Showing posts with label Organization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Organization. Show all posts

Sep 17, 2015

Homeschooling in Small Spaces - a Solution

Several years ago, when my oldest child was attending kindergarten at a local charter school, I learned about something called "the workbox system." Developed by a lady named Sue Patrick, the workbox system is a way to organize school work, primarily for homeschooling families. The concept is simple, but very effective: Grab a craft cart (like this one) or a set of Rubbermaid-style boxes...or anything similar. Label each drawer or box with a subject, like "Spelling," "Math," and "Reading."

Now place the child's schoolwork for that day in the appropriately labeled boxes. This should include any items needed to completed the work, like crayons, glue, and paper. The child grabs work from one box at a time and completes the assignments. When a box or drawer is empty, the child moves on to the next box. The Pleated Poppy offers a good look at the classic workbox system.

Not only does this system make organization easier on the teacher, but it helps children feel more in control. They don't ask "Are we done yet?" because they can see how much work they have left to complete. (It's very motivating for my kids to see how much work they've whipped through, too.) Teachers can also prioritize the work by numbering the boxes or drawers, or they can allow the child to choose what order to do their work. Best of all, it encourages independent work - though how involved the teacher is is completely flexible. A very young child can just grab the work from his drawer, while an older child can work completely without help.

Now that I am teaching two "real" grades (preschool is easy peasy, folks), I knew I needed to start using the workbox system. But I really don't have room for the workbox system. Our many bookshelves are so full of books, and I have no place to put a set of craft drawers or something similar. Also, I know we'll soon be moving into our tiny house motor home. There definitely will not be room for a traditional workbox system there!

So after a lot of thought - and some poking around on Pinterest - I've come up with a terrific alternative, inspired by Creekside Learning. It's working extremely well, and is perfectly suited to small house living. But even if you have a house big enough to accommodate traditional workboxes, I encourage you to consider this simple system. Here's how it works:

1. For each child, I purchased a portable hanging file box. Office supply stores carry them in many styles, but I ended up buying some at Walmart that look like milk crates. They were less then $9 a piece. (But only available for much more on their website. Amazon has similar crates, though.)

2. I also bought a box of hanging file folders - bright, multi-colored files, just because they are more fun and interesting than plain colored files.

3. I labeled each container with one child's name. (The containers are also two different colors - the only colors my Walmart had: Black for my son and bright pink for my daughter.) Then I created a file folder for every subject matter we have. For example, my daughter has one hanging file folder each for math, language arts/writing, science, and history. (She has reading assignments, too, but they are loaded onto an old digital ink Kindle; she just works her way through each book during the school year.) Finally, I added an extra file folder for each child to put their completed work in.

4. Each child's crate also contains things they use every day for school. My daughter, for example, has a binder; a math book; a pencil box filled with sharp pencils and erasers; a pencil box with colored pencils, pens, scissors, and a glue stick; a dictionary; a kitchen timer*; and a clip board (because our table is tiled and isn't easy to write on).

5. On the weekend, I figure out my lesson plan. (The Robinson Curriculum we use is super simple; really the only planning I have to do is for my son's math and reading and fun, extra projects for science and history). I make any needed copies, prepare craft materials, etc. Then I file them. (More on that in a moment.)

6. Every day, once the children are done with their school work, I go through my files and lesson plan and put whatever the children will need for the next day into their individual crates and file folders. (If your children use workbooks, I recommend tearing out the pages to put in their files, as needed. You can also use Post-It notes on book covers to inform your child what pages they should work on that day.)

Because my son is just learning to read, I rarely have him grab anything other than his binder and writing and art supplies from his crate. So I also use his crate as my filing system. I keep hanging files for each child, filled with the week's work. For example, I have a file marked "A. Math" for my daughter's math pages. (Her first name starts with a the letter A.) Then I have another marked "Z. Math" for his beginning math work. (His first initial is Z.) And so on.

At first, I was worried I'd be too tired to prepare a week's worth of work each weekend, and then fill each child's crate every evening. But it really hasn't been an issue...especially the daily filling of the crates. This takes less than 5 minutes and is so easy to do once I have my lesson plan in hand. And because we use the simple Robinson Curriculum, weekly planning goes pretty quickly, too.

We are LOVING the system! My oldest is 10, and loves being able to choose what assignments she does first; she only needs to come to me if she has questions, which leaves me plenty of of one-on-one time to teach my son to read and count. (And no, she's not jealous of her brother's time with me because we all come together for science, history, and devotions.) Truly, my daughter loves this system so much, she's getting her work done in record time! Last year, her school work sometimes took all. day. long. Now she's usually done in a few hours. This modified workbox system is really a win-win for us.

* My daughter struggles with being very, very pokey. So as she works, I have her set a manual kitchen timer for 20 - 30 minutes. When it goes off, she sets it for another 20 - 30 minutes. The idea is not that she should necessarily be done in 20 minutes time, but that she has a better sense of time passing. It works beautifully! And if I find she's back to being pokey, it's ALWAYS because she's forgotten to set her timer.

