project one day,” says Mary. “There’s something so satisfying about looking at a blank wall and figuring out just the right thing to fill that space.”


Home Decor

18 Desks For Small Spaces—All For Less Than $300

Turn any room into a workspace.

Tired of working at the kitchen table? If you find yourself clearing dishes and wiping away crumbs whenever you need to log in, perhaps it’s time for a dedicated workspace, where you can concentrate and keep your stuff organized. The good news is that you don’t need a lot of space—you can turn any room into a home office. If you’re ready to take your WFH set-up to the next level, we’ve rounded up a selection of desks that won’t break the bank.

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