Envelope System of Budgeting: Refocusing and Refreshing

Back when I was a new blogger and a newlywed, I posted frequently about our budget. We got married right at the beginning of the 2008 economic downturn, and with a mortgage, car payment and a volatile job market, we got strict about living on a budget. I was laid off 4 months after our wedding from my job in marketing at an internet start-up, and while I luckily found a job again quickly, at the age of 24, B and I became acutely aware of how quickly things can change. We started living on Dave Ramsey’s envelope system of budgeting to sock away a 12 month emergency fund (because we didn’t feel 6 months was enough in the economy at the time), pay off that car loan, and save wherever we could. We did well, loved the cash budget system, and paid off our only debt other than our mortgage (that car) by age 25. Then we had kids – we bought a used family car in cash rather than taking out another loan, continued to be dutiful about saving and living well within our means, and moved forward with our financial goals – eventually for me to stay home with the kids, to buy a bigger home and to long-term provide for our family’s future needs. And in those years that I was blogging frequently about budgeting, it was a hot topic. But have you noticed that it’s kind of gone away? Blogs have turned from “DIY this! Save money!” to “Buy this amazing sofa right now!” And that’s okay, to an extent. The economy is better. But that doesn’t mean that living on a budget should go away! So, I’m bringing it back up – let’s talk about it, even if it’s not cool anymore.

 

We credit the envelope system of budgeting with where we are today. Over the last few years, we decided we didn’t really want to stick to just cash budgeting anymore. Part of it was laziness, part of it was a lack of need to account for every single purchase, part of it was just the feeling of a comfort and a better economy. We’ve usually done one or two “No Spending Months” a year to reel things in and reset when we felt like we were getting a little too spendy. We saved cash for our bathroom remodel, and are now saving cash to purchase a new vehicle (or maybe a slightly used one) to tote our soon to be family of 6 around town (and the country…because 6 plane tickets makes me think we’ll be driving to many of our vacation destinations in the future). We have good budgeting principles and do pretty well with our monthly spending – that doesn’t mean we don’t have months that get a little out of hand and we have to reel ourselves back in, but overall, we live well within our means.

 
So why go back to cash budgeting? First, no matter what situation we’re in, we spend less money when we use the cash budget and saving – no matter how good the economy is – is always a good reason to do something!  There’s that likely car purchase on the horizon (I need to install 4 carseats in my Pilot to see just how imminent that purchase is). And anytime there’s a big purchase in the future, I feel the need to really save to help offset that expense even if it’s one we plan for and can afford. But, mostly, it’s driven by teaching our kids about money. I recently read Dave Ramsey’s “Smart Money, Smart Kids” book. We’re at the age with our oldest two where we need to start teaching them about money – how to make it, how to spend it, how to save it, how to give it. B and I have slightly different philosophical opinions on allowance and kids earning money and I needed to be informed before we entered into that world – I like the idea of giving the kids an allowance because they are active participants in our household and we do things to help around the house, B prefers allowance to be tied to work performed. Dave Ramsey sides with B on that one, and while I don’t agree with everything in his book – I will NOT be paying my kids to make their beds every day, they make their beds because in this house, we make our beds! – I do see a lot of value in teaching them that money is earned, not given. As I was reading the book, I realized that I can’t ask my children to budget if we’re not actively and outwardly living on a budget either. As I thought about the relationship I want my kids to have with money, I realized we needed to model that. Nell LOVES to pay for our groceries. But paying for groceries, these days, involves me handing her our credit card to swipe (we still pay our credit card off in full every month, but she doesn’t see that side of things, she sees a piece of plastic that magically buys food!). I see how it would be so much more powerful to count out the $75 -$100 I spend each grocery store trip with her, and let her hand it over to the cashier.

 

And then there’s the fact that I’m a planner. I tend to be a bit of a worst case scenario-ist when it comes to the economy, but I’m not convinced that the current economy is here to stay. I personally believe (and have done very little research to back this up, so this is strictly my personal opinion) that low interest rates have driven home prices up and allowed people to buy more house than they can really afford. So, I’m not convinced that the strong housing market in Colorado is here to stay. There’s retirement, which we contribute to pre-tax but I think we could always pump more into. Not to mention the fact that we’ll have 4 teenagers (three of them boys) to feed one day – I told my neighbor (with two boys) a couple months ago when she was lamenting the cost of groceries and how much her boys eat, “You know it’s not going to get better, right?” She looked at me like I was crazy, and then she told me the next day, “When you said that I really had to think! You’re totally right – I will just continue to spend more on groceries. It was alarming, but a good perspective change for me.” Sports and activities are absolutely choices, but are things that we feel are healthy and important parts of kids’ childhoods, and they cost more and more the older and more competitive they get. We would love to give our kids the gift of a fully paid for (in-state) college education. B and I were both given the huge gift of graduating from college without debt. We’d love to give our kids that same gift – there will be expectations for performance and behavior attached to those gifts, but it’s something we really want to be able to do for them. We will have 16 years of college educations to pay for in the not really all that distant future – and those 16 years will be paid over 10 years due to our 2 year apart kid spacing. I googled “Colorado in-state tuition and room and board cost predictions for 2028″ the other day. Don’t do it. Or do. But, those 529s are gonna need a little more attention than we’ve currently been giving them.