Sep 1, 2015

How Color Coding Makes Housework Easier

It's no secret that organization makes homemaking easier. However, when you're living in a tiny house, organization is the difference between absolute chaos and reasonably contented living. So I've been doing a lot of thinking (and some research) on how best to live with children in our tiny house motor home. One wonderful resource is a series of YouTube videos by the Norton family. If you think there's no way you could live full time in an RV with your family, you must watch these videos. The Nortons live with six children in their RV! (They even home school in this environment.) And while I don't have six little blessings, there's a lot I can learn from the Nortons. And even if you don't live in a tiny house, I'm betting you can glean some great ideas from them, too.
My favorite Norton idea is to use color coding to simplify housework. It is revolutionary - and I'm not exaggerating! Mrs. Norton specifically uses color coding in the kitchen, but I think this is a trick that works well for other parts of the house, too. Here's how:

In the Kitchen

Give every person in the family a plate and bowl in their own special color. For example, Mom might have a red bowl and plate; Dad uses blue; and child #1 uses green. If I recall correctly, in the Norton tiny house RV, each family member has only one plate and bowl. If you're not living in a tiny space, you might consider giving each family member two or three. The beauty is that now you know who's put their dishes away (or not!), and who's deposited their plates in the dishwasher. And there's no way children can claim they've put away or washed their dishes when they haven't. Brilliant! I think you could easily turn this into an easy way for children to learn to wash their own dishes, too.

You may wonder if you're going to have to buy a different set of dishes for each member of the family, and give the extras away (since most dish sets contain at least four plates and bowls in a single color). The answer is no. Instead of buying a box of dishes, you'll want to shop somewhere that sells dishes and bowls individually. This could be an import store, The Dollar Tree, or even a thrift store. (My favorite dishes came from St. Vincent DePaul's.) Or, you might consider a set of Feista Ware, which sometimes is designed to have every dish be a different color. (Similar to this.)

Now you want to do the same thing with glasses and cups, giving each family member one in his or her own color. This way, nobody looses track of which glass is theirs (leading them to grab a fresh one, which results in a pile of glasses in the sink). If you don't want to use plastic glasses, consider using stainless steel travel mugs with colored plastic on the outside. Or, you could use colored rubber bands to individualize each clear glass. I challenge you to limit each family member to a single glass; they are easy to hand wash! For those who drink coffee, tea, or another hot drink, you might consider also assigning each person one cup or mug.

If you wanted to, you can even take color coding one step further and get utensils in each family member's color.

So, following this plan, you've:

#1. Reduced the number of dishes that need washing (saving on water and energy).
#2. Ensured that everybody takes responsibility for their own dishes/cups.
#3. Limited the amount of space used in your kitchen cabinets.

In the Bathroom

Another way you can implement color coding in your home is with bath towels. One problem many families have is that people get confused about which towel is theirs - which leads them to grab a fresh towel from the linen closet, rather than use a towel that's hanging up. This causes a lot of extra laundry, which not only eats up Mom's time, but adds expense to the budget by devouring extra water and electricity.

A solution is to buy each family member two towels and two washcloths in their own color. Now everybody knows which towel is theirs and there is no more wasting time and money washing towels that don't really need cleaning.

What About Guests?

You may wonder how to deal with dishes and towels for guests. Here are some ideas:

* Keep one set of dishes just for times when you have guests. (Lots of us already have "nicer dishes" for guests, anyway. Just keep them.)

* Entertain casually, using paper plates and cups.

* Add to your existing color coded dishes by buying some extra dishes in yet more different colors. When you have guests, every single person will have a different color plate. It makes for a fun, cohesive dinner set.

* Keep a set of towels just for guests. I recommend using white (because they are so easy to distinguish from your family's colored towels, and because they are easy to clean with bleach.)

Easy peasy! What other ways can you think of to use color coding to make housework easier?

Jul 15, 2015

Organizing DVDs and CDs for Small Spaces

There is still much to do before we move into our tiny house motor home, but slowly, slowly, we are making progress. Hubby bought the shipping container - finally! (But now he has to insulate it to keep our books, family photos, etc. nice and dry.) And I'm trying to start packing and get rid of 14+ years of clutter that we've somehow accumulated. Among those items that we want to keep, but which take up quite a bit of room, are DVDs and CDs. The question was: How do we keep them easily accessible when we're living in 180 sq. ft.?

The only solution was to get rid of the DVD and CD cases and use some sort of compact storage system. I looked high and low for ideas and considered everything from ordinary binders with CD sleeves to these acrylic boxes. But this ready-to-go "wallet" is what I finally decided upon. It's such a great price and is better made than any of the other CD and DVD wallets or binders I've seen in local stores.

So a couple of days ago, I started packing DVDs into it.

I admit, initially it was hard for me to throw out all those DVD cases. I'm not really sure why. It wasn't that I was worried about selling the DVDs at a later date. (I haven't found that selling our used DVDs is really worth the effort, with the exception of young children's educational DVDs). And it certainly wasn't that we ever spend much time looking at the cases. Happily, as the project progressed, I found dumping all those cases into the trash can felt wonderfully freeing! I'm glad the cases are gone.
Into the trash with DVD cases!
I chose to put the DVDs in the same order we've had them for years: Somewhat alphabetically (all the titles that begin with "A" together, all the titles that start with "B" together, and so on), with a separate section for the kids' movies. Some people prefer to put DVDs in general categories (like "Romance," "Action," etc.) because it makes adding new DVDs to the collection a wee bit easier. But I really wasn't feeling up to totally reorganizing hundreds of DVDs. (Yes, hundreds! This project made me wonder why we have so many DVDs when we mostly watch Netflix...and I pared down our collection - a bit.)
The DVDs are actually now much handier than they were before.
When I was done, I'd cleared 5 shelves and 2 storage ottomans of DVDs. And as you can see in the photo below, the wallet takes up the same amount of space as just 10 DVDs in their cases. It's an amazing space saver! I should have done this years ago.

The wallet holds 336 DVDs or CDs and takes up the same amount of shelf room as 10 DVDs in their cases.

Jan 29, 2014

How to Keep Your Kids in Healthy Snacks

If you browse Pinterest, or a few mommy blogs, no doubt you've seen organized drawers for kids' snacks, filled with either small commercial packages or Ziplock bags filled with serving sizes. The idea here is a great one: Let kids be more independent by keeping a drawer where they can grab their own snacks. But I have two problems with this:

1. If kids have total access to snacks, they are likely to snack too often and not eat a balanced diet - let alone their dinner!

