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A Few of My Favorite Easy Organizing Tips

I had the urge this weekend to share some of my favorite easy organizing tips that have appeared on this blog.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy using them!

 

1)  A visible menu.  First, I do meal plan.  I try to plan at least 2 weeks at a time (and this dictates my grocery list).  Read more about that process here.  But, I also try and post those meal plans in the kitchen so I know what’s coming up each day and can make sure everything is ready when I get home from work to rock and roll.  I found I have saved at least 1/2 an hour each night by prepping ahead of time.  I used to have a fridge sticker with days of the week from the Martha Steward line at Staples to post our meal plan, but over time, it got to looking a little gunky and I decided to retire it in favor of something a little prettier.  I took a free printable from online and adjusted it to fit my needs.  Then, I put it inside a frame and attached a dry erase marker at the top with a velcro dot.  This little guy is on a very narrow piece of wall next to our pantry.  I like it’s placement because it cuts down on the fridge clutter and is right next to where a bunch of our meal supplies already live.  Now, I can keep track of our meals for two weeks in style!  I also love that I can erase things and move them around, because if your life is anything like mine, sometimes we have to alter plans.  I already know we have all the ingredients for everything on our chart, so making adjustments is no big deal.

Sorry for the glare!

Sorry for the glare!

2) Pantry Storage–Part 1.  Over the door storage has really helped us in our small pantry.  It corrals some of the things we use frequently and that aren’t all that easy to store on wire shelving.  On the very top of the wire shelves (not pictured here) are some cat related supplies like brushes and cat treats.  The next shelf features some rolls like foil and wax paper and  a box of zip close bags.  It’s the bottom shelf, though, that I really want to focus on.  This one handles quite a few jobs.

On the far left there are four “crystal light” or generic version containers (two behind and two in front).  The two in the back hold straws (this is so very very helpful, because they are not constantly falling over).  The two in the front hold things we are keeping for the kiddo’s school.  We found out last year that they collect pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald house, so there is one for those.  The one next to it holds all our “box tops for education” or other such things you can cut off of household items that give money back to the school.  (I tried using baggies for these, but this sounds lazy, but the opening and closing of the bags was a pain.  I like to drop them in the top of these small containers much better).  The little orange basket from Ikea holds the little bag clippies from Ikea (which are awesome!).  And, finally, a few more zip top bag boxes.  Storing them vertically saves a bunch of space and makes it easier to grab a bag when needed.  Don’t forget to use that space on the backs of doors or cabinets–it can be incredibly helpful!

Super helpful to keep things from falling all over in the pantry.

Super helpful to keep things from falling all over in the pantry.

3)  Pantry Storage–Part 2.  Labels.  To begin, I use black baskets in my pantry to store items as the wire shelving is kind of a pain in the behind.  To make sure items make it in the right place and people don’t eat food that is intended for recipes, I labeled each basket.  My previous labels were pretty specific (Rice, Pasta, Sauce or Mac & Cheese and Soup)–which honestly didn’t work all that well because there were always exceptions.  So, I decided to go the more generic route this time.  When I ran across these chalkboard stickers in the dollar aisle at Target I grabbed them without even really knowing what I wanted to use them for until I thought…hmmm…pantry labels!  I tried the chalkboard marker (also in the $1 aisle) and it was terrible.  I looked high and low for a decent one that wasn’t part of a huge set and struck out (if you know where to buy one let me know!).  Instead, I went with a silver marker I found several weeks later in the dollar bins and was finally able to complete my labels.  To make them, I took some brightly colored card stock, laminated it, and cut the corners with a corner rounder.  Then, I stuck the labels in the middle.  To attach them to the basket, I rolled a piece of duct tape to the back of the label and stuck it to the basket.  Then, I took a flat piece of duct tape and placed it over the holes to cover the duct tape roll.  I did this with the previous labels, and amazingly, it came off pretty easily when needed.

