My Ode to Ikea

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Oh, Ikea…how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  One, your crazy frugal pricing.  Two, your seemingly endless options.  Three, the organization potential in every aisle.  Four, the impossible to pronounce names of your merchandise.  Five, the acrobatic carts that can roll in any direction.

In all seriousness, I LOVE Ikea.  If you are a home or organization blog reader, chances are you’ve heard of this store and how the simple systems can help you organize and decorate your home.  You may have seen the many Pinterest boards and blog posts showing off creative Ikea hacks.  And, if you are anything like me, you can really only drool over the items on virtual display, because there isn’t an Ikea near you…at all.

The first time I visited an Ikea, I was speechless…and so excited.  What a cool store this is!!  I want to come back all the time!  But, sadly, it was almost 3,000 miles away and in another country.  We were visiting relatives and friends, and we were back every few years, but since we were traveling, our ability to bring things home was limited.  Each time we visited, I stuck to things that could be packed flat like plastic tableware and collapsible storage bins.  But, I yearned for more.

Then, recently, when on vacation, I visited my first Ikea in the U.S.  In the parking lot, I asked my daughter for a favor.  I said, can you please be patient for mommy while we are in this store?…It is one of my favorite places.  No lie.  It is.  We spent over an hour and a half wandering the aisles and picking up what could be stuffed into our already overflowing SUV for the six hour drive back home.  (She did pretty well.  She spent a chunk of time giving us tours of the various rooms on the upper floor as if she were a host on HGTV.  Then, she found the fake computers and proceeded to do some “work” while we looked around.  Pretty cute and kept her entertained).

For less than I thought it would cost, I was able to replace some items we bought several years ago from the other Ikea and add a few more items for our kitchen (mostly).  Since we didn’t have a ton of space in the car and I have already put their storage bins and drawer dividers to use, I didn’t buy a whole lot more.  Though I enviously looked at the spice racks that I have used for a multitude uses other than storing spices and the rail system with your choice of hanging doo-dads to organize pretty much anything–I knew I didn’t have a clear purpose for them and didn’t want to buy them just because I was there and other people had done cool things with them.  Though, to be honest, two of the spice racks made it to the cash register with me before I surrendered to logic and told the cashier I didn’t need them.

Here are just a few of our purchases from that day:

For the kiddo.  I adore these plates.  Super easy to store and use.  I replaced the old model oval shaped plates with these new round ones.  Love that these have an edge to them.  I also bought the bowls.

For the kiddo. I adore these plates. Super easy to store and use. I replaced the old model oval shaped plates with these new round ones. Love that these have an edge to them. I also bought the bowls.

Food storage containers.  There are MANY options at Ikea, but we chose these because they are a bit sturdier and have a steam vent.

Food storage containers. There are MANY options at Ikea, but we chose these because they are a bit sturdier and have a steam vent.

We bought a few of the small round plates in this finish a few years ago to replace a few broken ones from our large set (not bought from Ikea).  Looking around for other replacements we stumbled upon these rectangular ones in sets of 4.  After using them a few times, I wish I would have bought another set and just replaced all of our old larger round ones.

We bought a few of the small round plates in this finish a few years ago to replace a few broken ones from our large set (not bought from Ikea). Looking around for other replacements we stumbled upon these rectangular ones and picked up one set of 4. After using them a few times, I wish I would have bought another set and just replaced all of our old larger round ones.

drommar-cake-decorating-set

And something fun for the kiddo and me to play with as we continue our cake baking and decorating adventures.

We got a few other things including a bathroom rug, a metal colander, new round cork trivets, new dish scrubbers (so inexpensive here!), straws, and some other odds and ends.  Nothing too big and mostly replacements or additions to Ikea items we already had.  I told my husband that we’d be in trouble if we lived near an Ikea because I’d spend oodles of time and money there.  He didn’t seem to see the problem with that–which is why I love him.  He tolerates and usually supports my organization habit.  He even found a desk system that he likes that we may have to get a hold of sometime soon.  And, the good news is that I may not have to wait a few years until I step foot inside an Ikea this time.  They are opening one only 3 hours away from us!  (I know that still seems like a crazy distance to drive just to visit an Ikea, but I do have friends that live there to visit as well :) ).  And, I can always order online if I feel like I want to pay the shipping.  But, I really do love to visit the store in person.  There is something about the piles of everything, the bright lights, and the endless possibilities that get me every time.  Oh, Ikea, if only we could have a more permanent relationship.  I guess I will just have to settle for renewing my love for you every so often–unless of course you’d like to come to my home town.

Is there a store that you love to visit, but only have access to at certain times or in certain locations?  Does it make the place more special because you are not able to go as often?

 

There’s a Reason It’s Called Semi-Organized

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Hello All!  Well, everyone that reads or stumbles upon this at least.  I follow an organizational blogger named Jen at I Heart Organizing and have been for a while.  If you haven’t found her on your own yet, be sure to check out her blog.  It is pretty cool.  One of the things I like about her blog is that she keeps it true to life.  While she showcases the beautiful projects and areas she has created in her home, she is never shy about showing us the chaos that sometimes envelopes her house or the projects that have gotten put on the back burner or spaces that she just simply hasn’t had time to tackle yet.  In a brilliant blog post about the difference between every day life and blog posts, Jen tackled a reader’s comment about how the pictures on the I Heart Organizing Blog make her feel “depressed rather than inspired.”  I felt for Jen in that moment, and it seems she really took that comment to heart.  Check out her post linked above to hear her eloquent response.

Reading her post made me think about my own little blog here.  I must confess that when I first started this blog, I didn’t tell anyone I was writing it.  I took a while before I shared it with my husband–then I told my mom about it–and I finally got the courage up to send a link to one of my best friends–who lives in another state.  None of my close friends that are close by (or really anyone I knew) even had a clue that I wrote a blog.   Around my 50th post, my husband gave me a shout out on his Facebook page saying he was proud of what I was doing here (still makes me smile)–and that is the first time folks I knew really got a good look at what I write about–if they happened to be friends with both of us and chose to follow his link.  So, mysemiorganizedlife is still sort of semi-secret.

