Organization: Family Calendar

I am not a naturally organized person. I am not a person who craves order. I wish I were, but I’m not. With that said, with five people in this house, I’m striving for organization more. I’ve always been good at getting rid of things, but the things we need to keep, I need to develop a system for. Luckily for me, my good friend and neighbor is a naturally organized person…so I just steal her ideas and tweak them until they work for me. First up: the family calendar.

Last summer, I missed a couple of events or overbooked our lives because we didn’t have a family calendar that was visible. I’d plan something with a friend to find out B had a board meeting that night. Or I’d forget about a preschool birthday party and commit to family dinner plans. I’ve always kept a planner with a calendar, but it wasn’t accessible to everyone and it made double booking things – or forgetting to check the calendar – too easy. So, I turned to my friend. She had a pottery barn calendar and organizational system on a giant wall in her mudroom. We don’t have a giant wall. Or really a mudroom. But, I took her system and tweaked it to work for us. And it’s been great…as long as I write things down.

family organization

Off of our kitchen is a hallway that leads to the garage with doors to our basement, dining room and laundry room off of it – please excuse the garage sale staging area that my dining room is becoming (on the left). I have a bulletin board for the kids’ artwork and projects on the biggest wall, but the spot next to the door to the garage was big enough for a small scale calendar system.

dry erase calendar

I bought a small calendar at Target for less than $15. I think it was $12.99. I bought two sets of dry erase markers so that every member of our family could have their own color (I really need to find ultra fine point markers in other colors because those are my favorite – but the purple and orange medium point will have to do until I find those). The last day of every month, I clean off the calendar and write everything from my paper planner on the board. After that, any appointments get written on the board – it is the authority once the month is going. For appointments or commitments a month or more out, my paper planner is the authority – I keep it on the kitchen counter most of the time and just update it as things come up. B and I sit down once a week and mark out his travel, late meetings, etc for the next month(s) so that we know what we’re up against. And then, at the end of the month, I transfer it all to the big calendar that everyone can see.


I store all the dry erase markers in the newly organized laundry room, which is one arm’s reach away from the calendar but keeps all the markers in one spot.

dry erase marker storage

This solution is hardly new or innovative, but it has made a world of difference in our lives and it took me until I had 3 kids and had been married 6 years to put into place, so now that it’s been working for us for about 6 months, I figured I’d share. Thomas loves reading what we’re doing (which means I have to write in code sometimes now that we have a reader since last week he said, “You’re taking us to the Rockies game on the 12th?!” spoiling the opening weekend tickets surprise B and I had planned for the family), B can quickly glance at the calendar when he’s wanting to schedule a golf game or beers with a friend, and I can easily tell when we have too much going on in one weekend and need to say “Thanks but no thanks” to other commitments.

Play Kitchen Food and Accessory Storage

how to store play kitchen food

A year ago, Santa brought Nell a play kitchen for Christmas. We specifically asked him to bring a play kitchen that wasn’t pink and plastic because, regardless of whom a toy is brought for, everyone gets to play with toys in our house so we wanted something “gender neutral”. Santa picked the Kidkraft Uptown Espresso kitchen…I’m assuming he knew that primary colors were probably not my thing either :) . Anyway, the kitchen is awesome. Nell got a couple sets of play food along with her kitchen and some pots and pans, and then we asked family who wanted gift ideas to get her some more play food for her 2nd birthday last June. For Christmas this year, B and I gave Nell a set of play kitchen small appliances, and she also got lots of baby doll feeding accessories that we play with at the kitchen. We don’t have a ton as far as play food goes, and I know our collection will grow over the years, but a year in, I’ve found a system that works for us for organizing the stuff, and I wanted to share it with you.