 

So, we’re getting serious about the budget again. I’ve simplified the categories a bunch from when we first started this in 2009. Rather than having a category for absolutely everything, I’ve roped our spending into 6 categories: Food (groceries, eating out, any beer or wine that is purchased, etc), Household expenses (anything not food that you might buy at Costco or Target, including diapers, plus fun stuff like home decor), Pets, Gifts, Clothing for the entire family, and spending money. We will continue to pay all of our bills online via our credit card and pay that off monthly, and we pay gas via our credit cards, too. Another thing I’ve changed up is to pay ourselves first. In the past, I’ve had our budget, and whatever we had leftover was our savings. Instead, I’ve setup automatic transfers from our checking account to our savings account for a specific percentage of our income every single paycheck – and I’ve done the same with our charitable donations (church & a few non-profits we support). I think those two small changes – paying our savings first, and then paying our tithe and other donations before allotting money to spending, have me feeling the most energized. I might need to read a Dave Ramsey or other budgeting book every three months to keep me energized, but for now, I’m feeling good about getting back to our budgeting roots – so that we can raise our children to do the same!

{All the old blog posts on our budgeting adventures can be found here.}

Inspiration for the Boys’ Room

In preparation for Quattro’s arrival, we’re getting Thomas and Peter ready to share a room. Thomas is so excited about the idea of sharing a room with Peter. When reality hits, I have a feeling it’s going to be quite the adjustment. And sleep-personality wise, it probably would be a better fit to put Nell and Peter in the same room. But this is what we’re doing for now. No guarantees that it won’t change. Because I like to change things up over here, anyway. Long term, I kind of predict that Peter and Quattro (who at the rate of progress we’re making on boys’ names over here will probably end up actually being named Quattro…) will share a room, as they’ll be closer in age than Tom and Pete. But who knows. We’ll see how personalities emerge over the next few years. For the forseeable future, Tom and Pete will share Thomas’s current room.

 

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The overall feel of the room is going to stay the same – we just have to squeeze a lot more into the space and do it in a way that looks good. The boys’ rooms have always played off of each other, so moving them together will not be too tough. I still love the navy blue rugby stripe duvet cover (from Pottery Barn Kids) that we bought for Thomas when he was still an only child and his orange star sheets. Peter received a navy rugby stripe and orange star crib sheet as his “needs” for Christmas. Tom’s bed and Pete’s crib are stylistically similar (similar to the current Elliott bed and Kendall crib but purchased many years ago and no longer made by the retailers I purchased them from), so that will work well. Tom’s bed is not what I would pick if I were shopping today, and when Peter’s out of the crib I may re-think the bed situation all together, but for now, the furniture remains.

We’ll likely have to lose the bookcase that’s currently in Tom’s room. I’m okay with this. If we are able to make it work in the room, I will likely give it a little makeover to reduce the amount of dark espresso wood in the room. As I was dreaming up a plan for the boys’ room at the end of the summer, I envisioned metal beds. But, switching out the beds now isn’t practical as our bed needs will definitely evolve over the next few years – who knows how long Pete will last in the crib (but I learned after springing Nell from her crib at a little over 2 that I shouldn’t mess with a good thing, so he’ll be crib-bound as long as he stays in there safely!), and who will share which rooms long term?  So, I envision lightening the room up with a different bookcase that can double as a night table between the two beds, and adding in a mix of metal to help the room feel a little more fresh.

With the boys sharing, we’ll definitely need more storage, so I’m planning to put trunks at the end of each of their beds for their stuffies. I’d love to do some industrial-inspired wall shelves if we have room for artwork and containing the treasures of an almost 6 and 2 year old. All of the artwork in the inspiration above is already in either Tom’s or Pete’s rooms, but we’ll pull it all together for an eclectic mix that suits both of them.

So, that’s my vision for Tom and Pete’s shared room. A lot of what actually happens will depend on how things work out when we start moving things around – measurements only tell me so much, I have to play with the furniture placement before I can commit! Thomas thinks it would be best if Peter moved in when he was two (all that maturity that two brings, you know), so he’s decided that moving day will be March 6th. Nice to have a kid who plans like I do. As soon as I have the boys together, I’ll start thinking about tweaking Peter’s room for Quattro. It will stay mostly the same, but I think every baby deserves a little bit of a refresh.

2016 Resolution: Tidy Up

Last year, in 2015, I made a resolution to make my bed everyday. I figured it was something 30 year olds do, so I should comply. I also committed to improving my penmanship (check – love my handwriting now!) and painting my nails regularly (lasted 3 weeks, turns out I hated having manicured nails). But back to the bed. It took a couple weeks for the habit of getting out of bed every morning and immediately making the bed to set in, but once it did? I loved it. It’s not like I parade people through my bedroom all that often, but somehow it seemed that more often than not, I ended up taking guests upstairs to show them something and our bed was a disaster. Making my bed daily changed that – I’d happily waltz people upstairs to show them my Kon Mari’d closet or what we were planning for our upcoming renovation for our disaster of a master bathroom (afters are here if you missed them – our master bathroom remodel made this my favorite room in the house) if the topic came up.