And, I almost wrote a post about WHY no one knew this little corner of my life existed, but decided against it.  After reading Jen’s post, I feel now is as good a time as any to do so.  So, why the secrecy?  To be honest, I was afraid.  I wasn’t really afraid anyone would judge me harshly for anything that I post about here–because I have really sweet friends.  What I was afraid of was that if they read my posts, they might think I would judge them.  That I would find them lacking, because I write about the things I am trying to do to keep my world in order–emphasis on trying (in case you didn’t catch that).  I didn’t want them to think that every time I entered their home or their car or heard about what they were doing in their classrooms or with their own children that I was assessing them somehow.

And, a comment a good friend of mine made the other day reinforced that uneasiness.  I took my kiddo over to play with her kiddos.  She was worried that she hadn’t had time to clean up the house before our arrival.  I honestly didn’t care.  My kid was super jazzed about playing with her kids (and their guinea pig) and wouldn’t notice if it was “clean” or not.  And, I was simply grateful that the kiddo got the chance to play with other kids–she craves that in the summers.  The state of her living room floor, or whatever, would not phase me or even really register on my radar.  But, she did seem to be worried, at least a little.  She said, “but your house is always so clean and neat.”  I am here to tell you my dear that that is a huge misconception. (The fact that she said this to me as I was shoving things in my trunk and shaking out the towel we keep under the kiddo’s booster seat which was full of who knows what so that the grownups could all pile in my car should have been a little bit of a clue :).

Does my house always look like a Better Homes and Gardens shoot?  Far from it.  Could you quite frequently find baskets of laundry needing to be put away or toys scattered upstairs and down or items lining the counter tops.  Heck yes.  Because we LIVE here.  Is it pretty easy for me to pick things up and have them tidy when I know guests are going to arrive?  Heck yes to that too.  Because I have attempted to put some systems in place and dedicated spaces in our house to make tidying up easier.  It may be a whirlwind of activity for about an hour (sometimes less), but it’s easy.

By that same token, have I misplaced my keys 3 times in the last week?  Yup (totally not following my system of clipping them to my purse.  Seriously, I should know better).  Do I regularly have to go back into the house after heading to the car because I forgot something.  Yes, again (because I didn’t plan ahead like I know I should).  Has my daughter (or myself) gone to bed at her normal time at all this summer?  Um, nope (because it is summer and we’re busy having fun).  Have my carefully crafted habit charts I just wrote about a few weeks ago been ignored a bit more than they should be?  Unfortunately (because with just one kiddo it is easy to fall out of the routine and just pick up and go do stuff.  Plus we’ve had lots of changes to our schedule with visitors, etc.).

So, why even try to put these systems into place and write about them at all?  Because as I have stated on this blog before, this blog is in part just for me.  It is a way for me to record my goals and to help me hold myself more accountable.  These are all things I desperately want to do and to have work (which is why you see me revamp things from time to time), but sometimes I fail. Epically.  And that’s ok too. I learn from my mistakes and try again.  That’s just part of life.  Plus, I love to organize.  It’s something I’ve done since I was small and something I will continue to do the rest of my life.  It just makes me feel happy to see a space that is used well and is tidy.  Whenever I feel life is getting a bit much for me, I know a quick cleaning session of putting a room back in order will brighten my spirits.  Some of us are just weird that way.

I guess my point here is the same one I think Jen was making.  Those of us who blog (from the well known to the little known) try to put our best foot forward in the world.  We want to share our successes with others and learn from each other.  It is a community.  I have never read a homemaking, organization, crafting, etc. type of blog that set out to make people feel bad about themselves.  Most of the time people are just sharing their great ideas with others.  Really, blogs are a way to connect with others, to showcase your talents, and to maybe inspire others (and maybe even yourself)  to try something new.  Plus, she seriously does keep it pretty real.  She is not shy about showing off the not so pretty as well.

I would like to challenge home bloggers out there to do what Jen did and what I am doing here below.  Post a few picks of the chaos behind the scenes.  Show people that it’s not all glamour shots and sunshine.  As a blog reader, I know I appreciate hearing about both the every day as well as the isn’t this the best idea and prettiest thing ever.  Thank you to all of the bloggers out there who have inspired me and to all of the people who have taken the time to read one of my posts.  Have a lovely week all!

And just to share some craziness around my house.  This is what it looked like earlier this week…and a few days after that.  But, knowing I have company coming in a few days, I can easily pick it up and have it back to looking presentable fairly easily.  Enjoy the mess and the success!  Below are just a few of our spaces.  Our kitchen was a disaster for a few days due to cooking and baking projects in preparation for the July 4th holiday.  I’d show you a before and after, but the after got done just as guests were arriving, so no time to even grab a quick pic.  Sometimes it’s down to the wire, but I was so happy with the way our decorations and food turned out–even if I wasn’t able to share with anyone but our holiday guests.

The crazy before picture.  This was mid laundry and mid projects.

The crazy before picture. This was mid laundry and mid projects.

This is a few days later.  All ready for company.

This is a few days later. All ready for company.

Can you tell I just made a few runs to the store for refills of some of our bathroom products?  Honestly, it did look like this for the better part of a day, because I just didn't have time to get stuff put away.  But, that's life!

Honestly, it did look like this for the better part of a day, because I just didn’t have time to get stuff put away. But, that’s life!  We all survived with a little clutter for a few hours.

Shiny and ready to tackle the day!  Everything is back where it belongs.

Shiny and ready to tackle the day! Everything is back where it belongs.

 

 

More Kindness–Being the Example

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Last week I posted about one of the ways I try to help my daughter cultivate a kind heart (which really isn’t hard, because she cares easily.)  I chatted about how we donate gently used items from her stash of clothes, books, and toys to various charities, folks in need, and to special friends.  My heart swelled to share about how my little one is so thoughtful and caring for others, but I didn’t really think about what I do for others at that time.

