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Simple Changes = Independence and Responsibility for our Pre-Schooler

My little pre-schooler has always been fiercely independent.  Since she was a baby, she has wanted to do things herself.  She would let you demonstrate something for her to copy, but she didn’t want you holding her hands to do it.  The other night she let me know she didn’t want the “little” (toddler) forks anymore.  She wanted to use the big forks.  This and many other small instances led me to make a few small organizational changes in our house to help her be a little more independent.

Kitchen:  I saw on http://www.iheartorganizing.blogspot.com/ a post from Jen about making a kiddie cabinet.  At the time, I didn’t pay it much thought, but with her growing independence streak, I thought my daughter would benefit from a cabinet of her own where she could get to her dishes and cups.  I switched the contents of a low cabinet with her dishes and voila!  Instant kiddie cabinet.  It has worked out really well so far.  She can now get a drink on her own if she wants one (we have a Britta water bin in the fridge) and pick out her plate for meals.  And, I no longer need to bend down and search for my veggie steamer or colanders.

Bedroom:  We have a tall four drawer dresser for my kiddo’s clothes.  Previously, the bottom drawer was used for items of clothing that were seasonal, hats, back packs, etc.  The top drawer held her pajamas and underthings.  Again, I just switched the contents of her drawers.  Super easy!  She thought I was a little crazy at the time, but it has worked out well.  She even had to tell her grandma that “Sometimes mom comes in and moves things around in my room and organizes stuff.”  So funny, but so true!

With our bedroom and kitchen independence makeovers, I thought it might be good to give kiddo her own set of “chores” to do to give her a sense of responsibility as well.  She now has a few simple items to do each day or as needed.

1)  Put away her clean dishes when I empty the dishwasher.

2)  Put away her clean clothes after the laundry is folded.

3)  Every night, she uses our stick vac to vacuum under and around the table.

4)  Each night, she gets to pick out her own pajamas and her clothes for the next day (with a little guidance in regards to weather and planned activities).

So far everything is working well.  I am excited for these changes and so is she.  As she gets a little older, we will continue to add on a few chores here and there.  I think it’s good to have her help out around the house, plus she gets such a sense of pride from doing so.  Two simple changes led to good feelings all around.

***UPDATE***

To help kiddo put her clothes away on her own, I created labels for her dresser (see Label Love post).  We are also working on making labels for her toy bins to help during clean-up time. So far, they are working very well!

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Cleaning Routine–A Work in Progress

After many years, well my lifetime really, I have discovered that I work best when I have a set schedule for tasks and when I work off of lists.  Otherwise, I tend to get distracted by some other pressing matter that comes up in the middle of what I was intending to get done.  Or, if it is not written down, I will forget it and kick myself later for forgetting that same something five or six times.  Most of my issues come down to being a little overextended—working full-time, plus being professionally active in groups, being mom and wife and daughter, etc.

When I designed my lovely new planner (which I still love, I just need to get back into the task of using it properly), I wanted to include my cleaning schedule.  To say I was overly ambitious is a bit of an understatement.  I didn’t want to leave anything out that I wanted accomplished on a frequent basis—if it’s not on the list, it would probably slip my mind.  I also tried to work out a schedule that seemed reasonable to me.  I broke it down into weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly tasks.  I also had a list of daily tasks I wanted to accomplish at work and home.  Unfortunately, my plan is not working quite the way I wanted it to.  The lists are too daunting…too overwhelming.  Plus, I ended up doing all of my cleaning on Saturdays and Sundays which really ruined my weekends and important time with my family.  My list in all its glory made me feel guilty when I didn’t do what I was supposed to do when I was supposed to do it.  As a result, that page in my planner has not been used in weeks.  It’s just too much pressure.

But, I still want a manageable cleaning schedule that helps me make sure I get done everything I want to get done.  So, what do I do now?  Well, I surfed through organization and cleaning blogs, mostly through recommendations from Pinterest or links from other blogs.  Here’s what I’ve learned.

  • It is better to do a little bit every day (15-20 minutes seems to be the time frame to shoot for according to many bloggers).
  • Start with a house that is actually CLEAN!  You cannot do a short system each day if you are starting with a messy or unorganized house.
  • Include some easy (& necessary) daily tasks for the morning and or evening.
  • Have a set task for each day of the week.  On Mondays, you shall do thus and such for your 15 minutes.
  • If it doesn’t get done today or this week, it’s not the end of the world.  Just move it to tomorrow or next week.  LET IT GO!  Move on.  Focus on life, not the vacuuming.
  • What works for you, may not work for me, but I can always tweak it a bit to fit my needs.