I’ve never been a crazy messy person, but I could definitely be tidier. But this Fall, I felt like I had no control over our home’s cleanliness. I’d put things away and they’d be right back out. I’d clean the floors and Nell would spill milk everywhere at dinner that night. Right as we were starting our renovation in October, it felt even more out of control than before. And that’s partially because it was – when your house is in renovation mode, it’s hard to feel settled. I was also just emerging from the 1st trimester which kept me nauseous or exhausted most of my days. But excuses aside, our house felt chaotic and unclean. I thought it was just me, but B looked at me one night and said, “What do you think hiring someone to do a good, deep clean of our house as soon as the bathroom is done?” I said, “What do you think about reworking the budget so we can have a house cleaner once or twice a month?” We both thought it was a great idea. I started collecting names from our neighborhood Facebook page every time someone recommended their housekeeper, figuring that come January 2016, I’d be pregnant enough to justify the expense of a house cleaner.  We’d had a house cleaner before – when I went back to work after Nell was born, we hired a housekeeper to clean once a month. And can I be honest? I kind of hated it. I hated feeling like I needed to be out of my home, or out of her way, for a full morning once a month. I loved how clean my house was when she left, but I didn’t like just sitting in my house while someone cleaned around us. It just didn’t feel right to me. So, when Thomas started preschool, I let our house cleaner go in the name of the budget – but really, I just needed an out. So I had a slight hesitation about hiring a house cleaner again.

But a funny thing happened. In mid-December, our bathroom was done enough that we could move back into it. It was beautiful. I didn’t want to put anything on the counters. I removed my shampoo and soap from the shower after every shower. I wiped down the shower doors and counters daily. And the bathroom stayed tidy. Not just clean – the toilet scrubbing, floor mopping, shower and bath tub sudsing that happens once a week isn’t really that big a deal. It takes me maybe 30 minutes to clean all 3 bathrooms in our house once a week. That’s not a lot of time. It’s the tidying that made the biggest difference: Not leaving my glasses on the counters when I put my contacts in every morning, putting my hairdryer away as soon as I’m done with it.

It dawned on me as I spent the month of December putting things away in the bathroom as soon as I used them (a novel idea, I know) that if a surface is cluttered, the room overwhelms me and feels unclean. It also dawned on me that I’m good at taking on new routines in small doses. When I committed to making our bed, I did it, because it was a small thing and not overwhelming. When I KonMari’d my closet last May, I kept it up. With our bathroom shiny and new, I committed to keeping it that way, and I was doing a darn good job of it. The issue, I realized was not the physical cleanliness of our home – I actually do a good job of physically cleaning our home – it was the lack of tidiness. What I wanted in a house cleaner was a magical way to keep my entire house tidy. And a twice monthly housekeeper wasn’t the answer to that problem.  Our kitchen is the biggest culprit when it comes to my house feeling “untidy” – it’s so open to the rest of the house that the counters are an easy drop-spot for books, papers, backpacks, etc. But, because it’s open, it’s also where everyone ends up. My dear friend has a spotless house in general, but her kitchen is always immaculate and she keeps her counters clear at all times. Every time I walk into her house I feel so at ease, but somehow I couldn’t replicate that feeling in my own home. When people drop by, my kitchen is the room I feel the most need to apologize for – even though I don’t believe in apologizing for the way you live, the fact that it bothered me meant that I needed to solve the problem. I reflected and realized that if I   tackled the kitchen, the whole house would feel tidier.

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So on New Year’s Eve 2015, while B and the kids were out shopping for my birthday, I tackled the kitchen. I took everything off the counters, scrubbed them within an inch of their lives, and replaced only the necessities. I moved our onions and potatoes off the counter and to a cupboard drawer in the bay window. I moved our mixer to the cabinets, because if I only bake once or twice a month, there’s no reason for it to be out all the time. I pared down to the bare minimum on the counters – without things taking up visual space, it automatically seemed cleaner to me. I got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed the entire kitchen floor with hot water and vinegar. And then I made a promise to myself: The kitchen will stay this clean. It’s my 2016 goal.

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And do you know what? I’ve kept it clean. And not just clean, tidy. Granted, we’re only 3 weeks into the year, but my kitchen has stayed clean and tidy. Instead of leaving the breakfast dishes in the sink until I get back from school drop-off, I put them in the dishwasher immediately. If the dishwasher is clean? I empty it so I can reload it ASAP. I wipe down the counters at least twice a day, sometimes after every meal. And it’s easy – because there’s very little on them. I gave Thomas a designated spot in the office for his school work to sit when he’s not working on it so that it doesn’t sit on my kitchen counters. As I cook dinner, I rinse things and put them away. After dinner, I do a quick wipe-down of the counters, quickly swiffer the floors and run the dishwasher. My house feels clean. And with that feeling of cleanliness comes such a sense of ease. And joy.