Now the labels are less specific, but still get the point across.  One row has two baskets labeled Meals (which hold items used for recipes) and one basket labeled Meal Prep (which holds items like soy sauce, marinades, cooking oil, etc.).  The shelf below holds a basket for Snacks (crackers, granola bars, etc.), Lunch (mac & cheese, soup, etc.), and Misc (drink mixes, peanut butter, jello, etc.).  So, basically, one row is off limits for general consumption and the other is fair game.  I think the labels turned out pretty cute.  Sometimes a simpler label really is better.

IMG_0912

New, simpler labels.

4)  Organizing the kiddo’s clothes.  The dresser is not large, and as she has gotten bigger, so have the size and amount of her clothes.  We don’t rotate a bunch of seasonal items in the winter, because it can be -4 degrees one week and 65 degrees the next (I thought I might be exaggerating a bit here, but it was 65 degrees one day this week and -5 the next night!), and options are important.  So, the drawers are pretty crammed.  We were running into a problem that as kiddo put her clothes away, the piles inside would get messed up and we’d need to refold half the drawer.  Ugh.  And, it was really hard to see what was really in there–which meant she probably only wore about half her wardrobe (the stuff on top).  Then, one day a light bulb went off!  I had read and seen posts about the filing system for t-shirts in drawers for adults.  You could take an entire drawer and fit it in half the space.  My thought, why not for kids too?  And, why just shirts?  I had tried a filing system for the shirts, workout pants, and pjs I kept in bins in the top of one of our closets, and it worked pretty well.  So, I was fairly confident it would work for the kid too.  We’ve lived with the filing system for a few weeks now, and it has really made some big changes.  Not only do her clothes fit much easier into the drawers, but now when we go to select clothes for the next day, she can actually see everything that is clean when she makes her decision.  And, no more messy piles!  She was a little nervous at first about being able to put everything away herself, but with a little support the first few times, she now has the hang of it.  I highly recommend trying the filing system for you or your kids.  I say “BRAVO!” to the person who originally came up with it.  Here’s a look inside to see what our system looks like.  We have a drawer for shirts; one of pants, socks, and undies; and one for pajamas–which are all labeled so she knows where to put everything away on laundry day.

Shirt drawer.  From left to write the "columns" are sweatshirts, short sleeves, and long sleeves.

Shirt drawer. From left to write the “columns” are sweatshirts, short sleeves, and long sleeves.

 

5)  No More Lost Socks! It was always seemed hit or miss that I would get socks that actually could be paired at the end of a dryer cycle.  To combat this pesky problem, I adapted a tip I saw on Pinterest (can’t remember where… Sorry!) The blog I read suggested giving each member of the family a lingerie bag to hang on the back of their door to stow their socks in after wearing.  At laundry time, the bag is zipped and thrown in the washing machine, thus keeping all the pairs neatly together.  What a fabulous idea!  I thought this was a great idea, but I am loathe to hang anything on our doors.  Instead, I attached small flatish command hooks to the back of our plastic hampers.  I simply hang a lingerie bag from the command hooks on the back–and you can’t even see it if you face the bag toward a wall!  We both know to put our socks in the bag after wearing (though sometimes I forget), and I have LOVED being able to match socks so easily.  Be sure that the socks are unrolled and flat or they won’t dry properly.

6)  Another fabulous command hook idea!  I love command hooks and use them all over our home, but our bathrooms seem to be given extra command hook love.  Towels hang off the back of a door from CH.  My necklaces and bracelets hang on the back of a cabinet door from CH.  And, in our master bathroom, our shower caddies have hung from command hooks for quite some time.   In the shower, we used to have all of our shower items on a caddy attached to the shower head—but the weight of the caddy and gravity kept causing problems with the shower head.  Then we moved all the products to little ledges built into the shower, but they were easily and frequently knocked over and shave gel containers would leave rusty marks.  Finally, I figured out I could hang shower caddies from command hooks—not just the shower head.  Duh!  I found two inexpensive caddies at Walmart and it works so much better.  My husband and I each have our own caddy, so there is enough space for both of our items without them being in the way at all.  I am thinking about doing something similar in our bathtub for my daughter’s stuff down the road.  (You can sort of see that on another wall our shower brush and a squeegee also hang from command hooks).