Here are the two places I used most to set up my new attempt at a cleaning routine:

Jenny Komenda’s Little Green Notebook blog—specifically http://littlegreennotebook.blogspot.com/2012/03/my-cleaning-process-and-500-give-away.html  and Organizing Made Fun—specifically http://organizingmadefun.blogspot.com/2010/11/15-minutes-of-cleaning-how-to-have-fake.html

MORNING

  • Exercise
  • Cat box
  • Make Beds
  • Vitamins

NIGHT

  • Food Journal (for next day)
  • Prep for tomorrow (lunch/clothes/bags)
  • Wipe down Kitchen Counters
  • Quick sweep or vacuum the kitchen
  • Basket of misplaced items (collect items from around the house and put them where they belong)
  • Chore of the Day

**Dishes are done as needed.

CHORE OF THE DAY

Monday:              Empty Wastebaskets, Trash, and Recycling

Tuesday:              Clean mirrors, bathroom sinks, toilets

Wednesday:      Meal Planning/Ads

Thursday:            Vacuum & Dust

Friday:                  Clean Microwave & Sink

Saturday:             Swing day & Water Plant

Sunday:                                Laundry (if not done earlier)

SWING DAY

1st Week    Clean Fridge & Oven Mat    (Wash Duvets & Comforters)

2nd Week   Clean Shower/Tub    (Change Sheets)

3rd Week    Mop Floors                   (Wash Rugs)

4th Week    Vacuum Furniture    (Change Sheets)

**Pillow cases get changed every week

I am going to try this for a few months.  Looking over it, I already have a bit of anxiety, but I think it is a little easier layout than what I had before, but still gets everything done I wanted to get done.  I just need to put it into a word table to include in my planner.  Though, I think I will hold off on laminating it just yet.  My cleaning routine is going to continue to be a work in progress.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes soon.

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How We Saved our Baby Clothes

This quilt contains special items like the outfit she came home from the hospital in, her first Halloween costume, and clothing bought by people we love.

From the start, I knew I didn’t want to keep baby clothes hanging around our house.  Once my daughter outgrows something, we give it to friends or to charity.  We just don’t have the space to hang onto them.  I figured if we were ever to have another kid, there is no guarantee of gender or month of birth.  Instead, I take pictures of her in outfits I really love to put in her photo books, and I kept a few sentimental pieces of her baby clothing.

I really wanted to do something special with those few items I kept, and I had heard of turning the clothing into a memory quilt.  I am not a person who sews (though I am finally trying to learn how to use my sewing machine).  And I am for sure not talented enough or have enough patience to quilt.  So, I solicited help from my sister-in-law’s mother–who is a master quilter.  This is what she made for us.  It is AMAZING!

It is a quilt that turns into a pillow.  I never would have been able to accomplish this feat on my own, and I am so grateful someone else has skills I do not possess.  There are even some clothing areas with buttons or snaps for my daughter to play with now. She really enjoys hearing about why each fabric is special.  Each square reminds us of when she was little and makes us smile.  We love it!

Step One for turning into a pillow...

Step two for turning into a pillow...

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I LOVE Command Hooks

If you have never used command hooks, I highly recommend them.  They are one of the most versatile organizational tools on the market.  They come in a variety of colors, sizes, and styles.  They adhere to many different surfaces and come away cleanly.  (At least in my experience).  They have even come out with command strips to use to hang flat objects on the walls.  Here are the many ways we use command hooks in our home:

1)  Jewelry organizer.  After unsuccessfully searching for some sort of organizational system for my jewelry (I really don’t have that much), I realized it would cost just as much to buy a key ring (a tip I found on another organizational site) to mount inside my bathroom cabinet as it would to use a set of command hooks.  Plus, no drilling with these guys!  Works perfectly.  Another command hook is hanging behind the hand towel in the bathroom to hold my watch and most often worn necklace.  This was my first use as a jewelry hook.  After a few breaks in the chain, I realized I could not wear my necklace 24-7 and needed somewhere to hang it so it would not get tangled.  Plus, my watch is in the same place every morning.  Works like a charm, and you can’t even really see it.

2)  Towel hangers.  I found that command hooks were also less expensive than getting a new over the door towel holder for my bathroom.  And, I could pick exactly how many hooks I wanted and how far to space them apart–with no damage to the door.  It seems like we use command hooks for all kinds of bathroom helpers.  Just see items 1, 2, and 3!

3)  Shower helper.  We used to have one of those basket things that hang over our shower head in our bathroom.  Trouble was it kept sliding down.  So we replaced it.  And after a while, that one kept sliding down.  Not only annoying, but bad for the shower head.  In a fit of inspiration, I decided to hang our shower scrubbies, back brush, and squeegee from command hooks up high on the shower wall opposite the shower head.  We also now keep our razors in a sponge holder originally intended for a kitchen sink.  Surprisingly, the command hooks have stayed attached for about a year thus far!

This has worked wonderfully for us. I still cannot believe they have stayed in place this long with all of the humidity and moisture.

4) Artwork in my daughter’s bedroom.  I painted letters to hang on the wall of my daughter’s room.  Each wooden letter came with two pre-drilled holes to use as hangers.  Rather than go to the trouble of measuring and leveling and probably swearing, we decided to use command strips to hang them.  SO MUCH EASIER!  We just used the extra strips that came with one of our sets of command hooks.  (This was before they came out with strips made especially for this purpose).  I placed them close enough to the edge that they didn’t show, but I could lift the letter and get a grip on the tab to pull it away from the wall.  I’m hoping removal will be clean.