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I realized last week that I had conquered the kitchen, so maybe I could take on more than one room a year. I mean, devoting all of 2015 to making my bed was good and I still jump out of bed every morning and make my bed even though it’s no longer 2015. But if I take on one tidy-ing chore a year until it becomes so ingrained in me that it’s natural, I’d have an all-the-time tidy house by the time my kids are out of school. In which case, most of the mess will go with them and what was the point of all this anyhow? So that’s my resolution for 2016: gradually become a tidier person. Room by room. Kitchen in January, our home office in February. I’ll keep you all posted. Now, I know this is nothing revolutionary: Put things away (where they belong) as soon as you’re done with them. But breaking it up into little pieces, giving myself permission to really handle one area at a time until it’s natural has changed my house. My kitchen sparks joy in my heart all day every day – so at this rate, I think it’s going to be a very joyful 2016.

Master Bathroom Remodel

At the end of October, we started our Master Bathroom remodel. You can see the before pictures in all their carpeted glory here. This was a complete gut job, and one we hired a contractor to complete. I knew exactly how I wanted the bathroom to look but we needed a bit of expertise on how much we could expand the shower. I handed my vision over to the company we worked with then met one of the owners at a local store the company works with where I picked tile, counter tops and finishes. Things like the bathtub were pretty easy – there were only a few tubs that would fit the footprint we needed it to fit, so we had limited options, and love the tub we ended up with. For cabinetry, I specified white, shaker-style cabinets and a cabinet between our sinks, the cabinet company sent us a mock-up, I had them add feet to it, and we were off and running. It was a pretty seamless process (to get started).

The remodel took about five weeks, plus an additional month waiting for a replacement cabinet for between our sinks to come in (though we could use our bathroom for that unforeseen extra month, so it wasn’t a huge deal). It should have taken about 2 weeks (plus another 1 -2 for the shower glass to come in), but there were a couple hiccups along the way. It all worked out in the end, and we are so thrilled with the final result. The biggest luxury we added was in-floor heat. I still brace myself every time I step foot on the tile, and then realize it’s warm and throw a little party in my head. And that freestanding tub, it’s a dream. So pretty and simple – I was a little hesitant to lose the big (eyesore) corner tub that I could easily bathe all my kids in, but this tub has plenty of room for the kids…and Quattro when he arrives. There were other things we added that just made the room. When the cabinet plans came through, I asked if we could add simple feet so that it would look more like a piece of furniture. We replaced all of the baseboards and trim in the room with simple wide trim. It’s exactly what I envision for the rest of our house – someday.  I love our concrete style tile floors. I wanted gray plank tile flooring, but I specifically wanted a more concrete looking tile, not a wood grain tile. Turns out, the wood look has saturated the flooring market and it’s really hard to find plank tiles that don’t have a wood look. It took a long time to find something that fit my vision, but when I saw this tile, I knew it was perfect. Our gray quartz counters remind me of our quartz counters in our old kitchen, though they’re a bit lighter gray and made by a different brand I can’t recall. In fact, I’m sorry to say I don’t know the brands or names of most of these things – I picked what I liked, physically handed my choices to the contractor, and they ordered them.

Enough talk, let’s just get to the pictures.

 

 

 

When B and I were shopping before we hired the contractor to get an idea of what we’d be spending on materials, I realized that B was very drawn to everything modern, and I was drawn to more traditional elements. I loved the classic, almost throw-back faucets, while B loved the ones where you could see water pouring out. I loved classic white subway tile, B loved the big modern tiles we saw. So, we compromised. We went a little bit modern, a little bit traditional. We picked a modern version of white subway tile – 4 x 12 with gray grout to make the tile really pop. Instead of a classic clawfoot tub, we went with a more modern freestanding pedestal tub that has a nod to traditional elements, but is sleek. The gray quartz counters add a more modern edge than the marble-esque quartz I also love would have. We went with classic cup pulls (from Pottery Barn) and more traditional fixtures (the Cassidy collection from Delta), but in shiny chrome. I think this bathroom was a perfect exercise in blending two preferences and coming up with a bathroom we both adore.

I added some natural texture and warmth to the room in the form woven shades, a woven waste basket and a rustic basket for holding our TP. I knew that with the gray and white room, we could easily end up with a cold feeling room. But adding the natural texture and a bit of brown helped to warm up all the cool tones.

All the hiccups that come with a project behind us, we are beyond thrilled with the result of our bathroom. It’s by far the nicest room in our house now and has me scheming big time and dreaming about things we could do to the rest of the house. Maybe someday – right now all of our extra saving will likely go to a minivan. Because, Quattro.