2. Every single snack drawer I've seen is full of processed food - which is not only expensive, but terribly unhealthy.

So here's how I keep my children in healthy snacks:

* I keep a counter top bowl of healthy fruit - usually washed apples and bananas, and mandarin oranges or pears, when in season (see photo to the right). Children are free to take whatever they want from this bowl.

* I also keep a drawer in the fridge for healthy snacks: mostly carrots, celery, a few cheese sticks, and when in season, grapes, green beans, peas in the pod, and cut up broccoli or cauliflower.

Refrigerator snack drawer. There are baby carrots from our garden, cheese sticks, celery (my kids are big enough to break off stalks by themselves), and cut up cauliflower.
You'll notice cheese sticks are the only expensive, packaged product I mentioned. I limit these, for the sake of frugality, by placing only a few in the kids' drawer. (If you like, you can slice blocks of cheese and place them in Ziplock bags, instead; it's cheaper. But my kids love string cheese!)

I also have other snacks available; mostly homemade dried fruit, nuts and seeds (if I can find a good deal on them), or (very occasionally) crackers.* However, I keep them up high and dole them out every once in a while.

We also have a two snacking rules:

1. Any child who doesn't eat everything he snacks on looses the privilege of getting himself snacks. (No half eaten apples allowed!)

2. All children must ask for a snack before taking it. This allows me to help the kids to learn to wait for our main meals, if appropriate. (It's also a good way to teach them to think about what time they normally eat meals and whether it's smart to snack right before a meal.)

Simple. Healthy. And it works!

* Why do I limit crackers? Because they are usually full of GMO ingredients, in addition to preservatives, soy (which may increase estrogen in the body and is almost always GMO), corn syrup, and other unhealthy ingredients. I could make healthier ones from scratch, but it's time consuming and not worth it at this point in my life.

Jan 8, 2014

Organization Tips for Messies

I have a confession to make: I'm a messy. Well, some of my readers may already know this, since I blogged about it in the House That Cleans Itself series. But sometimes I really can't get a handle on my messiness - and oh! I feel it ought to be a lot easier to be tidy! Anyone with me here?

In 2013, things got especially out of hand at my house - in large part because I had the attitude that as soon as I got one corner of the house really tidy, the kids had destroyed another part. And while that was (is!) largely true, it's no excuse. And all that mess was beginning to depress me and stress out my hubby. So, like many other homemakers, at the beginning of 2014, I began to work on the mess in earnest. (The above photo shows my desk. On the left, my old, broken, falling apart, messy desk. On the right, my new, truly organized desk.)

I know a lot of bloggers write about organization and being clutter free - but unlike most of them, organization doesn't come naturally to me. At. All. So here is my best advice for messies like me: Work on it a little bit every day.

Some people advocate turning the kitchen timer to 10 minutes. During those 10 minutes, they do all the decluttering and organizing they can. I think this is a fine place to start, but for me, the following motto works better:

Declutter and organize one spot every day.

Except the Sabbath, which is (gloriously!) organization free.

Most days, I'll tackle something largish - like one wall (or half a wall, if the room is really bad) in a certain room. On really busy or tired days, I might declutter and organize something more simple, like a kitchen drawer or two. The real trick to making this work, though, is not to feel like I have to get all the decluttering/organization done in one chunk of time. So if I have 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there and 3 minutes there, I will take advantage of all those minutes to get a little de-messifying done.

It works. And as I see myself making progress, I become more enthusiastic and energetic about the whole keeping tidying thing.

Other Tips for Messies:

* Pinterest is a fantastic place to find inspiration for organizing your home.

* A lot of the organizing ideas you'll find in magazines and online require an investment (like purchasing bins or shelving). If buying such items isn't do-able, consider less expensive alternatives, like purchasing bins and other items at The Dollar Tree or a thrift store or garage sale. Or, think hard about how you could repurpose something you already have. Even cardboard boxes can be made attractive, with a little know-how. (For one example, visit Catch My Party; for another, see HandiMania.)

* It's usually difficult for messies to see the answer to their organizing problems, so don't be afraid to ask someone who is more organized for advice. This could be your husband, another family member, or a friend. This can be tough, because often we messies feel judged by those to whom organization comes easy. So pray about it, confess to your family member or friend just how tough this is for you, and ask for help. I know when I do this, a great weight is lifted from me, and some really useful, true solutions are often found.

* Don't give up! If you try one type of organization (say, putting coloring books in a basket) and it just isn't working for you or your family, try something different (like putting them in a bookshelf).

* Never stop. This is the hardest part for the true messy. But if you don't continue decluttering and organizing, even after you've worked over the entire house once, the mess will return. Make tidying up a daily habit, continuing to use whatever method works best for you (my small chunks of time throughout the day method, or the 10 minute method, or something else that works better for you). You can do it!

Sep 25, 2013

Tips for Taking Road Trips with Kids

I just returned from a family road trip. And while I was really worried about my kids making my husband so crazy we'd end up in an accident (our youngest cried all 9 1/2 hours home the last time we attempted a road trip) the traveling went quite smoothly. How did we accomplish this feat? Through a lot of planning! Here are my best tips:

* Make packing lists, plus a list of chores to accomplish before you leave. Start compiling it early, because there's little doubt you'll think of stuff you need to do or things you need to pack as weeks pass. Divide your lists by major categories. For example, have one page for clothes, another for toiletries, etc. Then be sure to check off chores/items packed as you do them.