My shower caddy.  His is the same--and to the left of mine.

My shower caddy. His is the same–and to the left of mine.

 

There’s a few of my favorite organizing projects and tips from around the house.  What are some of your favorite easy organizing ideas?

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Audiobook Awesomeness!

I have a daily commute that isn’t long by BIG city standards, but it is longer than I have had in the past (about 30 minutes each way). And, I also spend quite a chunk of time driving around town making visits as part of my job. This adds up to quite a bit of time in the car. What this has made me aware of is how much I do not like broadcast radio. And it’s for the same reason I’m not a big fan of broadcast television–the commercials! I completely appreciate why commercials are there, but I don’t really want to listen to them.  So, what’s a girl to do?

I could stream Pandora, but that would eat up my data. I could load music onto my iPhone, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet (and I’ve had an iPod or iPhone for a large number of years). I could travel with a book of cds and jam out to my favorites from when I actually bought discs. (I did start doing this in the last week so my kiddo and I could listen to music together. Radio ads sometimes are not very kid friendly!) None of these are very appealing to me for my work hours, though.  (Total first world problem, I know).

What I have found that I absolutely love is audiobooks. The bookworm should listen to books–duh!  A few years ago, I discovered audio books. I started out borrowing books on CD from our public library–mostly fiction titles. I’d keep the large case of discs in the side pocket of my car and switch them out as needed. While fun, the options offered were limited. Then, I discovered Overdrive. Our public library has an Overdrive account, and with my library card, I can borrow an even wider selection of audiobooks! The best part–it was super simple. (Their website gives great tips on how to set this up or ask you public librarian). And the best part is that the audiobooks connect to the bluetooth in my car, and I can listen to audiobooks through the car’s speakers. I’ve sort of gotten off my fiction kick for now and have been enjoying some non-fiction titles.  Many of the books I listen to have to deal with the concepts of happiness, work/life balance, organizing, and all the things I write about on my blog. Here’s a few of my favorites from the last several months.

All of the books mentioned below are also available in print form if that is your preference!

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

Happier At Home

I just finished  listening to this book from the author of The Happiness Project (one of my favorite books!). I had the paper copy and was about part way through (a few years ago) and got too busy at the time to finish (then or since). I am so glad the audiobook version was available so I could enjoy it again and finally finish it.  What I love about her writing style is that she doesn’t force her ideas or opinions on you. She clearly says, this is what works for me, here’s what research/history tells us, now go out and figure out what works for you. I think I also really like that she sets manageable goals that revolve around a monthly theme. The organizer in me appreciates that.  And, she doesn’t pull any punches.  She explains how she sabotages herself and what she knows are not the best parts of her that she is trying to change.  A very honest and thoughtful look at to the nature of happiness.

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

This book was really interesting.  There are 168 hours in each week–and it focuses on how to make the most out of those hours by focusing on your core competencies (or the things that matter most to you).  If they aren’t part of your core competencies, then you don’t do it.  One suggestion she had was to keep track of how you spent your 168 hours and see where you were really spending your time.  That might be helpful, but the thought of doing so overwhelms me because my schedule during the day is so scattered.  While I’m not sure if I agreed with everything in here, I certainly gained some valuable insight into how we plan and maintain our schedules.  (This book is mentioned in both The Happiness Project above and Say Goodbye to Survival Mode below!)

Making Habits, Breaking Habits:  Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick  by Jeremy Dean

Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don't, and How to Make Any Change Stick

 

This book provided some really interesting ideas about habits.  He starts out by explaining how 21 day rule is a myth.  In many books and programs, they explain how you can change or add a behavior if you stick with it for a magical 21 day period.  The origin of the 21 day myth is very interesting, and that’s only the first few chapters.  He explains many studies that have been done over the years in relation to habits, and how they can help us learn how to wire our brains in such a way that we accept a new habit more easily.  This is one I think I may have to go back and either read the paper version or listen to the audiobook again to really get everything out of it.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Just to give you a heads up, Sheryl Sandberg is the COO (Chief Operating Officer) at Facebook.  This was a really interesting book to listen to.  It focused more on the role of women in leadership positions, but it also really talked about how work life balance is not really the right term for things, because there is no way to really have a balance of both.  I also found her personal history and insights quite fascinating–and would recommend the read just based on her history of being on the ground floor of both Google and Facebook.  I also really loved her idea to call herself, instead of working mom, a career loving mom.  The negative connotation is taken away with this term in her mind, and I agree.  I love my career and I love being a mom.  Very interesting read.