Master Bathroom Remodel: elfa Walk-In Closet

ELFA custom white closet

As part of our master bathroom remodel (almost done, but we’re waiting on a cabinet that needed to be re-done to come in before we can officially call it done), I worked into our budget a customized elfa closet from the Container Store (this is not a sponsored post, though that would be awesome). After elfa-ing our laundry room last year, I was sold on the efficiency that is the elfa system. My good friend works for the Container Store, and she was over one day while I was talking to her about our bathroom plans. I took her upstairs to see our closet in person – sometimes the dimensions of a room only tell you so much. She took a look at how we used our closet. I had a long hanging rod that had almost nothing on it since I fold almost all of my clothing. I had a small freestanding elfa drawer to hold my jeans and workout clothes, but it wasn’t a sufficient amount of storage and everything spilled over. B had double hanging space that was stuffed into a tiny area because our closet door opens to hide half of his side of the closet. B also has a (self-proclaimed) hat and jersey hording problem. He has jerseys and hats that he collected as a kid that he understandably doesn’t want to part with. But because he doesn’t wear them, they just took up valuable real estate in our closet before. And our lack of a system for containing that collection just looked sloppy.  Our shoe shelves were front and center when you walked into the closet, but weren’t laid out very well for our needs. So basically, we had a big closet with an awkward angled wall and no function.  In fact, before this closet re-do, I was adamant that walk-in closets were a waste of square footage.  I’m still not sure they’re not a bit of a waste of square footage, but now that our closet is functional I have a brand new appreciation for it.

So, together with my friend, we came up with a solution for our closet. Lots of drawers for me with a little bit of short hang and a small section of long hang (Colorado girls don’t need much long hang – we’re not a formal bunch!), a bit more hanging space for B but also some drawers. And lots of shelves behind the door to store things that we don’t access very often, but want to have on hand.

Here’s what we were working with before (mostly cleared out for our bathroom remodel and with a pint sized blonde running around, but you can still see the layout):

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See all of B’s hats and jersey’s up there on that top shelf?

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And here was our closet before anything was moved back in. We decided to install the closet ourselves and it took us about a day. 1/2 a day to take down the old stuff, patch and paint the whole closet bright white (what a difference truly white makes is a closet compared to the yellow-y white builders use!), and 1/2 a day to hang the new stuff.

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The great thing about elfa is that it’s changeable. So if when Quattro starts school in 5.5 years, I decide to go back to an office job (or maybe get a job at the Container Store to subsidize my elfa habit…) and my wardrobe requirements become a bit more formal, I can switch out some drawers for more hanging space. Or if we decide B needs more drawers, we can move his pant hanging space to behind the door and add another set of drawers next to his existing drawers.

custom ELFA closet with drawers

These drawers are my favorite things and probably the number one reason in my mind to go with elfa over many other closet systems. When we were interviewing bathroom contractors, one guy said “I’ll redo your closet, too. Build you some nice wood shelves.” And I said, “I’m good, I’ll wait for the elfa sale, I need drawers”. I fold the majority of my clothes (as evidenced from my tiny hanging space allotted in the photo two down), and these drawers keep everything in the closet so that I can get dressed in one spot. These have eliminated our need for a dresser in our bedroom altogether. Drawers are also the most expensive way to store your clothes, so there’s that. But in my mind, it’s worth every penny. I did tell B the other day, “If we ever DO move [NOT our plan, just talking hypothetically], we should totally take the drawers out before we list the house, replace them with hanging rods and move them with us since they’re the most expensive part of the whole system.” B politely smiled and said, “Or we could just not worry about that right now.” Probably wise, that down-to-earth husband of mine. It’s why we make a good team: his living in our current reality, and my not-so-much.

custom elfa closet with drawers and hanging space

Here’s my half of the closet. I love that it’s customized to how I keep my clothing now. And that I’m not pigeon holed into keeping this setup forever if my needs change.

ELFA closet shelves and hanging space

My friend and closet expert talked me through a couple trouble zones. Instead of giving valuable drawer space to my swim suits, for example, I bought some canvas bins to hold all of the things that we don’t access on a daily basis, but need to have nearby. The beauty of this is that it makes things easy to switch around for the seasons. I have started folding my sweaters, but there’s very little sense in devoting a whole drawer to my sweaters May – September in Colorado, so I’ll probably swap my sweaters into the bin and replace my swim suits and cover-ups in the drawer for the summer months. I have a bin for swim suits, a bin for tights, a bin for bags I’m not using at the moment. And lots of shelf space for more bins as the need arises.

organized walk-in closet with ELFA

Those same canvas bins hold B’s everyday hats, his sentimental hats and jerseys, and his logo shirts for work events (that he has to wear about once or twice a year for when he’s representing the company at an event, so didn’t need to be taking up room hanging or in a drawer he accesses daily).

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For our shoes, we decided to install elfa’s gliding shoe racks. B and I are clearly not shoe people as this is as full as they are at the moment. The shoe racks are awesome, and definitely more convenient than standard shelves that we always tended to just pile extra stuff on. I keep my heels (which I wear only for special occasions) in clear shoe boxes above my long-hang. Above the gliding shoe racks are more shelves. Here’s where I keep my bin for extra handbags and snow gear, and also where we will most likely keep out of season clothing (neatly stacked in bins of course :) ) as needed. Right now we keep our entire wardrobes in the closet year round, but this system allows us to move to a more seasonal closet if we want to.