* Prepare the kids. Have not just one but several talks with the kids so they know exactly what to expect. For example, I explained how long we'd be sitting in the car, what potty breaks would be like and how often we'd stop, and how their behavior would either make the trip fun or horrible. We had this talk beginning a week before we left, and we reminded the kids of key points just before leaving, each direction.

* Make the kids comfortable. Put them in really comfy clothes - nothing that binds when they sit (elastic waistbands are perfect), comfy socks with slip on shoes (so they can remove their shoes while in the car, if they want to), their pillow, their favorite teddy, etc. If a child's feet dangle, put a small piece of luggage or a box beneath them for support.

* Bring the potty seat or chair. If you have a child who is new to using the potty and is hesitant to go in
unfamiliar places, this is absolutely essential. Also, it helps to "practice" by frequently taking your child to public restrooms a month or so before the trip.

* Have a bag of activities for each child. Bring more than you think they will need.

I'm not big on games because pieces can fall and scatter, resulting in a mess - plus screaming, crying kids. Magnet games are okay, although some loss of magnets is probably inevitable. Some people like to give each child a cheap baking sheet to hold coloring books and magnet sets, but after a lot of thought, I decided against this. If we got into an accident, those baking sheets would result in serious injury - possibly even death. Instead, I chose a clipboard for each child, being careful to pick a type that had a more kid-friendly, less aggressive clamp.

I bought new coloring books (new things are vital, since they will hold your child's attention longer; plus they make the trip more fun) at the Dollar Tree, along with some activity and sticker books. Be careful to only choose activities your kids can do on their own; you don't want them frustrated or trying to get your help all the time. I also printed out age appropriate mazes, plus coloring and activity sheets that tied in with our trip. For example, we visited an aquarium, so I printed out free sea life coloring pages and mazes. Other ideas include coloring pages/games for states you'll pass through and landmarks you might see.

I also bought each child a new box of crayons - make them exactly the same! Plus dry erase crayons (far less likely to mark up the car than pens are) and dry erase boards from the Dollar Tree.

To hold crayons and keep them from rolling all over the place, some people use use suction containers like you'd find in a shower, but I was afraid they'd fall off the car windows, causing much yelling and crying. Instead, I chose cups I found in the office supply section of the Dollar Tree. Any short cup that fits into your child's car seat/booster seat/car cup holder would work fine. (Tall ones make it more difficult to get the crayons out and are more likely to tip over.)

Also from the Dollar Tree, I bought each child a cheap "Doodle Pro" type toy, plus blank notebooks. Variety is important!

Finally, I printed out free car bingo and license plate games for each child. Generally, to prevent quarreling, I think it's best to give each child exactly the same items. So even though our youngest couldn't really play the license plate game alone, I made sure he had one in case he felt left out. I also printed out a map of our route, so everyone could see how far we'd traveled and could mark off towns as we passed them. (I put ours in a plastic page protector so we could use dry erase crayons to mark it up, then erase the markings and use the same print out for the trip back.)

Some people like to give each child a binder with all these printables, but I thought it better to dole out games and printables as we went along. (My kids would try to do everything at once, if I gave them a binder. To make the activities last as long as the trip, it was vital for me to hang onto them and pass them out periodically.)

The only things the children had ready access to in the back seat were a basket of books ("I Spy" and "Where's Waldo" types for my pre-reader and early reader books for our older child) and their teddies.

* Bring plenty of water and snacks. I kept the snacks in a box up front with me so I could dole them out. Try to avoid things that are too salty, or your kids will drink a ton and need to make near constant bathroom stops. I allow them to drink water only, since they are less likely to guzzle it. To encourage them to sip and not gulp, I also filled their travel mugs with ice, then added water. Because it took a bit for the ice to melt, they didn't drink their water all at once.

I also like to bring a few snacks I wouldn't normally let them eat. This keeps things fun and makes the snacks more of an "event" that passes the time.

Ideas for snacks include: Grapes, apples, berries, baby carrots, celery sticks, breakfast/protein bars, Annie's graham bunnies (less messy than ordinary graham crackers), raisins/yogurt covered raisins, dried cranberries/blueberries, dried apple rings, really any dried food (but be careful about giving the kids too much fiber), jerky, and trail mix. Before you leave, portion everything out into individual serving bags.

* Bring music everyone enjoys. Audiodramas or books on tape are also handy.

* And yes, a portable DVD player. Part of me hates using movies to occupy my kids, but it's not like we do this every day. We purchased a dual-screen portable DVD player just for this trip. (About $70 at our local Wal-Mart.) It was fantastic; each child had his or her own screen (which meant no complaining about not being able to see well) and headphones (giving Mom and Dad peace!).
do this every day. We purchased an RCA

If you have a DVR, or know someone who does, I highly recommend recording a handful of children's programming onto one disc. This allowed the kids to watch for several hours at a time without an adult having to change the disc (which we really couldn't do without stopping the vehicle).

* Expect messes. Yes, I recommend cleaning and organizing the car before you leave - and trying to stay organized as you go along. But don't stress if things get a bit chaotic. To help with messes, I recommend a box of baby wipes, plus plenty of hand sanitizer.

Happy traveling!

Jun 26, 2013

Making & Using a Homemaking Binder

Homemaking binders or books are nothing new. In biblical times, either the husband or wife kept books showing money coming in and out, in addition to noting household valuables, stores of food and other supplies, and what servants were owed. Modern homemaking binders may contain slightly different information, but the principle is the same: To aid in smoothly running a household.

I am not a naturally organized person, but creating and using a homemaking binder has greatly eased my job as homemaker. I wouldn't want to keep house without it! That said, some women, in my opinion, go a bit overboard with their binders. Being ultra-organized is, for some, almost a religion. My feeling is that if you spend more time organizing than doing other homemaking jobs, you probably need to step back and reconsider your focus.