I had no clue how to organize the play food at first – just kept everything in the container it came in and put it in the fridge. That only worked until she got more food and dishes and the little appliances we gave her this year for Christmas. So here’s what I’ve come up with and what has been working for us. First of all, I’m picky about play kitchen food…mostly because I love it, and I like playing with it with the kids. Nell has a little shopping cart that came from Target and all the food in it was dinky. So eventually, I just donated it all – we had a lot of repeats of certain foods that I liked better. I love the Learning Resources play food (we have this Healthy Dinner Basket and the Farmer’s Market Set – which my kids use to both play grocery store and “Church” since the baskets apparently remind them of the offertory baskets at Church…) as well as Melissa and Doug food – the slice and bake cookies are such a hit with Miss Nell she often sleeps with them. I have my eyes on a few other sets for upcoming birthdays, including this Pizza set and this Ice Cream set (mostly because I had a play food ice cream set growing up and it was my very favorite…told you, I love the play food just as much as the kids).

As for storing the food, all produce and food is stored fridge or freezer of the play kitchen. Anything that doesn’t fit gets stored in the toy cabinet for rotation. For now, all of our food fits into the shopping basket that came with the Learning Resources Healthy Dinner basket, but as our food collection grows, we may have to find different containers that rotate. All the produce that goes in the Farmer’s Market baskets fits in the shopping basket – for 6 months I resorted all the food every night, and then I decided that it was going to get dumped out anyway, so might as well just embrace it.


Santa brought Nell a Bitty Baby for Christmas, and for now, all of her accessories fit in a small target container that are stored in the freezer. As her doll accessories and collection grows, I can foresee needing a different solution for that, but for now, this works. Nell is my organizational girl, when I gave her the tub she said, “For me? Oh fank you mama! I just yove it.” No sweat, kiddo. No sweat. She loves having her own container that’s just for her baby stuff. I foresee arguments over who gets to use the label maker in our future…


Back to food: Anything that would get cooked in the oven, including baking sheets, is stored in the oven. Pretty self explanatory, no clue why it took me a year to get here.


Dishes, pots and pans and small appliances are stored in the dishwasher in tubs I picked up at Target…they fit perfectly in the dishwasher of the kitchen. They do have lids, but I just store those in the toy cabinet because I find that things are more likely to get put away without the lids on, and these items are big enough I’m not worried about them walking away.



And that’s that. It works great for us so far, and has a little bit of room to accommodate more. Nell and Thomas love to play together at the play kitchen. And Peter likes to be wherever Tom and Nell are.



Laundry Room turned Mudroom

mini mudroom makeover

When we moved into our house a year and a half ago, I was so excited to have a bigger laundry room than I’d had in our old house (which was a closet). But a couple weeks into living here, we realized the long, narrow space was completely dysfunctional for a family of 4 – which quickly became 5. So I quickly developed a plan in my head for how we could make this room – the first stop as you walk into our house from our garage – functional for our family. Which meant it needed a good place to hang coats, a place to put shoes, and lots of storage for all of the stuff that we need at the ready as we leave and enter the house.

We’re working with a very narrow, builder basic laundry room – spots for a washer and dryer on the right next to a blank space, and a builder grade wire shelf on the opposite wall. In theory, this is all you would need in a laundry room. The problem? When you hung something on the shelf, the hangers stuck out an extra 10 inches…and we didn’t have 10 inches to spare in this room. Here are the legitimate, I didn’t clean up at all befores. I’m embarrassed about how messy these are, except that there wasn’t much better of a solution.


You can see that this is our dumping ground room. Nothing had a specific place and it was a madhouse. IMG_4809

My plan was always to remove the shelf and do hooks for coats and bags – far more functional for our family than a long rack for hangers. And you know I love hooks.  Then I decided that we needed all the vertical storage we could get, so I wanted a wooden shelf, but I knew it would be better if we raised it up almost a foot so that it didn’t hit you at eye level as you walked into the room.  So, I drew up a plan in my head for the shelf side of the room, but I was struggling with the washer and dryer side, so we didn’t do anything for awhile. But then I realized that I could customize an Elfa setup from the Container Store and get exactly what I needed – vertical storage, and drawers for stuff.  I knew exactly what I needed, so I just took my drawn out plan into the Container Store and they plugged it into their software so that we could make sure it would work, and I was on my way.