For moms and caregivers of any kind, this can be tough.  We spend most of our days planning and doing for others–scheduling activities, planning healthy meals, making sure the spouse’s oil gets changed, brushing the cats, cleaning the bathrooms, sending a text to a friend, picking up a little something we know our mom will love just because…  All of these things we do without really thinking about how we are showing kindness and love to the people in our lives–because that is just what we do.

And, sometimes we give so much to the people in our lives every day that we sometimes forget about giving to the people around us.  Knowing that I played a hand in helping people in need by finding donations with my daughter is rewarding.  Participating in our 25 days of giving each December makes me feel connected to others at a time when life is very hectic–and again is something I share with my daughter.  But, what about me.  Just me.  What do I do for strangers?  I, personally, think it is important to give back to “strangers” because we all have an impact in this world–both positive and negative.  And, we can have a hand in making sure there is more that is positive–because what we do has ripple effects.

So what had I done?  The answer was simple.  Not much.  And, with everything else we do all year round to give back and all of the caring acts we do for our friends and family, it may seem overwhelming to add one more thing to the already teetering plate.  Sometimes, though, the simplest answer is the easiest.  And, in the craziness of June, I forgot about a simple goal I had set for myself for the summer.

I had forgotten about the goal until I ran across a blog post (which I will share shortly) to participate in a program I heard about on a TED talk called “LoveLetters2Stangers.”  Take a second and listen to the TED Talk to hear about this movement. 

Love Letters 2 Strangers

Click here to be taken to her website.

Basically, how it works, is you leave a HANDWRITTEN (this is important) letter or note to someone–anyone–a total stranger, and then you leave it somewhere it can be found easily by someone else.  The letters don’t have to be long or fancy or perfect.  They just need to be thoughtful, heartfelt, and positive.  The idea is to lift up someone you don’t even know and brighten their day.  As someone who loves to write, I fell in love with this idea–and I put it down as one of my summer bucket list items (which also includes learning how to french braid my daughter’s hair, figuring out how to make a past post gallery on this blog, and teaching my daughter to tie her shoes).

Life got a little in the way, and I forgot about this goal until I stumbled upon this great blog post from Ashley at Little Blue Boo.  She took mini canvases, painted them bright colors, added inspirational quotes, and then handed them out to strangers for a Random Act of Kindness!  They are adorable!  But, I knew I didn’t really have it in me to recreate this cute little messages–at least not right now.

There is a great free printable on this site too. Click to go to Ashley’s post!

Then the light bulb went off.  What if I paired the quotes from Ashley’s blog with the idea of Love Letters 2 Strangers from Hannah!  So, this morning, I sat down and wrote out note cards to leave in random places during our travels about town.  I just used note cards I had hanging around (with pretty pictures of flowers on the front) and paired this phrase “Though we have never met and probably never well-know that I and countless “strangers” care about you and wish you the best” with a quote from Little Blue Boo’s site.  I varied the marker color more for me than the recipients–I plan to leave one a day in a location we visit around the city (which could be pretty widespread).  About an hour and a few hand cramps later, I have 10 finished cards and envelopes ready to go.

The plan:  I will keep them in my purse or car and take one with me when we go anywhere.  Then, I will find somewhere fun to leave the envelope like a bench or between items on a shelf or anywhere I think it will be found.  I will never know who picked up my note or if it made a difference in someone’s day, but I know the simple act of thinking of others will make  difference in mine.

My notes!  I made sure to add the loveletters2strangers website inside and gave them a fun message on the outside to make sure someone picked it up.

My notes! I made sure to add the loveletters2strangers website inside and gave them a fun message on the outside to  hopefully make sure someone picked them up.

For the future, I plan to purchase some more inexpensive cards (though if you choose to do this, you can use any type of paper) and write up more notes to leave around town.  I am very excited to get started, and I will definitely let my daughter know about my new “kindness campaign.”  She might even help me find cool places to leave the letters.  Why am I sharing this with her if it is supposed to be “just for me”?  I want her to see that I am doing things as well that send kindness out into the world and that our acts of kindness don’t always have to be monumental or “thing” oriented.  Sometimes a kind word is all that you need to brighten up someone’s day.

 

What ways do you send kindness out into the world?

Cultivating a Kind Heart

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I have written about this topic, but in a different way before.  After some events in the last week,  I felt a re-posting and elaboration was needed.

There are so many things that our children need to be successful and thoughtful adults someday–and so many of those things start when they are young.  But, how to you cultivate kindness?  How do you get your children to understand how to be thankful and thoughtful?  How do you get them to understand that there may be people in your community, state, country, or world that do not have the advantages that they do?  One way is to show them.  And, that is what I have chosen to do with my daughter.

What started out as a simple way to get my kiddo to understand that it is ok to give away items that she has outgrown (and to declutter in anticipation of holidays and birthdays) has ended up as a wonderful way to show my daughter what it means to be compassionate and to think of others in need.  Let me start out by saying that my family is by no means well to do–we are definitely in the middle class zone both being educators.  But, our daughter is also an only child and an only grandchild on one side of the family–so she gets more than a family with more kiddos might get.  Plus, we have very generous friends with older girls who have handed down some of their toys and items to us.  All of this means tons of stuff to try and tackle in our moderately sized home.  Which is probably why you see so many posts from me about how to manage the kid clutter.

One of my favorite ways to do this is to spread the love by sharing our gently used items with others.  We could simply take our items to the nearest Goodwill (which we do with some things) or hold a garage sale (which I’ve never done in my adult life and just quite frankly don’t want stuff hanging around all year waiting to be sold for minimal profit).  With our kiddo items, I like to be able to get our daughter involved so she can help decide what to do with these items and see how she can help others first hand.

I wrote about this briefly in a post from way back called Conquering Kid Chaos–and it fell under the “purge” tip of my Top 7 Organizing Tips–in relation to how to keep your house from being overrun by toys.