So, I aim for being just organized enough that my household runs smoothly. Of course, what this means for me may be quite different from what it means to you. That's why it's important to remember, as you see my homekeeping binder and perhaps look at others across the Internet, to customize your binder to your own life. I suggest starting with the bare minimum - paying special attention to areas where you struggle in your homekeeping - and building from there if, and only if, you find it necessary.

Let's start by looking at my homekeeping binder:

In the front pocket of my binder, I keep miscellaneous paperwork I know I will only be keeping for a short time. This is mostly bill payment confirmations I've printed off (and keep only until I see my next bill/statement). The rest of the papers in my binder are kept in plastic page protectors.

The first of these contains a stack of my daily to-do sheets, which I use daily. The three most important aspects of my daily to-do list is that it does not contain routine chores; it lists the day's top 3 priorities; and it leaves room for me to make notes about what I might need to do on another day. You can read more about my to-do list, and download a free printable of it, here.

The next page is my monthly bill paying checklist. This page lists our monthly bills and gives me a spot to check off that they've been paid - and when. Without this list, I gaurantee I'd forget to pay some bills. I use a dry erase pen to mark directly on the plastic page protector on this page. Over time, the pen stains the plastic, and when it gets really bad, I replace the page protector.

Next, I have an expanded list of every company that bills us monthly. The chart tells me when the bill isall the contact information for the company, including the bill-pay mailing address, phone number, and website address. This ensures that even if I'm unable to pay the bill by my usual mode of payment, I have some way to contact the company and pay the bill. You can read more about my chart, plus download a free template for making your own, here.
due and

The next section of my homemaking binder acts as my address book. I have a page for all medical contacts (including doctor's names, physical office addresses, website addresses, and phone numbers), another for close family members, another for friends and more distant family, and an "other contacts" section that includes information for miscellaneous contacts at schools, our bank, etc.

My binder also includes copies of my household recipes (for homemade cleaning supplies and similar items - not for food), plus a meat temperature chart and kitchen measurement chart. You could keep the latter in your recipe binder, but mine is so full, I find it best to store them in my homemaking binder.)

Finally, my binder includes my Mama Chore Charts, which list my daily, weekly, and seasonal chores. (You can download these free charts here).

Some people also like to keep a calendar in their binder; I prefer to use a wall hanging calendar. Some also I prefer this method of menu planning, as I find it more flexible.
keep a blank calendar for their menu plan;

In addition to my homemaking binder, I keep an accordion file for miscellaneous household paperwork, including warranties, health insurance paperwork, school flyers and information, and so on. In a separate binder, as I've already mentioned, I keep my recipes, and in another, purse sized binder, I keep a price book. I find each indispensable, but I added them to my routine slowly.

Do you have a homemaking binder yet? What do you find most indispensable about it?

Apr 6, 2012

Preparing for Family Illness

The cold and flu season hit late in my neck of the woods. We just got through recovering from a very fatiguing virus that bogged me down for 3 weeks. Now my daughter, just a week later, is sick again. Although it appears to just be a cold, I'm preparing for the worst. Doing so greatly reduces my stress and makes "catch up" work after illness much easier. Here's the action plan:

* Do all the laundry. Get those hampers empty!

* Get all the dishes done, too.

* Consider using paper plates, should you become ill. This prevents the build up of dishes when you're too sick to do them. (Remember, paper plates can go into the compost bin.)

* Mop and vacuum. You may not feel up to those jobs later.

* Do any other household chores that will drive you nuts if they don't get done right away.

* Make sure you have any basic medicines you might need, like Tylenol, a working thermometer, etc.

* Make sure you have enough hand sanitizer, tissues, orange juice, or whatever else your family needs to feel more comfortable while ill.

* If there are jobs you normally do, but someone else may have to take them over, type up instructions. For example, my daughter takes certain herbs to help her sleep. My husband would have no idea how to administer these without an instruction sheet to read.

* Read up on ways to stay healthy, even when your kids are not.

* Slow down and take it easy. Once you've done the above, don't fight the inevitable. If you need to, lay around as much as you can. The sooner you are better, the sooner the whole family will be happier!

Mar 14, 2012

Organizing Children's Books

I love books. So does my husband. And we longed to have children who loved books, too. Happily, our children live up to our dream - in large part because interesting children's books have been a part of their lives since infancy.

Even before we had children, whenever I visited a thrift store, I looked through the children's books and purchased classics or other impressive titles. Once the children were actually born, I continued to increase their library with thrift-store purchases, while grandparents, aunts, and uncles purchased them new books. Now our children's library must be in the hundreds.

We don't have the luxury of an extra room to act as the family library. (Oh woe!) So we have bookshelves scattered throughout the house. In fact, the only room without bookshelves is the bathroom. This can make it challenging to find the book we're looking for.

Simple Organizing for Children's Books

I've found that organizing books by topic works very well. For example, I know the children's bookshelf in the living room contains classics, while the bookshelf in the hallway houses nonfiction. In the children's rooms, the bookshelves hold titles that are very girly or early readers (for my 6 yr. old daughter) or board books (for my 3 yr. old son).
I also sub-categorize some books. For example, on the nonfiction shelves, history books are separate from science books, which are separate from the Bibles. (Yes, we have a collection of different children's Bibles!) If I have enough books of a particular type, I sub categorize further. For example, in the science section, the books on animals are separate from the books on outer space. If there is a particular author my children really like, I always put his or her titles together, too. For example, all the Berenstain Bear books are in one spot on the shelf, and so are all the Jan Brett books.

Placement: High or Low?