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode by Crystal Paine

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion for Life

I recently started following Money Saving Mom on Facebook, and I was surprised to find out that one of the audiobooks from my public library was written by this blogger, so I gave it a shot.  Survival mode is that harried, craziness that I think I’ve been living in the past month, so listening to this book the last few weeks hit at the right time.  She gives some good tips in here and again talks about that work/life balance.  She even mentions the book 168 Hours in one of the chapters!  The book was interesting enough to keep me listening, but I’m not sure if I would have made it through the print version.  P.S.  The book is narrated by the author, which I think gives it a more genuine feel.

An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff

An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny

This book gives us a glimpse into what the world would be like if we all took a moment to help one person in need–and to see how that one act can change both the giver and the recipient.  Laura almost didn’t stop to give money to an 11 year old panhandler named Maurice.  In fact, she walked right past him.  But, she stopped, turned, and decided to buy him lunch at McDonald’s.  That one act led to years of friendship and mentorship–on both sides.  Hearing their story of friendship and both of the back stories that led them there was riveting.  I was so enthralled that I spent almost an entire day listening to their story.  I highly recommend this one.

Cover Images from http://www.barnesandnoble.com

Have you read or listened to anything lately that stuck with you?

 

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Under The Sink –Rethink

Sometimes you try something and it just doesn’t work out.  The sink under the kitchen seems to be a pain for many people–and I’ve seen the pins to prove it.  A few years ago, I organized under the kitchen sink and even did a spiffing up update in January with the rest of the house.  But, something just wasn’t working right.  Somehow, piles had grown where order once was.  And, every time I reached for something under the sink, something else fell over.  I found myself getting frustrated which led to me getting lazy and stuff was just getting shoved wherever it would fit.  Not cool.  This is what it looked like this morning.

The before...  You can see how if you grab one thing another thing will for sure tumble out too.

The before… You can see how if you grab one thing another thing will for sure tumble out too.

While the above picture is not terrible, it was definitely a space that was giving me grief.  I had a plan, but I will admit that I made an organizing mistake when I was rethinking how I wanted this space to look.  I had seen how someone used stackable bins to organize their under the sink area.  I thought I might give it a shot.  While at the store, I spied a set of 3 stackable bins and knew for sure they wouldn’t stack more than two high under our sink.  But, I was ok with that.  I also knew that I should have measured my space before I went to the store (that was the mistake as you’ll see below), but I decided to wing it.  I could always take the little guys back if they didn’t fit.

It's amazing that all this stuff fit under here!  And, that most of it fit again when I put it back.

It’s amazing that all this stuff fit under here! And, that most of it fit again when I put it back.

I started out by removing everything from under the sink.  I think part of my problem was that I was collecting things under there with the “just in case” mindset–which is a definite way to build clutter and cause chaos.  After removing a few items (glass jars, old cleaners, etc.), I attempted to add the bins to the left side–no dice.  One would fit, but the garbage disposal got in the way to stack the bins.  They did fit on the right side, but the black caddy wouldn’t fit on the left.  After some thinking, I decided the caddy isn’t really necessary.  I never take these items anywhere, so they don’t need to be portable.  The caddy will get resued somewhere else–not sure where yet.  I wiped out the bottom of the cabinet, and put everything I was keeping back.  Everything we use frequently is up front in the white bins.  The other items are located behind and are still easy to access.

Here is the finished product!

So much better!  I did some cleaning in the kitchen after moving everything around and it worked great!

So much better! I did some cleaning in the kitchen after moving everything around and it worked great!