From previous post:

Purge.  You may remember this from my 7 Organization strategies post.  As with any organization plan, I firmly believe the less you have the easier it is to be organized.  My daughter and I do this very frequently, and since she was about three she has been very involved in the process.  Before Christmas and her birthday we go through the toys in her room (and other areas of the house) and decide what she actually plays with and what can move on to another child that will get more fun from it than she does.  I try to guide her when I can and even give her a choice, like pick one of these to keep and one to give away.  Beginning this at a young age has helped greatly, because she is very used to the process, but you can probably start this at any age—just be sure to involve your kids.  Another reason why toy give aways have been successful for us is that we always have a pre-determined destination for the items.  Sometimes we pick out things to give to specific friends (we even went on a secret adventure one evening and left stuffed animals in several friends’ mailboxes–this has been one of her all time favorite things to do.  She even go to pick which friend received which animal).  Other times, we select items to donate to the local children’s hospital.  Most recently, a friend of ours had a family member experience a fire that destroyed their home, and they lost everything.  We discussed the issue with my daughter and asked her to pick out toys, books, and stuffed animals to give to the two little kids who had lost everything.  She easily agreed and donated an overflowing large milk crate of her belongings to these two little ones she has never met, and probably never will—and didn’t even bat an eye about it.  I am so proud of her for that and happy that our little system has helped her see the importance of giving to others.

While it is hard for a now six-year-old to try and think of the many ways she can help others all of the time, I can see that our practice of giving to those in need or those we love has made a difference in her.  When she realizes she isn’t really playing with something anymore, she asks me if we can give it someone else and usually supplies a friend’s name who likes those kinds of toys.  And, when I come to her with an idea of how to share some of her good fortune with those who need it most, she jumps right on the bandwagon–usually without a second thought.

This year for her birthday, I thought about all of the toys she currently has that she still plays with (many that she got for her birthday the past two years) and all of the items she was sure to get from her family and friends parties and my brain went mushy.  She barely has the time or space to play with what she had!  What were we going to do with all the extra stuff?   So, we had a discussion.  We talked about donating some of the toys from her friends birthday party to kids in need.  We have donated things to the Children’s Hospital in the past, and we talked about finding somewhere new to share this time around.  We settled on a homeless shelter in our town that specializes in working with families and single parents–she remembered it from when we had donated some items like winter coats for our 25 days of giving.

It was a little hard for her to come to terms with the idea of giving all of her presents to others–after all she is six–but she also wanted to help kids who probably didn’t get anything for their birthdays.  We spent some time talking about it and came up with a way for her to be able to keep some items and for her to also be able to donate some items.  (If she wasn’t comfortable with donating any, we would have gone that route too.  It did help though that she had been to a birthday party earlier in the year for a schoolmate who donated his presents).

We came up with a list of inexpensive things for people to buy and asked that they purchase two–one for her and one for the kids at the homeless shelter.  Our list included things you could find in the dollar aisle or would be less than $10 for two–things like sidewalk chalk, coloring books, bubbles, stickers, etc.  I didn’t want to overburden anyone with supplying items for this idea, so we tried to make it as easy and inexpensive as possible.  And, thankfully those who were able to attend were very thoughtful and generous in their gifts.  One afternoon when she was off of school and we were running errands, we stopped by to drop off the gifts.  She got a tour of the main areas for the residents (none were around at the time) including the children’s play area.  She decided while we were there that she wanted to go back sometime this summer to play with some of the kids and to help with serving meals–I am looking forward to setting these up soon!

These are all of the items we were able to share with the homeless shelter!  I sent a picture of the kiddo sitting behind these items out as a thank you card to those who attended the party.

These are all of the items we were able to share with the homeless shelter! I sent a picture of the kiddo sitting behind these items out as a thank you card to those who attended the party.

And, what made me think of sharing these stories with all of you is an incident that happened in our area this week.  We had several tornadoes go through some smaller towns north of here and destroy many homes.  Someone I know in the area said 62 homes were affected.  Businesses and organizations all over the area are pulling together to donate water, gatorade, clean up supplies, and much more to help the families affected.  I knew immediately there was a way we could step up and help.  I went to my daughter and briefly told her about families losing their homes (I didn’t go into too much detail because she is in a stage where she is VERY afraid of tornadoes), and that some kids lost all of their toys and clothes.  She was ready to get to work!  We spent a little time this weekend going through her room and found a garbage bag full of kids bedding and clothing that we no longer needed and two large paper shopping bags full of toys and books.  To be honest, we were running a little short on time (I needed to get the stuff to the person who would be delivering the items), and I was going to skip over going through her books.  She called me back to reality though, and showed me that I needed to make the time.  “Mommy, they’re going to need books too!”  My heart soared.  She was right.  They certainly were.

And that is why I am sharing this post today.  My daughter has a caring heart and knows that one way she can help others is to share what she has with those in need.  This all started as a way to help get rid of some overcrowding of stuffed animals and has become a thoughtful practice and second nature action for my kiddo.  I can only imagine how she will continue to help others as she grows and matures through life, and I feel so honored to be able to help guide her along the way.

 

Habits and Charts

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The past two weeks have been a little crazy–we are definitely in summer mode in our house, but some other things have crept in that take up my time as well.  In addition to the daily drive to swim lessons and our visits to the public library, children’s museum, and play dates with friends (see this post to see how we manage all the FUN of summer), I have added in still working some from home each day and teaching a university class for the month of June.  Add to that prepping for an unexpected but very welcome house guest for the next week–and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.

I had projects I knew I wanted to tackle before July hit, but June was almost half over!  So, in addition to all of the above, I wanted to cross a few things off my big to-do list.  And, I was able to accomplish a few–sorting through my digital photos (every time I do this I swear I won’t let it get this bad again-look for a post soon regarding this problem), cleaning the carpets in our high traffic areas (I do this with a home machine a few times a year), purging a few areas in the house, deep cleaning the shower/tub, and so on.  Nothing too major, but added up that equals time and energy I wasn’t sure I would have.  And, I didn’t want to be doing them when we had a visitor!  To help me get through this past week, I started out making a list of EVERYTHING I wanted to get done this week (right down to painting my toe nails and baking corn muffins) and separated them out into what I could get done each day.  This helped immensely.  Instead of stressing out over my internal to-do list, I had everything on paper and at least a plan to get everything done each day.  And, when it didn’t get done for whatever reason, it just got moved to the next day.  Now I am sitting pretty with only a few things to accomplish before I head off for the day’s activities.