And then I told B he had bought me Elfa for Christmas and was also going to construct a mudroom for me for Christmas. I’m pretty sure he was hoping I wanted something he could order from Amazon, but he humored me, and in the end, he’s so proud of his work I might be able to convince him we should put Elfa and moulding everywhere.


Let’s start with the laundry side of the room. I specifically chose the wall mounted elfa so that I could store Casco’s food and a laundry basket for main floor laundry under the system. Casco’s food used to be on the opposite wall, and it took up too much space. This is absolutely perfect. The three drawers currently house cleaning supplies, mittens and gloves and snow pants. But I imagine going forward that each kiddo will have a drawer for their sports gear.




This has changed the way we use this room. The mess is contained because there is so much storage. A place for everything, and using that vertical space. I love it.

Now, the mudroom portion. B did everything – found a couple “shelf without brackets” tutorials online and told him how I wanted it to look, and he took care of the rest. The white woodwork and higher shelf make the room feel so much bigger – I’m obsessed.


I recovered the cushion of our existing little shoe bench with some leftover fabric from Nell’s room.


We installed 7 hooks. And no, mom, there extra two hooks don’t mean anything other than that I wanted as many hooks as possible for maximum functionality.


So that’s our little laundry room turned mudroom. I’ve never enjoyed laundry so much. Also, I love that there is no excuse for backpacks to be strewn about the floor anymore. All that’s left for this room is changing out the fluorescent light and figuring out a window treatment.  What do you think?

Organizing Kids Art and Craft Supplies

A little over a week ago I declared our house an organizational nightmare. And this was after I spent all of January organizing crap. I’m choosing to believe that this is nesting, but in reality, it was probably that I couldn’t find my favorite scarf – my go-to pregnancy accessory – and noticed a week’s worth of laundry had piled up. So on a Friday afternoon, I handled the laundry problem and found my scarf. On Saturday morning, B took both kids to the grocery store and I stayed home and cleaned the kitchen (so we could have a clean kitchen to fill with food) and then started tackling the playroom organization, making a list of everything that needed its own container since the bins I’ve been using aren’t handling the situation. And the art supplies were at the top of the not working list.


For Christmas, we replenished both kids’ art supplies for their “needs” category of our gift giving. Thomas is not at all detail oriented or artsy – speeds through his coloring assignments like it’s nobody’s business. He is definitely my kid in this regard: I have vivid memories of my 2nd grade teacher laughing when I turned in a coloring sheet before anyone else so I could go out to recess. She told me it would be okay if I wanted to use more than one color and stay in the lines. Meh. So, Thomas needed scissors, glue sticks, fine tip markers, etc to practice those every-so important fine motor skills and arts and crafts that he naturally does not come by. And Nell lives for anything arts and crafty (definitely not my kid in that regard, but definitely my mom’s grandchild and my sister’s niece), and since we’ve already established that her mother does not, we were lacking in the appropriate for toddlers art department over here. So that was an easy need to fulfill for Christmas this year.

  art supply box

What was not so easy, was organizing all that crap. I’ve had their art supplies sitting in a massive bin since Christmas, and it’s an organizational nightmare. Digging around to find the right markers, scissors, etc…not my thing, and therefore, we just don’t do that much art stuff. Not to mention the tub was so big I only had a place for it in the basement…and trekking a heavy box up and down the staris whenever we did a craft meant that crafts were few and far between. But a lightbulb went off when I saw that Claire pinned this organizational roundup – the blog that posted the over-the-door hanger was no longer around, so I did my own search and found this. When we went off to college, my mom sent each of us kids off with an over-the-door shoe organizer to keep all the little stuff in on the back of our dorm room closet doors: chargers, deodorant, makeup, etc. I toted that thing all through college from dorm room to sorority house to rented hovel my senior year. I even hung it on the back of B’s and my closet door at our first house – where it went unused because I had an entire house full of drawers to put things in, and we finally threw it away before we moved. Bad move, Emily. Bad move.