I have a single shelf for holiday books. The shelf is high up because there's no need for my kids to get to those books when they are out of season. When they are in season, I bring the books down to the single shelf that sits next to the living room couch, where we normally do our reading. I also keep books here that are current favorites, or that I want to be sure to read to my children soon.

In addition, I keep all picture books on the lower shelves, and fill the upper shelves with books that are either too mature for my kids at this time or that are chapter books requiring more of a time commitment than picture books.

Safety First!

Since allowing my children to access books whenever they want them is important, my husband secured all the bookshelves to the wall. (This is actually a great idea for all bookshelves in the house, especially if you have young children.) I don't use the type of children's shelves that display book covers, rather than spines. Not only has this not prevented my kids from loving and accessing their books, but it's made it possible for my children to own more books.

Keeping Children's Books Organized

It's true that it's difficult for young children to return books to standard bookshelves. But I'm okay with that. With a library as large as ours, I want to always be able to easily find the exact book we want to read - and I know if I let the children return books to the shelf, it's unlikely they will end up in their correct location.

I've considered several methods of organizing books in such a way it's easier for my children to remember their correct location; I thought about using label maker stickers to put on the shelves underneath the books, for example, but felt we needed a more visual method, given my kids' ages. I've also considered putting color coded stickers on the book spines, but found they tend to fall off unless you secure them with packing tape. I didn't want to permanently mark up the books - and I wasn't sure my kids would remember which colors stood for which topics, anyway.

I also considered making cardboard dividers, shaped like large file folders, with appropriate clip art images on over-sized tabs. (For example, the section on animals could have a picture of a dog on it, while the section on health could have a sketch of a skeleton.) But I didn't think they'd be durable enough for my children.

Just a few days ago, I noticed Simple Mom showcased some children's bookshelves; I don't like the idea of alphabetizing my children's books, as shown there (I wouldn't remember the titles accurately enough for this method), but I may copy the foam divider idea, replacing the letters with clip art images.

For now, though, I have a simple system. We stack the books we've read that day near the couch. At the end of the day, I return the books to their proper storage location. I plan to purchase a bin or basket to stick the recently-read books into - something I can carry as I move books back to their home bookshelf. This will also make it easier for my 6 year old - who is beginning to learn about organization - be a helper.

How do you organize your children's books? For more tips, see "Home Library Organization."

Feb 24, 2012

The Power of a To-Do List - and a FREE printable

Recently, I've re-introduced the daily to-do list into my life - and I've been amazed how much more productive I've become!

Pre-child, I frequently used a to-do list, but somehow when babies came along, I rarely wrote one. Now I'm so very glad I'm using a list again. Not only am I finding it easier to do the really important things in life (like read my Bible, pray, and make special time to play with the children), but my house is tidier, too! I also feel far more encouraged about my home making skills.

I think there are several tricks to making a to-do list work. First, it has to be realistic. You can't just make a list of everything you need to do and hang it up on the refrigerator where it will mostly serve to discourage you. Instead, write down only things you can truly accomplish in a day. You might have to experiment with this until you discover how many to-do activities fit into your daily life. For example, I've found that more than 10 on a given day is completely impractical for me. I'm better off with perhaps 8 - but if I'm homeschooling that day, even that is too much and I'd better aim for a few less.

It's also important to realize that sometimes life gets in the way of your to-dos; there's no need to beat yourself up if you have a day or two where your list is largely ignored. What you don't want, however, is for this to become a habit - which is why writing down a realistic number of to-dos is vital.

In addition, it's helpful to prioritize your top three most important things to do each day. I put these at the top of my to-do list, in their own special spot.

If you struggle with things like getting down on the floor and playing with your children, or finding time to read the Bible, don't neglect to put these on your to-do list, too.

Be sure to break down large tasks into individual steps. Instead of putting "clean the house" on your list, write "dust," then "vacuum," then "mop," and so on.

Finally, check off items as you accomplish them. It will give you a feeling of satisfaction, and will encourage you to accomplish more. And if I end up doing additional items not on my list, I always add them to my list. Then, at the end of the day, I can have a realistic look at all I've done. (As an aside, seeing my completed to-do lists has helped my husband appreciate what I do even more.)

I've created a simple template for my to-do list (incpired by TshOxenreider's Organized Simplicity). It includes the date, an area for marking down what's for dinner that night, a place to write my top three priorities, check offs for my to-dos, and a section at the bottom where I can make notes - often about home keeping projects I want to add to my to-do list in the near future. I print (and fill out) a fresh template every evening so I can look back on old lists and feel encouraged. But you might slip yours into a page protector and use a dry erase pen to create a new list every day.

You can download my template in Word format or .PDF format. I hope it helps!

Oct 31, 2011

Creating a Kid Art Book

I've never actually counted how much art my kids produce in a single year - but I'm guessing it's about, oh, a gazillion pieces. Obviously, no matter how much my kids might want me to do so, I can't keep every single thing they make. So here's how I reduce what's kept and ensure it doesn't eat up a ton of space:

1. When a piece of art is completed, it gets displayed for a week - maybe two. Definitely no longer. Flat artwork goes on the fridge. Anything three-dimensional goes on the mantel.

2. After this time, I determine which pieces we will keep. Anything I don't keep either gets composted or thrown away or is given to another family member.

3. For all the flat art we keep, I write my child's name, age, and approximate date (i.e.: June 2011) on the back. If there's an important story that goes along with the piece, I write it on a piece of paper and attach it to the artwork itself. Then I place the art in a box in a closet.

4. For three-dimensional items I'd like to remember, I take a photograph. Once the photo is developed, I put notes on the back, just as if it were flat art, and it goes in the children's art box in the closet.