This whole process took about 20 minutes.  Sometimes a quick rethink and refresh is all something needs.  Are there any small places you have organized but have made a big impact?

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Back to School–Helpful Tools

The first week of school is behind us.  As a household with two educators and one kiddo in school, that first week can be a doozy!  Along the way, I have found a few tools that I find invaluable when getting us ready to face the first day of school and every day after that.  Some of these are new and some are old favorites.  Enjoy! (P.S. I was not paid for any of these reviews, nor given free products to review.  These are just things I happen to like).

1)  Martha Stewart Write On Washable Labels available at Staples.  I LOVE these things.  Basically, you write on them with a permanent marker, let it dry, and stick it to an article of clothing (or perhaps something else).  Then, you can wash said item of clothing and the label does not fall off or rub off!  I have been using these for a few years, and we have washed them many times without incident.  Here’s where I use them: On tags inside coats, inside the lunch bag, inside the backpack (I put it in multiple pockets), and inside of shoes (when we were at daycare).  This way if anything gets lost or someone else at school has the same thing, our items can easily be identified and make it back to us.

image courtesy of Staples

2)  Hole punch for Arc Notebook.  This is really just a way to help me keep better organized–and with all the activities and meetings we have during the school year, I need all the help I can get.  🙂  I have been eyeing the hole punch for the ARC system offered by Staples for a while.  I have both a large and small version of this disc bound system.  (If you’ve never heard of these, they are customizable notebooks and planners.  Other companies offer similar items as well).  But, the hole punch made for the ARC planners is over $40 and it is gigantic.  And, to be honest, I wasn’t going to pay that much for a hole puncher.  So, I hemmed and hawed, because I wanted to be able to put some laminated items like my daily activity log in my planner.  I almost went to Staples to see if their copy area would punch it for me.  Then, I stumbled upon this baby on Amazon.  It is made by Levenger and was $19!  Score!  (I also got free shipping, because I was on a trial with Amazon Prime).  It is a portable disc bound notebook punch.  It only does a few sheets at a time, but it handled my one laminated sheet like a champ.  Since the larger punch only does 8 sheets at a time, I didn’t really think I was losing out on much.  You can also lock certain parts of the punch to make it work for the smaller notebooks.  Loving it so far, and it fits easily in my work bag.

 

image courtesy of levenger.com

 

3) To pack lunches, we like to use reusable divided containers.  This way certain foods don’t touch and we aren’t using a bunch of containers or sandwich bags to store everything.  I did learn last year that cleaning them in the dishwasher all the time leads to some troubles with the plastic getting brittle.  This year, I will be hand washing them instead to hopefully help them last longer.  And, the kiddo is packing her own lunches this year!  This little guy seems to help her keep everything sorted.

 

image courtesy of rubbermaid.com This is the divided rectangle–which we are using right now. We’ve also used an off brand and the Ziploc version as well.

 

What are some of the tools you use to get your school year off to a good start?

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Simple Kitchen Organization Tips

Sometimes simple really is better.  Here are a few quick tips for kitchen organization I picked up along the way or that I stumbled upon on my own.  Each of these tips has made organizing one small part of my life in the kitchen a bit simpler and made it easier to put things where they belong.

1)  Clean/Dirty Magnet.  I remember my grandmother having one of these when I was a kid made out of wood that stuck to her olive green and harvest gold dishwasher.  It was a bit clunky, but you knew for sure that it would stick, because you could not mistake the outside of the dishwasher for anything but metal.  I always thought one of these might be helpful (since at times dishes get piled on the counter or in the sink when other family members are not sure), but I had convinced myself that the outside of our dishwasher would not hold a magnet.  I’m not sure why.  So ,when I saw this quick tip on the YouTube channel “Do It on a Dime”, I thought, let’s give it a shot.  And, guess what!  Magnets do stick to our dishwasher.  Here’s hoow to make your own Clean/Dirty magnet.  Start with a freebie flat magnet like businesses sometimes give away.  If you have a label maker, all you do is simply print out one strip that says “Clean” and one that says “Dirty”–I added designs, because, why not?  Then, just cut down the magnet to fit your strips!