The basement door is right off the kitchen where we usually do any arts and crafts beyond coloring, so that was the prime location for my new found arts and crafts organization. Take a look at that gorgeous door – complete with a cat door. For the cat we don’t – and will never due to B being allergic – have. Add it to the replace someday list. Along with the curly-q door handles.



With a new shoe hanger purchased, I tackled the bin of arts and crafts supplies. Coloring books and paper lay flat, so they got moved to an unused drawer. And every art supply got a shoe cubby. It makes me happy…and more likely to paint with my kids since I don’t have to lug a big bin up from the basement, and then sort through it, to find something to do. I will say that I don’t plan to put anything I’m not cool with the kids having access to in the bottom three rows, the scissors quickly got moved to the top row when Thomas flocked to them like a moth to a flame upon opening the basement door, but as long as I’m aware of tiny, curious hands and plan accordingly, I think this will work out beautifully.


So that’s the latest and greatest around here organization-wise. Beats the pants off the bottomless tub of art supplies. What do you think? How do you organize craft and art supplies?

January Organization: Kid’s Closet Makeover with Rubbermaid® All Access™

I made two other January resolutions is addition to our commitment to “No Spending January” (which I’ll have an update on for you tomorrow!). The first was to order a credit check as a result of the hacking fiasco before the holidays, and the second was to organize 31 spaces in my house before the 31st. My goal is to get our entire house in order before February so that I can focus February on getting the baby’s room ready, and spending every extra second with my family before we become 5. So, when I was challenged to makeover a space with the new Rubbermaid® All Access™ storage containers from Home Depot, I readily accepted.

Rubbermaid All Access Containers

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Cleaning Out Before Christmas

Every January I clean and purge and try to make sense of the new things that have come into our house over the holidays and determine what we no longer want or need. But this year, I decided to do my simplifying – or at least round one of it – before Christmas for a couple reasons. 1) I used to rotate toys frequently – like, every six weeks. But, we haven’t gone through the toys and purged things or even rotated things out since we moved six months ago, and it was long overdue. 2) I want my children to focus on the true reason we celebrate Christmas, not accumulation and greed. Presents are fun, and we absolutely celebrate St. Nicholas and his giving spirit in Santa Claus, but cleaning out, and giving to others, is the first step for Thomas (and soon Nell) to start to appreciate all he has and not all he wants. 3) Cleaning out helps me remember what the season is about, too. I mentioned last year that I can start to feel like I’m cycloned into the commercialism and feel like I’m not doing or giving enough. But enough is just what works for your own family, not what works for others. So by taking some time to take stock of our house – and to decide what we truly can do without and others might benefit from – helps me to remember the reason we give at all during this holiday season and also allows me more time to focus on things like lighting our Advent candles and talking about the birth of Jesus than worrying about keeping up with some other ideal.


Last night, I pulled all of the toys out of the playroom and the hidden storage between our living room and back hallway and sorted like crazy. I have always sung the praises of toy rotation – it keeps toys interesting for longer, gives me a good opportunity every few weeks or months to assess what we have and the shape it’s in, and also let’s me observe how something is played with. I’m a firm believer that if kids are surrounded by tons of things, they forget what they have. But, right before we moved we did a major clean out, so upon moving into our new house, I just put all the toys in the playroom and basement. Most things got put in the toy rotation pile – almost every toy we had in the playroom got moved to a bin in the basement, and I brought up the peg puzzles that lost T’s interest about a year and a half ago for Nell to play with. The few toys I’d stored away when we moved in were returned to the playroom, and we kept our go-to favorites: the magnets, cash register and letters out to play with. My rule with toy rotation is that if I reintroduce a toy and it doesn’t get played with, it’s time for it to go away, so I’ll keep a pretty good eye on what gets played with and what doesn’t and likely have more to give away before December 25th.


After sorting what should enter back into rotation, I decided what we could do without. Toys that were missing parts or broken got taken straight to the trash. And toys that just weren’t holding the kids attention anymore – or things that never clicked with them – got put in a pile for Thomas to sort through. He can pick what he gives to other boys and girls who don’t have as many toys and what we’ll keep for a few more months to see if they get played with.


