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: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Purging and Organizing Books

This category was the one I was most looking forward to because I knew it would be the easiest. Contrary to Kondo’s findings in her reserach and day to day practice, I do not horde books. I have very little emotional attachment to books after I’ve read them, and I honestly don’t buy many books to begin with. I use the library or download an ebook if I have to buy a book. The few hard copies of books I do buy, I usually pass onto friends or my mom, and they do the same, so no book stays in our home for long. B is very similar – he mostly checks books out from the library or reads on his iPad, so we really didn’t have a book problem. What kind of English Lit major am I? For our garage sale last month, I went through our crawl space and pulled out the box of books we moved with us. We hadn’t touched them in two years, so they all went in the garage sale. I found all of my pregnancy and first year of a baby’s life books and boxed them up with some hand-me-downs for a friend. So when it came time to Kondo my books, I had about 10 to my name. I got rid of 7 of them. I have three books. So I moved onto paperwork.

 

But every time I walked by the kids’ rooms, I had a nagging feeling that I’d cheated. While I hope that my own tidying will spill over into the kids clothes, toys and books, my intention going into this was to simplify MY belongings. It’s hard for me to decide if a toy or book brings my kids joy. And if I have one criticism of Kondo’s book, it’s that it’s not totally applicable to moms. It’s perfect for single or married women with no kids. But I think there are just somet hings you save when you have kids. Does the bouncy seat in my crawl space bring me joy? I have great memories of all three of our kids bouncing in it, but it’s never brought me joy. But, I’m keeping it, because I have friends who are having babies, and when they come to visit, it’s nice to not have to bring a few things – so the booster and bouncer seats, the pack and play and a small box of baby toys will stay. Does the stack of Curious George books in Thomas’s room bring me joy? Goodness, no. I can’t stand that monkey and his irresponsible Man With The Yellow Hat. When is that man going to learn that you can’t leave that damn monkey alone? For the love. But the kids get a kick out of George. So I left their things alone.

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But, honestly, their books were out of control. And I knew that by not touching them, I was cheating. So Saturday morning, B and Tom were at the golf course, and Nell, Pete and I were playing in Nell’s room, when I decided to take a look at her book situation. I pulled every book off her shelf and then brought every book from the boys’ rooms into her room, resorted them according to whose room they belong in, and then made a pile of books we never read to donate. And I was surprised by how many I knew the kids had no attachment to without having to ask them. Many of them I’d considered parting with but didn’t out of fear of parting with something someone special had given the kids. But the gift was given, it was appreciated and acknowledged and loved, and now it’s time to move on. We can’t hold onto everything forever. There were plenty of books we just had duplicates of or that never clicked with our family, but we know they’ll click with another family. So, I trashed the trashed books and donated the rest, and now the kids shelves are manageable.

After my donate pile was made, I put the books back on the shelves in rainbow color order. Because I’m a little crazy. That lasted until rest time, but at least the books are more manageable, and I know that the books we have left are ones that the kids truly love. Plus, with birthdays two weeks away, I know those shelves will get filled right back up.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: Clothes

I’ve never been a naturally organized and tidy person. I don’t live in squalor by any means, but papers pile up, toys often sit out a few days, and don’t even get me started on the laundry situation. But here’s the thing: while this tidiness doesn’t come naturally to me, it’s something I crave. I want orderliness in my home. I don’t want my home to look un-lived in, by any means, but I don’t like the piles. I just, quite honestly, have been to lazy to handle them and lacked a system for putting things away. For awhile now I’ve been feeling compelled to completely pare down my closet – I’ve considered a 30 pieces for 30 days challenge and other similar methods. Last month as we were getting ready for our garage sale, I went through my closet and pulled out about 20 items that I haven’t worn in years. A few things sold, the rest ended up being donated after the fact. But when I saw this segment from The Today Show over the weekend about The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, something just clicked. I immediately tackled the kids’ drawers – Nell’s pajama and pants drawers didn’t close with the current “stuff them in the drawer as fast as I can” method of putting laundry away I was using. So I took a couple hours on Saturday morning and just put their things away nicely. I purge the kids clothes regularly and really don’t go overboard on their clothing amounts, but they needed to be tidied. After tackling B’s drawers on Sunday – just organizing, it’s up to him to purge when he’s ready, I felt compelled to learn more than the Today Show segment taught me, so I downloaded the ebook.

 

And can I just say? I’m inspired. The first step is clothing. I get that – it’s easy. I was ready to dive into linen closets and my file cabinet, but Kondo said clothes first, so I’m following the rules. The clothes I kept less than a month ago got drastically cut because they didn’t bring me joy. I would pick up an item and ask, “Does this spark joy?” And more often than not, the answer was no. I told myself I wasn’t allowed to feel guilty. I’ve held onto things just because of their JCrew or Boden labels when they were never perfect for me, or they aren’t current enough to look good anymore anyway. I have two decent piles – one of recent purchases to go to consignment, and the other to go straight to our local charity on Wednesday.  B saw the picture I posted to Instagram while he was out of town and called me and said, “Em, you wear a lot of the things in that pile.” I said, “I know, but they don’t bring me joy. I wear them, but I don’t feel good in them.” Pretty sure his mind is boggled.

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My favorite part was putting things back – in the past when I’ve decluttered my wardrobe, I’ve been great about getting rid of things, but lose steam at the putting things back phase. I’ve always hung everything that can possibly be hung because I hate folding, and things get lost in drawers. But Kondo’s stack clothing vertically method is brilliant, and I can see how I will love this and keep it up.

The few remaining hanging items in my closet:

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Just look at all the hangers that are empty now that I’ve folded my tops:

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So much organization and room in my workout and sports gear elfa drawers now:

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And all of my t-shirts. I’m still perfecting the folds on some of these items, but for the most part, they’re good to go:

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So, part 1 is done. I’ve purged every single article of my clothing in my house (again, B and the kids are a different story – I’ll help keep them organized, but B’s clothes are something he needs to make decisions on, and the kids clothes are already in pretty good shape from seasonal sorts and purges). I kept only the things that spark joy, and I can honestly see how I could keep this up. Firstly, I have a lot less clothes now, so laundry piles shouldn’t be as daunting. But with a system in place to handle the things that I do have, and a true love for those items, I think this just might work. I’ll keep you posted. Next up: Books.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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Laundry Room turned Mudroom

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.