5. Every 6 months to a year, I go through the saved art box. I reconsider whether I should toss any items in the box. This sometimes happens because one of the kids produces a similar piece of art that I prefer, for example. Or maybe I discover I've just kept too much. I compost, throw away, or give away any items I decide not to keep.

6. The remaining art goes into a binder. I have one for each child, filled them with plastic sheet protectors. Each child only has one larger binder; I want to try to keep it this way, since many smaller binders will ultimately take up more room and make it more difficult to see the art we've kept.

I also include a small amount of school work in these binders - choosing only the best of the best: About 5 pages a year.

The end result is an attractive, practical way to view and preserve my children's art - something we bring out as often as we do our photo albums.

Oct 28, 2011

How to Change Your Life

I meet a lot of moms who like the ideas presented at Proverbs 31 Woman - who truly want to cook from scratch, fill their freezer with dinners, or grow their own food, for example. But those wants never turns into "do's."

Truly, I know how overwhelming it can be to want to change your life, but find it too overwhelming to make those changes. The trick to changing any part of your life is actually simple, though: Take one small step.

For example, if you want to start cooking from scratch, don't make this your immediate goal. Don't decide to start making all your family's bread, pasta, canned goods, stock, and so on. You'll either never get started, or you'll burn out quickly. Instead, decide to make one thing from scratch. Once making this one thing from scratch is a normal part of your life, move on to adding one or two more "from scratch" foods.

And don't decide you want to be more self sufficient, so you're going to buy a large porperty and start growing all your own fruits and vegetables and keep livestock. If you have little to no experience in these areas, you'll either never get it all done or you'll quickly get discouraged by failure. Instead, take one small step toward self sufficiency, like preparing a garden bed this fall, then planting it next spring.

A really organized person would make a list of all her goals, then prioritize them and attack them from the most important to the least. There is certainly no harm in doing this. But if making that list holds you back from taking action, then the best thing is to stop hemming, hawing, and over thinking and just do something. A small something: Hang your laundry to dry, learn to make jam, declutter one area of a room.

And while all these these changes are good in and of themselves, the single most important change you can make in your life is to give yourself over to God and accept Jesus Christ as your savior. Once that change is solidly in your heart, work on reading the Bible daily. And then be known by your fruits (Matt. 7:16) - be a sheep who lives eternally with God (Matt. 25:31-46).

Whether you're changing your life in eternal or earthly ways, these small steps add up to large ones over time.

Jul 27, 2011

A Messy Makes Progress

I have always been messy. I know I will never be a super-well organized person. But in the past 6 years or so, my house got pretty out of hand. I can make excuses about why this happened (I went on pregnancy bed rest, had a micro preemie, started working again, and just didn't have time for much housework), but the fact of the matter is, a truly organized person could go through all those things and not end up with a house as messy as mine.

As you may remember, I was greatly inspired by the book The House That Cleans Itself. I love the idea of making your house less messy by finding organizational and decorating methods that are effortless. But my progress has been slow. You know how it is: The kids, homeschooling, and my job as a writer don't leave me with a lot of time for re-organizing and truly overwhelming mess. Then my husband began complaining about the mess. And then I discovered A&Es Hoarders - and excellent show to watch if you want to get scared into de-cluttering.

So, to make a long story short, I finally have my house back under control. It's not perfectly de-cluttered yet, but the improvement is fantastic.

Some of you might remember that I bravely posted a photo of our master bedroom about a year ago - when I decided I would clear the clutter once and for all. Here's that photo, embarrassing as it is to share:

I was in the middle of reorganizing when I took this shot, but while the bed itself wasn't typically piled with stuff, all that garbage was laying elsewhere around the room.

But, as of yesterday, here's what our bedroom looks like now:

As you can see, my bookshelf is still overly-full, but aside from this, it's once more a peaceful room.

And now I get to reward myself. Those icky curtains that came with the house? I'm going to ditch them for something far more attractive! The rickety, almost-impossible-to-use dresser? I'm gonna replace that, too. And once and for all, I'm going to turn the master bedroom into the heaven it should be.

Jul 5, 2011

Home Library Organization

If you're not a bookworm, you may as well stop reading now. But if you're like me and have shelves upon shelves of books, maybe you'll find some useful tips in this post.

Once upon a time, I thought there could never be such a thing as too many books. That was before I got married and had two kids. Now I not only have my own books to contend with, but also my husband's and my children's. We have bookshelves in every room but the bathroom. As I look around, I can no longer find locations for new bookshelves. Keeping the bookshelves looking decent, while also making it possible to find the books we want, is a bit of a challenge for me, but here's what works:

* Go through all your books and give away any you can part with. Donate them to the library or to your favorite charity. Repeat after me: You can't own every book in the world!

* Sort books in a way that makes sense to you. My method is pretty simple: Fiction is stored on different shelves than nonfiction. Fiction is arranged by genre, then author. Nonfiction is arranged by general subject and - if I have a large collection on a particular topic - sub-topics. (For example, first I have my general gardening references, followed by my books on ornamentals, followed by my books on edibles, etc.) I don't alphabetize any more, but I used to alphabetize either by author or title. And no, you don't need a cataloging system. Remember, the system needs to be simple if you're going to keep it going.

* If you like, glue old fashioned metal label holders to the shelves to mark categories. This looks nice if your style leans toward vintage or antique, but may become a pain if you have to re-arrange your books.

* Don't pay attention to decorating magazines that recommend sorting books by size, height, or color. Who cares if it looks cool if you can't find the book you need? Also don't try their ideas about using stacks of books as pillars for a sheet of glass ("instant coffee table"), nightstands, or any other "creative" use that will make the books a pain to get at. If you can't read them, you oughtta donate them to someone who will.