I feel really, really good about all that I was able to accomplish this week–and made sure I still had time to do fun things with the kiddo and my hubby.  But with all of this busy activity (which really isn’t that much different than our life during the school year except I have a munchkin by my side most of the day), our daily routines once again made their way to the bottom of the list of important things to tackle.  There are things I want to be sure I do every single day (and my daughter too), and I know I have to do them consistently for them to become habits.  But, the consistently thing is where I fall all kinds of apart.  I will have one really good day where I do all of my desired daily habits, and then a stretch of 4-7 days where barely any of them get done–because life gets in my way.  Or, maybe I let life (and sleepiness) get in my way.

I want to make changes in my lifestyle and health, and I know that I have to start somewhere, so I am here to write that my goal for the week is to tackle my habits!  I want to go at least 5 days of the next week performing all (or pretty darn close to all) of my habits.  And one of my habits is making sure my daughter is accomplishing her daily habits.  (Some people might call these chores, but our list is a bit more than that–so we’ll go with habits.)

I had been thinking our daily routines needed a bit of an overhaul anyway.  There were some habits I wanted to get in place for myself and my daughter this year and with her first year of elementary school and my new job, it just never happened.  Summer is the perfect time to turn these routines into habits!  (I hope!)  To help us accomplish our (my) habit goals, I overhauled our habit trackers (chore charts…) to fit more with what we really wanted to accomplish each and every day.

The first thing I did was spend about a month thinking about what habits and routines I wanted to establish during the summer and wanted to keep for the whole year through.  Taking this time to really evaluate what was import for us to accomplish on a daily basis was key in making sure I didn’t just make another chore chart that we didn’t use.  I think we are on our third or fourth version, and hopefully the time spent evaluating priorities will pay off in the long run.

For my habits/routines, it is all about the daily acts.  There are certain things I want to be sure that I do daily, and left to my own devices I usually think about them when I am driving in my car or after I get in bed, because that is when my brain has a chance to rest and those back burner thoughts pop into my brain.  These two times are very unhelpful in actually accomplishing these habits, so I need a visual reminder.  I do very well with lists and checking things off, so I decided to make a habit tracker that not only includes my daily goals but also my weekly/monthly cleaning routine and any other tasks that need accomplished for work/home.  I designed it in Word using a table and laminated the little guy so it is reusable.  I am using a wet erase marker to keep track of what I accomplish each day.  It is on a pretty clipboard that I have decided to keep by my bed for now so that I have to look at the thing before I go to bed (which will be easier now that there isn’t a pile of books on top of it).  I do still use some on phone apps to help track some long range projects as well or as reminders for errands/special tasks when I’m not right in front of my habit tracker.  I keep trying to figure out how to fit it my laminated tracker into my small ARC planner I keep in my purse, but the font would be TINY and I like the idea of the list being near my bed so I can look at it before lights out.

This is my new habit tacker.  It gives me much more room to add in items for the week.

This is my new habit tacker. It gives me much more room to add in items for the week.

I have waffled between a daily tracker and a weekly tracker for my daughter.  We’ve tried both.  I’ve gone the magnet route and the dry erase route.  Nothing has really worked, because honestly we don’t use it consistently enough.  For this summer, we are back to a  daily tracking system with magnets that she moves to show what she has accomplished each day.  Most of these are daily items like making the bed, brushing teeth, feeding the cats, reading, etc.  Some are her chores she does as needed like putting away clothes and dishes, vacuuming the kitchen, etc.  At the end of the day (or sometimes as she accomplishes a task), she moves her magnet to the done side.  I am hoping to make the habit tracker part of our nightly routine so that we can make sure everything has been done.  If it is part of our nightly routine, it will be easier to think during the day about what needs to be accomplished to move each magnet–I hope.  The magnet pictures and board are recycled from our original “chore chart” that I made a few years ago.  I found the metal board on clearance at Walmart, and I paired it with small round magnets with adhesive on them attached to pictures printed on card stock.  She simply moves her magnet to done when the habit/chore is done.

Kiddo picked out the pictures for the magnets from clip art.

Kiddo picked out the pictures for the magnets from clip art.

I am really hoping these two new habit trackers will help us accomplish some of our daily goals.  I know that completing these daily habits will definitely help us keep more on top of things and lead a healthier lifestyle.  And, since I have shared my goal of habit tracking with all of you, I now have to follow through!

How do you keep track of your daily goals?  Is there a system you have tried to put in place that just continues to fail?  What have you done to solve the problem?

Quick Tip–Paper Shredding

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Shredded Paper

I wanted to pass along a time and sanity saver I discovered a few years ago.  First of all, I HATE shredding documents, but I know it is important.  We tried the do it at home routine, but we burned through 2 shredders and I never found the time to do it.   Luckily, I stumbled upon a mail center in town that does shredding for pretty cheap.  In fact, the first 5 pounds are always free.  So, now, I simply keep my shredding until I have a nice stack and take it off to be shredded!

Why I love it?

It helps me cut down on paper clutter--because I can discard what needs shredded quickly and easily.  I keep a small bankers box on the top shelf of our coat closet.  It is right where we enter from the garage each day.  I glance through the day’s mail on my way in the door and can easily slip unwanted items into the hand hold hole on the side or simply lift the lid slightly to get rid of the junk.

It is well worth the cost– I took two almost full small banker’s boxes to the mail center this past week (I let it build up a bit this time around), and it cost me just under $10.  Plus, we get to stay and watch them shred it (which gives me peace of mind and totally enthralls the kiddo).  For less than $10 I was able to outsource more than 6 months of shredding.  I call that money well spent.  Plus, I didn’t end up with a headache after hours of shredding!