5)  Hanging seasonal decor on our interior (or you could do exterior) doors.  I wanted to be able to place cute seasonal wreaths and other wall decor on some of our interior doors.  Rather than using a wreath holder (which I thought hung the item too high), I used a command hook.  The white blends in nicely with the white wood on our doors.  You could go with the fancier metal finish hooks if you would like, though…

6)  Hanging kid items around the house.  We have a command hook hanging on the side of my daughter’s play kitchen to hold her mini potholders and apron.  She also has one in her bedroom to hold her robe at a kid friendly level on her wall.  I love that we can move them as she gets taller without much muss or fuss.

7)  I use these lovely darlings at school too.  It is great because I don’t have to worry about making holes, paint peeling from the walls, or pulling the finish off of the circulation desk that has been in the library since the late 60’s.

One last quick tip in hanging items at school or at home–use painter’s tape!  Pulls away cleanly from the wall and is great for things that are really and truly just temporary.  You can get different strengths of the tape depending on size and material of your item.  We use this ALL THE TIME at school to hang student work or posters.  At home, we display kiddo artwork and crafts around her room–which makes it easy to change location or art piece whenever we want.

Once again, I was not solicited or paid for my opinions here.  I am just a fan.

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Meal Planning Means More Family Time

This is the meal planner that hangs on our fridge. I picked it up in the dollar bin at Target. Instead of groceries on the one side, I list all of the meals planned. As you can see changes are made. After a yucky Friday, we opted for pizza. Sometimes the meals move around in the week, but I know I have everything I need for each one on hand.

When I first started doing my own grocery shopping and after I first was married, I had a very haphazard style of shopping.  I loathed the grocery store—mostly I think because I would wander around without much of a plan picking things that were easy or on sale which usually meant me spending way more time there than necessary.  We ate out more than we do now and meals could be thrown together on the fly pretty easily.  My recipe arsenal was not very big, and we frequently had the same dishes on a pretty regular basis.

When our daughter came along, I still didn’t make any major changes to our eating lifestyle.  But, when she started eating what we ate, I became much more conscious of what we were putting into our bodies and what would be healthiest for all of us.  But, that meant pre-planning menus was essential.  Like with most new tactics in my life, I started out making a somewhat big change.  I started planning meals prior to going grocery shopping.  Not a new concept for most people, but it was new for me.  Knowing what I needed at the store made it so much easier.  I just wanted to smack my former self for not figuring this out sooner.  No more stressful, hours long trips to the grocery store—and I had everything I needed at home to make the meals.

A few months later I added another level to my pre-planning.  I started watching the ads for what was on sale and clipping coupons for what we used on a regular basis.  My meal planning is not based solely on what is on sale in the ads, but I do add a few meals here and there based on what I find.  I also realized that planning for an entire month is not possible for us.  We like to use a lot of fresh produce in our meals, and buying that far in advance is a waste of money.  So, now I plan two weeks at a time.  That means only two major grocery shopping trips a month—with the occasional quick trip thrown in every once in a while.  Yeah!

I made my newest step at the start of the year.  I used to post a list of the 14 or so possible meals on the fridge, and we would just pick one when I got home.  This method worked, but it was not the best use of my at home time.  As a working mom, I find my time at home with my little one to be very valuable, and I don’t want to spend all of it making dinner.  So, the next logical step—and one that many organization and mommy experts suggest—is to plan out the week in advance.  Decide what you want to have every night of the week.  Then, be prepared prior to the night you are going to cook the meal.  Set out items to thaw, pre-cook or pre-chop what you can, select meals based on your schedule for the evening…

I have found this to be an amazing time saver on weeknights.  My protein is already prepared or thawed, and usually it only takes about 15-20 minutes to whip everything else together.  The downside is that I spend a few hours on Sunday being a prep-cook getting ready for the week.  I really don’t mind getting things done ahead as the reward during the week of spending time with my daughter is completely worth it.  Plus, she is usually able to keep me company by hanging out in our kitchen and playing while I did it.  A total win-win.

The steps in my meal prep:

1)      Come up with 10 or so ideas for meals—some fast and easy and a few more involved.  I recycle our favorites every few weeks, but I always try to add one or two new ones to the mix to try out.  I find I get bored cooking the same thing too often.  Plus, it is a good thing to model to our daughter that we like trying new things.

2)      Look for ingredients for my recipes.  First, see what I already have on hand.  Then, check through the weekly ads to see what is on sale and what I have coupons for.  Write down what items I need to buy in my planner including store sales and coupons.  Add a few meals to the list based on sales for the week.  (Buy ahead any items that are on sale, but I know I use frequently for a variety of recipes—like boneless skinless chicken breasts or frozen vegetables)

3)      Go to the store (usually a Saturday morning phenomenon).

4)      Prep for the week (usually a Sunday phenomenon).  Cook meat needed for the week, freezing some if needed.  Chop any items for recipes.  Also, wash and bag any produce for snacks for easy retrieval from the fridge.  I have found that if I wash and individually bag produce and other items soon after I buy them that we are much more likely to reach for the healthy snack.  I also bag ahead so that it is easier to pack lunches for the week.  It is much easier to get my lunch packed every day if they are ready to get stuffed in my bag the night before.

5)      Relax and enjoy the extra time with my family.

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