* Do consider laying books horizontally if they won't fit otherwise. It won't hurt the books to stack them and it does add some decorative interest to the shelving.

* Be sure there is enough space between shelves so you can easily reach in and pull books off.

* Think creatively about shelving. The most practical way to shelve books is in large bookcases; however, if you don't get at the books much, you might consider putting single shelves above doorways, for example. (But not if you live in earthquake country.) You can also do away with nightstands and replace them with small bookcases, making better use of the space.

* Consider double shelving. If you really can't reduce the number of books you own and you really don't have room for more shelving, consider putting infrequently used books on the back of the shelf, with more often read books lined up in front of them. This works best for small books.

* Consider where you will need the books. For example, it doesn't make much sense to store cookbooks in the living room where you never cook. And if you tend to read to the kids in the same one or two locations, then it makes sense to have bookcases with their books in those same locations.

* If you have children, you'll need to go through your books at least once a year, giving away those the kids have outgrown. (But don't get overly ambitious! Many children enjoy looking at and reading books that are "too young" for them; those books have become old friends, and they are a comfort. On the other hand, you don't want to be overrun with baby books if your kids are school age, so help your kids narrow down old favorites.)

* Small children sometimes keep books tidier with a book sling rack. Before you buy a big one, you might try a simple, small '.

* Don't think your shelves can't be attractive, too. My prettiest bookshelves ever had rows of flat, scalloped lace glued along the edges. It added an old fashioned, pretty touch that really made the inexpensive white shelving I had look lovely.

* If you have magazines, too, try to rip out the pages you want to keep (oh horrors!) and stick them in a binder with clear plastic sheets. If you can't bring yourself to do this, magazine holders will keep your collection under control.

* Don't store books in the garage, basement, or any other damp location. By the time you're ready to read them, they'll be crinkled - and probably moldy. Again, repeat after me: I can't own every book in the world!

* Consider a Kindle. Last Christmas my husband bought me a Kindle. I must say I love it. It's very easy on the eyes, loads pages instantly, and is the right size and weight for me. So now I buy all my novels in Kindle edition, saving shelf space. (Actually, Amazon offers so many free classics and new books that I haven't bought a single book for my I'm saving money, as well as space!)

Do you have any tips for organizing books?

Jun 15, 2011

Time for a Cleaning Vacation

Is your house out of control? Clutter, dirty floors, too-small clothes and too many toys? Just not enough of you to go around and housekeeping keeps getting put at the bottom of the list? I think it happens to most moms at some point. That's when I know it's time for a cleaning vacation. No, not a vacation from cleaning, but a vacation from other stuff in order to clean.

So I've decided that once school is officially over, I'm taking a one week cleaning vacation. I will do no work (for pay), but will focus on decluttering and deep cleaning the house. Even though I could really use a week off just to rest, I'm looking forward to getting my house under better control. Here's my plan:

* Get the kids onboard. I'm already prepping their minds for this week of cleaning. I'm encouraging them to be my helpers, getting them thinking about other children who could benefit from some of their books, toys, and clothes, and generally preparing them for a week of work. I'm also making a list of age-appropriate chores my kids can do - including some "make work" so I can get "real work" done.

* Use kid propaganda. To get my kids (2 and 5) in the proper mindset, we are reading fun books about cleaning up. Their favorite is Too Many Toys by David Shannon, which is a funny way to approach decluttering and getting rid of toys. Their second and third favorites are The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room (about reorganizing to make clean up easier) and The Berenstain Bears Think of Those in Need (about decluttering and giving away to those who could use it).

* Prepare meals ahead of time, if possible. My goal is to have a week's worth of breakfasts (pancakes and waffles) and dinners in the freezer. (Our lunches usually whip together very quickly.) This will mean more time can be spent cleaning, instead of cooking.

* Pray about it. To some, the thought of praying about housework seems ridiculous. But the Bible tells us God cares about the details of our lives - and he certainly cares if those details are stressful or difficult for us. So pray take a week to pray about your cleaning vacation before it happens. If there are parts of it (like giving stuff away) that might be stressful for your children, be sure to have group prayers, too.

* Keep a (realistic) basic schedule and stick to it. For each day, I have a certain portion of the house I will work on. I'm trying to be realistic about this by allowing more time than I think is necessary for each room. My list is already posted on the fridge.

* Work the worst rooms first. This way, if I run out of time or steam, at least I've gotten the worst of it cleaned up.

* Declutter first. Once this happens, it's much easier to clean.

* At the end of the week, haul off anything we don't want or need anymore. It's tempting to set it aside to sell, but that would take time I simply don't have. Instead, I will give what I can to a favorite charity organization.

How you do manage to deep clean with little children in the house?

Apr 15, 2011

Making Space in the Linen Closet

After years of struggling in a house without a garage, attic, or basement - common storage areas in the U.S. - here are some ways I've managed to make a few storage closets do a lot of work for me.
1. I (mostly) keep only what I really need. Aside from two or three family heirlooms, I've pared down my linens to what I really need and use. That means only two sets of sheets for each bed, and just enough towels so I don't constantly need to do laundry.

2. I roll my towels. I've discovered rolled towels take up less space. First I fold a towel in half crossways, then in half lengthwise. Then I roll it and store it.

3. I keep almost no frills. I've given up once-a-year-only tablecloths, doilies, and other fripperies. And you know what? I don't miss them!

4. I use Space Bags for seasonal items. The bags are inexpensive and reusable and require only an ordinary vacuum. Just slip your linens in, hook your vacuum up, and the bag shrinks. I acquired two whole shelves by using Space Bags. Just beware: You must remove and repack things stored in Space Bags periodically or they may develop permanent creases.

How to you make the best use of your linen closet?