Check around your city or town and see if there is a company that offers inexpensive shredding services to save you some valuable time.  Some cities also may offer FREE shred events or shred events that benefit charities–I know ours does a few times a year.  While I could save myself a few dollars each year going this route, I like being able to watch them shred my items on site rather than having them loaded in the back of a truck.  But, I know many people who take advantage of the free events too.

What menial tasks do you choose to outsource instead of do on your own?  Have you found any hidden bargains around town that help you also keep the budget in check?

Getting Ready for Summer!-Routines and Schedules

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I am finally on summer break!  And, now I am on stay at home mom schedule (mostly).  Our days will not be regulated by school and work schedules; our entire routine is no longer our routine.  In order for the summer to be fun, I also know that we need to have some sort of routine to get us through the days.  This post will be about our routine and schedule for the summer.  (Look for a post coming soon about chore charting and habits.)

After MUCH surfing on pinterest and looking at printables and suggestions from other moms out there and deciding what to keep from what we’ve done in the past, I came up with our summer routine/schedule.

Remember that lovely magnet board I wrote about last week and how I use it to hang up the most recent kiddo art?  Well, in the summer she won’t be bringing home as many creations, so it has been re-purposed for the next few months as sort of a command center for our summer lives.

command center

So, what’s on this board?  There is still a bit of room for art projects, as you can see.  But, most of it is tied to our summer routines and summer fun.

Let’s start with our daily schedule.  For the month of June, our schedule will be based around swimming lessons which are in the later morning.  I decided it would be best not to have any screen time before swimming, because that makes it hard for kiddo to get moving and motivated.  So, instead, I came up with a schedule that builds in time for learning and time for playing.  I used a fun free printable from Jen at I Heart Organizing for this one.  She typed out her schedule and posted it in a pretty frame.  I laminated mine and am using a wet erase marker so that I can change it as our summer routine changes (i.e. no swimming lessons in July).

You aren't seeing the whole document here, but visit http://iheartorganizing.blogspot.com/2012/06/our-summer-schedule.html to download.

You aren’t seeing the whole document here, but visit http://iheartorganizing.blogspot.com/2012/06/our-summer-schedule.html to download.

Learning time will consist of reading, writing, and math activities.  Some of these activities will come from work books, and some will be from items sent home from her school for the summer.

During her 1 hour play time block in the morning, she is allowed to play with anything she wants inside the house (or outside if the neighbor kids want to play).  But, to help her decide, I made this activity picker sheet for her.  (I actually made this last fall, but it didn’t get added to our routines that way I wanted, so we are working it into our habits now and hopefully it will translate into after school fun–while mom is getting dinner ready–when school starts).  She now has a prompt to help her decide what to do with her play time (because if she doesn’t she’ll spend the entire hour trying to make a decision).  Why 60 minutes?  I wanted her to have enough time to really dig in and play and also enough time to clean up.

I like that most of these options are creative play and also solo activities.  This play time is designed to be independent as I will be spending the majority of the day with her, she needs some time to be on her own (and it gives me time to finish up any odds and ends so that I can give her my full attention the rest of the day).  Plus it does give her the opportunity to play with her toys–something she has said for a while she wants to do more.

This by no means represents all of her options, but it's a good place for her to start.

I just searched Google Images for some of her favorite play items and added them into a Word document.

Right now our schedule only reflects the morning from 7:00-11:00 (lunch).  The afternoons are up for grabs.  To fill our afternoon time, I have a few items in place to help us decide what to do.  My goal is to have a conference on Sundays with the kiddo to get an idea of what she wants to do during the week–and then revisit that decision each day sometime before morning play time.   There are two main ways that we can pick what do do with our afternoons, whether we decide to venture out or stay at home…

1)  Calendar of local events

Every year I make a calendar for June and July of the many events going on around town.  These items include public library events, festivals, parades, story times, craft times, outdoor concerts, free movies, etc.  Usually I start building this calendar in late April or early May using our city’s visitors website, online family fun calendars for our city, the public library’s website, and so on.  I won’t share my calendar with you, because it really is just tailored to my town and family, but you can easily do the same thing.  All I did was take a calendar template in Word and add in my events.  And, because I am like that, the events are color coded.  All of the library events are one color, all of the concerts are another, and the movies another, etc.  This calendar is now hanging on our fridge right next to our family dry erase calendar.  Our dry erase calendar still is home to our definite family and work events, and this other calendar is more of our options for the day.  So, let’s say its Monday and we’re looking at our plan for the rest of the day before we head out to swim lessons.  We can decide what we want to do with our afternoon–go to the zoo, attend a program at the public library, go bowling, or just head home to play.  Once we’ve decided, I know whether to pack lunches, bring sunscreen, what clothes to bring if the kiddo needs to shower at the pool, and so on.  The calendar is really helpful so I don’t have to hunt around on websites the day before or the day of and scramble to make a decision…it’s all right there.  And, since it includes weekend activities as well, we can plan a bit ahead on what our weekends will look like too.

Here is an example of what your calendar could look like--ours actually has more stuff on it than this...

Here is an example of what your calendar could look like–ours actually has more stuff on it than this…

2)  Summer Bucket List

For the past two years, I have also designed a summer bucket list.  If you are looking for ideas beyond what I have included, all you need to do is search for “summer bucket list” on Pinterest.  Some of them get very fancy!  I just made mine in a word document–I picked some fun summer clip art, a groovy font, and made the text colorful.  The items on our bucket list have changed as time goes by and she gets older, but some stay the same. I always try to include things I know we’re going to do, things we want to do, and things that push us to try new activities or visit new places.

Summer Fun

One of the fun things I found on Pinterest was this dry erase board with this great message for kids who complain that they are BORED!  Luckily, I haven’t run into that problem yet, but I am planning ahead.  I think mine is more of a what to do instead of screen time cure for boredom.

Here is my version.

I used markers that matched the font and colored in the stars in the border to add a little pizzazz.