This is actually pretty small in size, so it isn't obtrusive--just big enough to do the job.

This is actually pretty small in size, so it isn’t obtrusive–just big enough to do the job.

2) Pantry Storage–Part 1.  Over the door storage has really helped us in our small pantry.  It corrals some of the things we use frequently and that aren’t all that easy to store on wire shelving.  On the very top of the wire shelves (not pictured here) are some cat related supplies like brushes and cat treats.  The next shelf features some rolls like foil and wax paper and  a box of zip close bags.  It’s the bottom shelf, though, that I really want to focus on.  This one handles quite a few jobs.

On the far left there are four “crystal light” or generic version containers (two behind and two in front).  The two in the back hold straws (this is so very very helpful, because they are not constantly falling over).  The two in the front hold things we are keeping for the kiddo’s school.  We found out last year that they collect pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald house, so there is one for those.  The one next to it holds all our “box tops for education” or other such things you can cut off of household items that give money back to the school.  (I tried using baggies for these, but this sounds lazy, but the opening and closing of the bags was a pain.  I like to drop them in the top of these small containers much better).  The little orange basket from Ikea holds the little bag clippies from Ikea (which are awesome!).  And, finally, a few more zip top bag boxes.  Storing them vertically saves a bunch of space and makes it easier to grab a bag when needed.

Super helpful to keep things from falling all over in the pantry.

Super helpful to keep things from falling all over in the pantry.

3)  Pantry Storage–Part 2.  Labels.  To begin, I use black baskets in my pantry to store items as the wire shelving is kind of a pain in the behind.  To make sure items make it in the right place and people don’t eat food that is intended for recipes, I labeled each basket.  My previous labels were pretty specific (Rice, Pasta, Sauce or Mac & Cheese and Soup)–which honestly didn’t work all that well because there were always exceptions.  So, I decided to go the more generic route this time.  When I ran across these chalkboard stickers in the dollar aisle at Target I grabbed them without even really knowing what I wanted to use them for until I thought…hmmm…pantry labels!  I tried the chalkboard marker (also in the $1 aisle) and it was terrible.  I looked high and low for a decent one that wasn’t part of a huge set and struck out (if you know where to buy one let me know!).  Instead, I went with a silver marker I found several weeks later in the dollar bins and was finally able to complete my labels.  To make them, I took some brightly colored card stock, laminated it, and cut the corners with a corner rounder.  Then, I stuck the labels in the middle.  To attach them to the basket, I rolled a piece of duct tape to the back of the label and stuck it to the basket.  Then, I took a flat piece of duct tape and placed it over the holes to cover the duct tape roll.  I did this with the previous labels, and amazingly, it came off pretty easily when needed.

Now the labels are less specific, but still get the point across.  One row has two baskets labeled Meals (which hold items used for recipes) and one basket labeled Meal Prep (which holds items like soy sauce, marinades, cooking oil, etc.).  The shelf below holds a basket for Snacks (crackers, granola bars, etc.), Lunch (mac & cheese, soup, etc.), and Misc (drink mixes, peanut butter, jello, etc.).  So, basically, one row is off limits for general consumption and the other is fair game.  I think the labels turned out pretty cute.  Sometimes a simpler label really is better.

IMG_0912

New, simpler labels.

New, simpler labels.

4)  Olive Oil Dispenser for Dish Soap.  Ok, so I’ve seen quite a few times on Pinterest.  I chose to try this because it would look pretty and take up less space on my sink top.  Overall, I do like the effect, but I notice that the metal top oxidizes quite frequently.  If anyone has any tips or ideas on how to handle that (for right now, I just rub off the rust every now and again), pass it along!  I’m wondering if maybe something with a plastic top would be better…

I really, really want to love this!

I really, really want to love this!

What quick tips do you have for organizing your kitchen?

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

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.

 

 

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Habits and Charts

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?

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Quick Tip–Paper Shredding

 

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?

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Getting Ready for Summer!-Routines and Schedules

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?

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How to Manage the Kids Paper Avalanche

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?

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