So, that’s our closet today. We installed this system a little over a month ago and I can say with complete honesty that it has stayed this organized since the day we put everything back. I didn’t move a single thing when I took these photos (which is why my orange striped sweatshirt hanging above is out of color coordinated order!) That, in my mind, is a closet organization success.

Once again, this is in no way shape or form a sponsored post, but the elfa closet sale (30% off) is going on right now if you are in the market for an organized closet yourself. I’m trying to justify the cost of elfa-ing Thomas’s closet since he and Peter are going to share that room in a few months. But after the major spending that our bathroom and closet remodel entailed, I think I’ll just save up for next year’s sale :) . Let’s just be real about the cost: Our closet wasn’t cheap. Even with the sale it comes in at a pretty penny. To be honest I haven’t priced out other closet systems, so I have no idea how they compare.  But, even B, who I’m pretty sure just went along with this because I was so passionate about it told me that it’s been life changing. He’s also asked me if he’s allowed to actually use the shelves or if they’re just supposed to stay empty. Jury’s still out on that one.

Baby #4: Quattro

We are thrilled to announce that McKiddle #4 (whom we affectionately call Quattro) is due at the end of April.

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We used this photo to announce Quattro on Facebook and Instagram. I’m 20 weeks along, and hadn’t announced to anyone but family and close friends yet. But my creativity was tapped and I figured maybe we just wouldn’t do a big announcement. And then I remembered how well that went over in 2010 :) . So here you all go, officially announcing that our 4th (and final…for real this time!) is on the way.  Thomas and Nell are over the moon. I wish I’d filmed Thomas’s reaction when we told the kids that we were having another baby, it was just about the sweetest thing. If you ask Peter where the baby is he points to himself and shouts “BABY!”…so this should be good.  Thomas and Nell want to find out if the baby is a boy or a girl, so we’re leaning towards finding out for the first time to involve them in the pregnancy…but we’ll see. I’m on the fence about it.

 

We are set on a name for a baby girl (and despite Nell’s insistence, it’s not “Poodle”), but if you have a suggestion for a New Testament, Irish-Catholic boy Saint’s name that’s not in the top 50 (I’m leaning towards an Apostles name because it’s clearly the established theme for boys around here, but the remaining ones we like are all a little more popular than we tend to choose so we’re not sold on anything), send them my way! I’ve already combed through my dad and grandmother’s Catholic high school yearbooks since my mom calls our naming style “Old school Catholic school”, but I’m coming up empty. And, if we do find out the baby’s sex next week then maybe it won’t matter. Or maybe it will matter a ton.

Halloween 2015: The Year of the Goat on a Roof Costume

Every year so far (though I’m willing to bet this year will be the one that ends it), our kids have chosen their Halloween costume for the next year on November 1st. Last year I was on a plane on November 1st on a getaway with some girlfriends, and I got a text from B when I got off the plane that said, “Tom has picked Peyton Manning for next Halloween, Nell wants to be a Goat.” Of course. So when I got home, Nell clarified. Not just a goat. A goat on a roof. The pumpkin patch we visit every year with B’s mom has goats and a little lean-to with a ladder. We’ve seen the goats climb the ladder and stand on the roof. So, Nell wanted to be a goat on a roof. The goat I could handle – I’m a sweatsuit animal costume making pro (not really, but I can hold my own: Walrus costume, Penguin costume and skunk costume for your viewing pleasure).

The “Goat on a Roof” costume caused me some sleepless nights, but I pulled it off. Can I say? I love this girl’s mind. I love making Halloween costumes for my kids when it makes sense, and this was special: Nell had this totally out there idea, and I helped her bring it to life (with B’s help…I had her convinced that she could just be a goat and pretend to be on a roof, but B insisted that the roof needed to be a part of the costume, and so it was). I hope that she always dreams big and doesn’t care about what everyone else is doing. You do you, Nell. You do you.

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Here’s Nell’s best goat impression:

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Here’s my little goat on a roof leading her class in the school Halloween parade.

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And the boys costumes were mostly a sourcing task. Since Tom wanted to be Peyton Manning, it made Peter a shoe-in to be Eli. The Manning brothers. Perfect.

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Until last week, the actual Peyton Manning was having a kind of rough season learning his new coach’s offense. B joked with Tom that every time someone opened the door while he was trick-or-treating he should self-sack and fall over. In his trick or treating excitement, Thomas did indeed self-sack three times. But then Peyton had a great game last weekend, so all is good.

And my sweet little Eli. Peter loved Trick-or-Treating this year. He ran up to the houses and held out his little bucket of candy. Safe to say he’s a big fan of this holiday.

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Hope everyone else had a wonderful Halloween this year. I love this fun holiday with kiddos.