I used markers that matched the font and colored in the stars in the border to add a little pizzazz.

And, finally, what about screen time?  The kiddo just asked me last night as we went over our schedule, when can I have screen time?  I am going to go with the daily recommendation of 2 hours per day (some days will hopefully be less depending on what we are doing)–AND I plan to have at least one screen free day per week.  But, on those days when screen time happens, I wanted a better way to be able to monitor how much she was actually getting for both her and me.  I again surfed around Pinterest and found a bunch of different versions of screen tickets that kids can turn in for screen time during the day.  I took my favorite version and revamped it a bit.  I knew that some activities the kiddo would choose might be in 45 or 15 minute increments instead of 30, so I made a few “blank” tickets that I can use a wet erase marker to write on to track those odd times.  I laminated and cut apart the tickets to keep them in good shape.  They will be given out and turned in each day and will be located near our summer command center so we can keep track of how many have been used and not used.  The original post from the tickets is here, but I couldn’t get the download to work–so I just copied the original image into word and pasted it a few times.  Then, for the blank versions, I inserted basic shapes over the 30 min symbols and changed the picture color to make them stand out.  We will see how well this works!

screen tickets

Whew!  That was a long post!  Thanks for sticking it out until the end.  Tomorrow is our first Monday of summer break, and I am hoping the schedules and routines I have put in place will allow us to not only accomplish our daily goals but have tons of fun together too!  Later on this summer, I will write another post as an update on how this actually is working for us.

Is there anything you have planned to make your summer run smoothly?

How to Manage the Kids Paper Avalanche

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It was our last week of school this week.  One day my daughter brought home a paper grocery sack full of creations–her art portfolio for the year.  The next day, she brought home a giant paper folder (I’m talking almost as big as her) of artwork, writings, and other memorabilia from the year from her classroom.  This does not include the almost daily influx of papers we found in her folder every night.  Luckily, I learned in pre-school a few tricks to honor the wonderful work and creativity she put into everything she did while at school without letting our house become overrun by paper.  Here’s my few tips and tricks for dealing with the kids paper avalanche.

1)  Display it.  We have a metal board hanging in our kitchen on which we post current art work.  We got the board from IKEA a few years ago, but I would guess you could find something similar out there.  I’ve also seen this done with empty picture frames and clothespins on pretty string or ribbon.  Basically, anything new that comes in that you or your kiddo is excited about goes on display for a short time.

This is our magnet board.  It fits really nicely on a small wall in our kitchen.

This is our magnet board. It fits really nicely on a small wall in our kitchen.  This board also gets all of our “groovy” magnets.

Then, in our house, one of three things happens.

2)  Recycle it.  Honestly, you cannot keep every single bit of paper that comes home.  Some of it is not sacred.  You probably don’t have the room to store it, and trust my your kid will appreciate not having to go through boxes of keepsakes whenever they finally move out.  Whatever you don’t want to keep, recycle it.  If it is a piece of artwork or writing that you don’t personally want to hold onto but you think a family member would enjoy, pass it on.  I have my daughter select items to go to specific members of the family–and grandparents seem to be always happy to proudly display artwork.

3)  Take a picture and then recycle it.  Some of the items my daughter has made are really and truly adorable, but they probably won’t be hanging around our house for years, and yet I don’t want to just pitch them.  So, instead, I take a photo.  Then, this is the kicker, I do something with the photos.  I make an online photo book every year that we keep and that each of the grandparents gets at Christmas.  The artwork makes an appearance in the photo album–and it is around to enjoy for years but in a much more manageable way.  I also started making desk calendars with the artwork.  Every once in a while you can get a pretty sweet deal from places like Walgreens or Shutterfly to make photo gifts.  One of those gifts is a photo desk calendar.  Since many of the art pieces kids make in school are seasonal, they fit perfectly in a calendar.  My husband, my mom, and I all keep them on our desks at work to enjoy all year round.

Here is an example of what you can do.  This is our desk calendar with artwork from last year.

Here is an example of what you can do. This is our desk calendar with artwork from last year.

Here is how you can tie in seasonal artwork easily in a calendar.  Halloween themed items...

Here is how you can tie in seasonal artwork easily in a calendar. Halloween themed items…

4)  Keep it in a memory box.  I have a plastic file box by Rubbermaid that is my daughter’s memory box (it has the runners so you can add in hanging file folders).  In it go cards, certificates, and other precious memories like artwork or school work.  Items that are not recycled, that I or my kiddo deem special, go to live in this box.  One rule is that they have to fit!  Some of these items are also photographed and stored/shared, but some of them are not.  I have two file folders for each year of school.  One will hold cards and papers and the other is for artwork and school work.  I can tell by the amount of things I wanted to keep from this year that we will have to go back and make a purge at some point, but I just can’t do it quite yet (and we still have plenty of room for now so it’s not a big deal if we wait a little while).  We will probably go back through the folder together in a few months or a year to see what we still think is special and want to keep.   I got the idea for the memory box from Jen over at I Heart Organizing–and it has been so wonderful.  It fits perfect on the wire shelf at the top of my daughter’s closet, so it is easy to get to whenever we need to add more to the folders.

The outside of the memory box.

The outside of the memory box.

File folders inside...

File folders inside…

So far, I am pretty happy with our system.  And, I know we can still easily enjoy her creations for many, many years!  Does anyone else have any clever ways they deal with the kiddo paper clutter?

Fairy House Kids Craft

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Last year, we added a small garden to our back yard as a place for my daughter.  (More about our gardens soon!)  It has a few planters and a bunch of small resin statuary that she can play with.  After attending a Fairy event at a local forest nature center, she has been pretty keen to build a fairy house for our back yard.  I thought this small garden would be the perfect place to put a fairy house.  At the forest, they used items from nature like leaves, flowers, feathers, etc to build their fairy houses.  I knew that those items would not stand up to the strong winds that frequently blow our plastic chairs across our back yard.  Instead, I thought something a bit more sturdy would be in order, because I knew she would want to play with it more than once.  I also knew she would want to use her creativity to make the house special for her fairy friends.