And then I kept going. I got rid of Christmas decorations I never put out – I was mortified that I’d not only kept for this many years but moved twice the cheap ornaments I’d bought to decorate my Christmas tree in my old Boulder rental. Old, frumpy garland went to Goodwill – someone, somewhere, might be able to resuscitate it. I went through our old electronics, cleared the memory and took them to Target to be recycled. And it feels so good! Our house is not minimal right now – there’s garland on the mantle, and lots of Christmas decorations everywhere you look. There are toys strewn about the floor of the playroom regardless of how many times we put things away. But it feels manageable, and I feel at peace.

How do you prepare for the onslaught of things for Christmas? Any thing you’ve put into place for teaching your young kids about the reason we celebrate Christmas? And read more about why how we keep gifts for our kids at Christmas under control here.


Live More With Less: Wrap-up

Hope you all had a wonderful Easter! On Easter Sunday I gorged myself on M&Ms, my #1 chocolate vice. And I did the same Monday and Tuesday. And now chocolate makes me ill. My other Lenten resolution ended last night: to purge and clean my house so that I’m content with what I have and not so worried about our home’s shortcomings.

The final week of my challenge I decided to focus on the main floor of our house. My mom and I cleaned, reorganized and purged unnecessary items in both of our kitchens last Fall in preparation for Christmas – we gave each other replacement items we needed like new cookie sheets, etc and the first step was cleaning and organizing so we knew what we needed. So our kitchen was in good shape. And the rest of our house, with the exception of the office/playroom, remains pretty clean most days.


Well, Mr. B and I disagree about that. To me, clean is a vacuumed floor, dustless surfaces, and cobweb free corners. To Mr. B clean is tidy. It’s taken me 6 years of living with Mr. B to realize that instead of being offended when he comes home and “cleans” when I feel like the house is clean, I just need to accept that he and I define “clean” differently. Now, Thomas and I do a “10 minute tidy up” before he and Nell go down for their naps to get the toys off the floor so that Mr. B can walk into a house that’s tidy and not stressful to him. I do my cleaning – scrubbing the counters, swiffering and vacuuming the floors, before we go to bed at night. And we’re both happy.

So all of this is to say, the house is clean, but nothing really eventful happened downstairs. Except, I took a page from Claire’s book and decided to clean up our computer – namely our pictures. I ordered our 2012 family book, transferred all of those pictures to our external hard drive (after two computer crashes I keep our computer permanently backed up now with Apple Time Machine, but I still transfer pictures to the external hard drive for storage purposes. And I started making our 2013 album – my goal is to work on our 2013 family book each month so that I remember the events as they happen. So here are a few pictures of that:

Our 2012 album on its way to our house:

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.03.17 AM

Our 2013 Album in progress:

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.01.44 AM

I switched services this year. I’ve used Blurb in the past and don’t love the quality, so this year I went with Shutterfly. I’ll let you all know how the quality compares when I get them, but price wise, for our 100 page book, Shutterfly (with a coupon code)  was the way to go.

Live More With Less: Basement Organization

Our basement was actually in pretty decent shape going into this challenge. We don’t spend a ton of time in our unfinished basement, but we do have a TV down there (mostly for workouts) and a couch, a little workout zone and a kids’ play area with a storage zone. Until about a year ago, our basement was purely overflow toy storage for kid’s stuff, but right before Nell was born, T started to enjoy playing downstairs with the downstairs toys.

We’ve been realistic about the basement – we don’t feel like we’ll live here long enough to get enough use or our money’s worth out of finishing the basement, but we wanted the space to be functional. When we found out I was pregnant with Nell, B had a slight panic attack feeling like our house was too small for two kids (which is funny because I feel that way more now and B is more content where we are). Anyway, in January 2012 we had more lighting and outlets installed downstairs so that the basement could be a functional, though not finished, space. And it made a huge difference. Our neighbors’ gifted us with their interlocking foam floor when they did finish their basement, and that makes for a soft space to play knee hockey and play when we’re down there with the kids, and do situps and planks when we’re working out.