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Master Bathroom Reno: Before

This week we started our first big renovation at our house. The closest we’ve gotten to a big renovation before was our kitchen in our old house – I painted the cabinets, did a DIY subway tile backsplash, and we had new countertops installed. This time? Our Master Bathroom. This project is a huge one, and we’re not doing it ourselves. We know our limits – a backsplash? Yes. A small bathroom shower? Haven’t tried it, but I think I can and I will happily re-tile the kids’ bathroom shower (and am planning on doing it, their square bisque tile shower is starting to bug me more and more, but that will be awhile since our money and energy is currently focused on the Master. We can only lose one shower in our two shower house at a time!).

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We actually knew immediately after we moved in that we wouldn’t do this job ourselves. Originally we thought we’d just replace the carpet with radiant heat tile floors and that I thought we could probably do ourselves but from a time is money standpoint we could just as easily hire out, but as we lived with the bathroom for a bit, we realized there were a lot of issues that needed to be addressed. Like, apparently our shower door has been broken since before we moved in. It stopped fully closing earlier this year, so when B and I sat down to prioritize our savings for 2015, we agreed to fast track saving to gut and remodel our bathroom. We had the funds that we’d been quoted back when we got a “Let’s just see what it will cost” quote back in 2013 when we moved in by April, and then we just kind of waited. When our shower door really stopped closing this summer (like, we couldn’t even force it anymore), we decided it was time to find a contractor and get started. I knew exactly what I wanted and had the plan, I just honestly had no idea where to start. We toyed with being our own general contractor on this project, but as I had no experience with this scale of project, that didn’t seem prudent. So we interviewed lots of contractors. And very few returned calls when they promised to. And many were so slammed with work that they just weren’t taking on new projects this year. The real estate market in Denver was crazy this summer, and it appears so was the home remodeling market. After many flaky contractors paraded through our home, we ended up calling a company that B knows one of the owners of through some community work he does. I assumed they’d be way out of our price range because they build and remodel luxury homes in far fancier neighborhoods and towns than we live in. They came out and are working nicely with our budget, and actually came in at a similar number to what the contractors who had all flaked quoted us, too – and they did all the ordering and coordinating. We’re getting far nicer faucets and tile than I would have picked at Home Depot and for not much than we would have spent buying all of that on our own for the other contractors we interviewed. Lesson learned? Sometimes it pays to hire it all out.

So, our bathroom. The first thing that needed to go was the carpet. That was a given. Once we realized the shower wasn’t functional, we decided that we’d probably rather have wall tile that was “us” instead of beige builder squares circa late 90s/early 00s. So, knowing we’d replace the wall tile, we figured we’d redo the counter tops since the tile was also our counter top surface. Which just left the big corner bathtub and vanity in the space. The gargantuan tub is luxurious, but an eyesore. It’s also so big it’s hard to clean. And impossible to open the windows behind the tub. So, while we didn’t have to replace the tub like we did the shower and flooring, once we realized we were going to be doing a full scale renovation anyway, we figured it was worth it to spend a bit more and get an awesome tub that looks nice, too. I was going to reuse the vanity and just repaint it, raise it up a few inches to counter height, and build some shelves in the cutout. But when I mentioned this to the contractor we ended up going with they said, “So, how about for close to the same amount of money that it would cost to do that project, we just replace the cabinet with something you actually love?” Oh. Okay. Yes, let’s do that.

So, that’s a lot of talk to basically say, we’re starting our big bathroom renovation. Since I’ve never shown much of this room on the blog before, here are some (iphone – big camera is still broken) before pictures in all it’s carpeted, orangey-oak glory.

 

Here’s a panorama to try to give an idea of the whole space. It’s a weird room. We can’t change the actual footprint of the room much, but we can drastically improve upon the materials and appearance. You walk into the bathroom and there’s a nice linen closet on your right, double vanity past that, corner tub, and small shower, with a toilet room next to the shower. The closet is accessed through the diaganol wall to the left of the photo below, next to the toilet room. The long wall opposite the vanity has towel bars and that’s it.

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So, that’s the dated before. I’ll share photos again when the whole project is done, but I’m doing the occasional update over on Instagram (my account’s private after I got some weird comments a few months ago, but just request me and if your name is recognizable and you don’t post pictures of women’s feet, I’ll likely confirm you ;) ).

The State of the Exterior: Fall 2015

At the end of last Spring, B and I started putting a landscape plan into place for our front yard. The last time we chatted about this, the shrubs were planted in front of the garage and the perennials were in, but small. They’re still small, but I’m noticing that some of the spreading perrenials are starting to spread their root systems, so I think by next Spring (the creep year of the sleep, creep, leap pattern that B tells me plants follow when establishing their root systems) I think we’ll really start to see the fruits of our labors. Over Labor Day weekend, we took advantage of a 50% off sale at our local Tree Farm and bought the four trees that we needed for the front yard and B planted them all one morning while I was at the zoo with the kids and my brother and his kids. We needed 3 compact evergreens and an ornamental tree, and we had to stray a little bit from the designer’s specs just because of sheer size (and availability) of some of the plants, but we found some similar trees and are ready to watch things grow!