We started out with an unfinished wood birdhouse from Michaels.  I used a 40% off coupon, so the house was quite nicely priced.  This house looked fun because there were multiple doors, so a few fairies could share and be neighbors.  We also decided to purchase some other unfinished wood items that were on clearance for $0.48 per bag and a few other embellishments to make it fancy that were fairly inexpensive.  All in all, these items were less than $10 total.

 

Before...

Before…

I also had a coupon for a free tester bottle of Valspar paint from Lowe’s I found in one of my magazines.  We stopped by Lowe’s and the kiddo was able to choose which paint she wanted for the project.  She chose Berry Twist.

A few weeks went by and we finally had some time to get started on the project.  The most exciting part for her was that I told her there were no rules.  She could do whatever she wanted.  She must need to hear that more often, because she was THRILLED to be able to choose her own design.  We used the other craft paints we always have on hand to add more color and details to the house.

Here she is on Day 1 of painting...

Here she is on Day 1 of painting…

We took a week or so break in between painting, and she came back to finish up the front and add the “details.”  Check out her finished project!

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Some of the little wooden pieces are loose. She wanted the fairies to be able to use them however they wanted.

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Side view #1

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Side View #2

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This is my favorite part! I love the picture she made for the back.

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She wanted to write the sign all by herself!

I am just so pleased that we decided to do this project!  She had so much fun doing it however she wanted–and I was so happy to watch her creativity at work.  Our next step is to spray it with a sealer so that it can hold up in the weather outside.  Then, we will install it in the garden!

 

Quick Tip: Top Loader Washing Machine

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Hello!  I am going to talk about something a little bit gross today, so just beware.  It has to do with my least favorite chore.  Laundry.  I think I hate laundry, because I know it never, ever ends.  Even if every single item of clothing in my house was clean and put away, the stuff we were wearing would eventually need washed too.  But, I digress.  We were having a few problems with our washing machine–everything else was working great except for two little things.  These things were such a problem, I considered buying a whole new washing machine.  The first problem really isn’t that bad, but the second is going to give you chills.

Problem #1:  A layer of light grey film on the agitator and the drum of the washing machine.  I have found that this is possibly caused by the baby oil I apply daily and that is later transferred to my bath towel which is then transferred to the inside of the machine and collects dirt from the clothes as they wash.

If you have this problem, I will offer you a simple solution.  Wipe down the agitator and drum with a dryer sheet (new or used).  This easily removes the film and seems to keep it from coming back for a while.

Problem #2:  Scrud.  I had no idea this was even a word before I started to investigate problem #2 on the internet.  We were having flakes of black coming off in every wash–they almost looked like crumbled up leaves.  According to the internet, people call this “scrud.”  And, scrud comes from your fabric softener dispenser.  The inside of the dispenser builds up gunk over time and (here is the gross part) since it doesn’t get to air out well–black mold grows inside.  Yes, my friends upon inspection of my washing machine FS dispenser, I not only found an unholy buildup of black “tar” inside the part where you pour the FS, but there was indeed black mold inside the part where the water comes out with the FS during the wash.  I WAS COMPLETELY GROSSED OUT!  There was not a chance I was going to wash any more laundry in that machine until the problem was solved.

This is the inside of a machine like mine. The dispenser sits on top of the agitator and is easily removed.

This is what the dispenser looks like when removed.

 

So, after my minor freak out, I tried to figure out how best to clean the little monster.  I tried vinegar and baking soda–a little scrud came loose, but it was still pretty gross.  I tried to fit some sort of brush or apparatus into the thing to get everything loose, but the holes on the bottom and top are not big enough to accommodate cleaning, and you can’t take the thing apart to clean it.  Even CLR didn’t work (I wouldn’t recommend trying this, it was a last ditch effort).  I knew the little monster was too far gone to save.  So, I looked into replacing the part with an online company I heard about on a YouTube video showing you how to replace the dispenser.  (Don’t bother wasting your time searching for this, because I will tell you very soon how to do it).  It was going to take  a few days to get here and would be about $20.  Not bad, but I needed it sooner.  Found it on Amazon for $12, free shipping, but not Prime so who knows when it would arrive.  Finally I searched for appliance parts stores in my area that might sell to the general public (BINGO!)  This was all a little tense as it was around 11:00 AM on a Saturday, and I had already done one load–which now would be rewashed and had about 4 more waiting in the wings.  Plus, I had no idea if a parts store would be open on Saturday.  

Eureka!  A parts store was open and had the part in stock!!!!  We zoomed over in between other errands an picked up a brand new, CLEAN, dispenser.

Some might ask, why did you bother getting a new agitator, I mean wasn’t the other one really not that bad.  Trust me folks it was beyond gross.  I shudder at the thought of it right now.  If you have a dispenser like mine, take a minute and see how much build up you have.  You might want to rush out and buy a new dispenser too.  After 12 years, ours was a science experiment gone very, very wrong.  New dispenser in hand, I raced to the basement when I got home to see if it indeed would fit our machine.  (I had already thrown out the old one.  No turning back folks).  AND IT DID FIT!!!!  Seriously, all you do is remove the old one and pop the new one in it’s place.  That is it!  I did 5 loads of laundry yesterday with NO SCRUD!

What did this peace of mind cost me?  $17 and an extra errand stop.  Totally, and completely worth it.

I also learned how to keep this from happening in the future.  First, take out the dispenser in between washes to let it air or leave the top of the washer open.  Second, about once a month put a little bit of detergent and HOT water in the dispenser.  Run it through a hot cycle to get any buildup out (I might do this and run washing machine cleaner at the same time).  Then let air dry.  We are going to give this a try.  The other option, stop using fabric softener.  I’ll keep you posted on our success.

I also found out the parts store sells dryer belts for between $15 and $30.  In a few weeks when I am SAHM, I am going to tackle our squeaky dryer.  I’ll give you an update on that too!