So, we’ve kept the basement pretty tidy, but the storage and kids’ toys can get a little bit out of control. We have just recently entered the realm of toys with multiple or smaller pieces that need to be kept together, and so my first order of business was to decided what needed a different storage solution and figure that out. I sorted through the toys – I keep a bin of toys that we rotate between the playroom and the basement out of reach for the kids so that when I bring them upstairs, they’re fun and new again. But the rest of the toys in the basement are free reign. I purchased small plastic bins and used my label maker to label the toys accordingly. We don’t have a lot of toys that need this storage solution yet (I would say that up until 2 1/2 most toys come in their own self contained storage container), but I see a lot more of these bins in my future.

Here was the kid’s play area before: Basement Before

And the kid’s area now with labeled, individual storage bins for multi-piece toys:

Play Area After

And just because I’m not sure I’ve ever shared them before, a few pictures of our basement. It’s nothing special, but it does the job: our workout zone, our TV zone, and the kids’ play zone.

  Basement Zones

I’m tackling the entire main floor in the last few days before Easter – perfect timing as we’re hosting Easter! If you cleaned out or organized this week, please link up!

Live More With Less: Garage Cleanup

Quick Notes:
1) Follow my blog with Bloglovin – Google Reader is going away, and I’m switching to Bloglovin to read my favorite blogs, and you can follow mine there, too.

2) My brilliant friend Kim has started a great new blog – Work Your Wardrobe – a young woman’s guide to affordable office fashion – and I’m featuring pretty much my go-to look for days at the office today. Check it out and spread the word about Work Your Wardrobe.

Confession: I didn’t finish the garage this week. We started – everything you see against the walls in the pictures below was cleared out, we got rid of tons of stuff, but the kids got sick and the weather turned cool this weekend and I didn’t get around to power washing, etc. So I don’t have afters for you. Come along and gaze at our embarrassingly messy garage befores though. And know that they’re a lot better now, but not good enough to share, yet. My plan is to finish this up this week (weather providing) along with our basement and post afters of both next week.






Just picture all of that junk and scrap wood gone and the bikes and stroller stored neatly. The biggest thing left for me to do is the power washing – which will help us determine if we should epoxy the garage floor to cover up 6 years of messy cars and paint spillage, or if it’s good enough just clean. I’ve been working on getting rid of the pennants lining the walls since I came home from a business trip and found them up 4 years ago. So far, no luck.


If you are more productive than me and did finish this week (or even if you didn’t – I need company!) link-up below!

Live More With Less: Backyard Cleanup

I picked a great week for our backyard cleanup – a huge snowstorm hit our neck of the woods on Saturday morning. So, when I saw the weather report, I hustled to get the backyard as cleaned up as possible before the weekend. I put Nell down for her morning nap on Friday and Thomas and I cleaned up, cut back and raked the back yard for two hours. My goal was to plant our lettuce, kale and spinach today, but an unforecasted snowstorm came again last night. It made me cranky – when I’m ready for the seeds to be planted, I want Mother Nature to cooperate. Is that too much to ask?

So, some quick before and afters. My goal was to fill two trash bags with leaves, grass and cut back plants, and I got half of our big trash can and three trash bags filled during Nell’s naptime and just in time for the first snowflakes to start falling last week. My grandpa always filled two yard cans a week in his spring yard cleanup until summer, and I feel like that’s a totally manageable goal.

Before: Backyard Cleanup

The during:


And the afters:



Screen Shot 2013-03-12 at 9.59.46 PM

It’s a start. I have a list of things to do now once the snow is gone: reseed a patch of our yard, new mulch in the gardens this year, plant our vegetable and herb garden, etc. And now I have full fledged Spring Fever. Come onnnnn, nice weather! Can’t wait to see what you accomplished this week, link up below! This week we’re clearing out the garage and starting fresh. It’s going to be another big week!