The main reason we hired the landscape designer was because we felt like we were dealing with some challenges that were beyond our skill level. Mainly, the front driveway. When we bought the house, I loved that while the garage was in the front, it didn’t absorb the entire front of the house. But, we had no living shrubs, so our whole front yard was cement, gray rock and a little grass. We needed plants and I had no idea where to begin, and I didn’t want to piece it together over the next several years.

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The shrubs we planted in front of the garage to help soften all of the gray rock and brick are growing nicely. I’m excited to see how these round out as they mature.

 

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The designer we worked with specifically chose plants that will spread and mound, helping to soften all the rock that is in front of our house because at the time I didn’t want to change the rock. I wonder if I should have nixed the rock, but we can always swap out the rock for mulch or something softer later if we think the landscape still needs it. I’m hopeful the perennials will do the trick.

planting flowers in rockbedsOur neighborhood used rockbeds to distinguish property lines when the area was being developed. This is where our neighbor’s rock bed meets our rock bed. We planted a compact Juniper tree that will grow quickly but stay relatively narrow (about 6 feet wide) to block the direct view of the neighbors house, and add some year round greenery. I think this single tree will be the biggest difference maker in our front yard as the plants and trees all mature.

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On the opposite side of the driveway, we planted three trees – two more compact junipers (these will stay even narrower than the other, growing only 2-3 feet wide, but tall) to add some year round greenery and visual height to that side of the yard, and an ornamental, flowering tree.  updating builder grade landscaping

Our Shasta Daisies love this sunny little garden spot, and the spreading perrenials are doing beautifully here. We planted the same flowers on the other side of the house in that rock bed I showed you before and they get a little more shade and aren’t quite as happy there – so we’ll see how those survive the next couple seasons.    low maintenance flowering landscape  I know it’s all still pretty small and hard to see from the street, so I’m mainly blogging about it now so that I can look back to see how they’ve grown. A growth chart of sorts for my trees and shrubs :) Since I don’t have one for my children. Expect an update next Spring ;)

Camp Baby Shower

My college roommate is expecting her first baby this Fall, and last month a group of her grilfriends, Caroline and I threw her a baby shower. Her baby’s nursery is Colorado Mountain themed, and she mentioned that if we wanted to somehow tie that into the shower she would love it, so we went with a camping themed shower. There were 8 hosts of this shower, so we pretty much divided and conquered and trusted that it would all come together. I’m not the best at letting go of the little details, but with a group this big I had no choice. And honestly? It was awesome. No stress, everyone focused on their couple tasks really well, and everything came together nicely. We hosted the shower at my mom’s house – she has a great house for parties so people can spread out, lives about 45 minutes closer to the mom-to-be and other party guests than I do and her house is pretty much setup already for a camping theme party, so it worked. I took a few pictures of the food and drink table and then I stopped. But it was cute, so I figured I’d share. Also, I broke my DSLR while we were in Hawaii, so all these pictures were taken with my aging iPhone. So, there you have it…

As for decor, Caroline and I pretty much used what we had. Between the two of us we have quite the collection of serving pieces. We used a lot of galvanized metal, wood pieces and tones and white servingware. I know that professionals like all white, but have you been camping? It’s mix and match and use what you have, so we rolled with it.

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My mom and I both have mini spruce Christmas trees in galvanized pots (both IKEA Christmas finds a few years back) that we dug out of our Christmas bins for the party and they went perfectly with the camp theme.

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Food was all divvied up and everyone did their own thing. The grandmas to be provided sandwiches and fruit, I made pigs in a blanket and provided the beverages, Caroline made a big pasta salad and we had a veggie tray.

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We used real plates and silverware. Mostly because I have an aversion to plastic flatware, but also because Caroline has lots of white plates and we liked the idea of classing camp up with real plates and utensils.

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One of the hosts took on dessert and she did it up. S’mores cupcakes topped with little hershey’s pieces and graham crackers. They were delicious. One of my most vivid memories of college with my roomie was sitting and eating chocolate covered s’mores (she worked at a chocolate shop during the summers and always brought some goodies up to school with her for our long days of Rush Camp) late at night during Rush Camp every August while we caught up on our summer antics (since I spent my college summers in Maine and these were pre-high speed internet, texting and unlimited minutes days, we had lots of crushes, romances, heartbreaks and perhaps a skinny dipping story or two we always needed to catch-up on. So it was very fitting that we had S’Mores cupcakes at Brie’s shower.

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Another one of the hosts was in charge of setting up a build-your-own trail mix bar. It was super cute. And delicious. I may have snuck a few {handfuls of} Chocolate covered raisins during the setup. camp baby shower trail mix bar

Out on Caroline’s back porch we setup the drink station with mason jars for everyone to drink out of. Water, lemonade and iced tea in drink dispensers and mimosas for the non-Mama’s to be at the shower. drink station camp baby showerSo, that was Brie’s Camping Baby Shower. She’s surrounded by a huge group of people who love her, and we’re all so excited to meet her sweet boy in just a matter of weeks.