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Toy Organization Tips

We have two play areas in our home. A large gameroom upstairs that’s a free-for-all toy wise and a smaller play area in the corner of our living room downstairs. I generally try to keep toys assigned to a specific floor but it’s inevitable that over time the upstairs toys wander downstairs and vice versa.

I quickly learned that toy organization is a linchpin in our household, it holds several other things together. The state of the toys is very reflective of the state of our house.

When the toys are are a mess, our household is a mess. The kids get overwhelmed when there’s too many toys to choose from and frustrated when they can’t find something they’re looking for. The kid’s emotions are contagious so if they’re in a bad mood – I’m in a bad mood.

Picking up and putting away the toys is part of our evening routine. When the toy corner is disorganized this part of our routine is nasty. My brain is already quite tired from the day and the last thing I need to be doing is trying to find a place to stash a toy snake and a princess crown. Decision fatigue nightmare.

When our toys are organized our household is running smoothly. Both the kids and I are less stressed. It’s easy for them to see what they have to play with which means they’re happier. It’s easier and less overwhelming to pick up the toys at the end of the day when everything has a home.  There’s control and order. Everything is A-Okay.

To keep the toys under control, every few months I go through a massive toy purge and re-org because no matter how diligent I am about keeping the toys organized (and I am diligent) there’s no way to keep it perfect all the time.

I recently went through one of these purges and I took some pictures while I was doing it so I could help navigate you through your own toy organization project.

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Our downstairs toy area is actually an old bar that was put in when our house was built. I think at one point there was a cabinet here but one of the previous owners ripped the cabinet out and put in a small bench.

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I wasn’t disappointed that the bar functionality was removed because this little corner makes a great home for all our downstairs toys. It actually works out quite well because the pony wall that separates the former bar from the rest of the room does a great job at hiding any toy mess that’s in the corner.

I added a small, cheap shelf from an office supply store for vertical storage but other than that the corner remains much as it came.

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First I clear everything out of the corner. As I’m emptying the space out I sort toys into piles by category. My categories are: trash, donate, stuff to take upstairs, stuff with batteries, anything with four wheels, sports stuff, educational stuff and everything else.

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As I take out each toy I give it a once over. Does it still work or is it broken? Do the batteries need replacing? Do the kids still play with it? Can I donate it?

When the toy corner is empty I clean the floor, wipe down the walls (bye bye nasty hand prints!) and wipe down the shelf. Then I start tackling the piles.

First, I throw away the trash. Then, I put the stuff to be donated in a box and put the box in my car. Next, the upstairs toys go back upstairs. After all that, the only toys left are the ones that will remain in the corner.

I then put each category of toys into a larger container and each of those containers go on the shelf. As far as the type of container you can use, it really doesn’t matter. You can go all Pinterest on your own project if you want but I’m somewhat more minimalist (read: lazy & cheap) so I just grabbed whatever boxes and baskets I had lying around when I initially organized the corner.

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I have two old diaper boxes, a file box and two random baskets that have been assigned toy corner duty. Maybe one day I’ll label them but they’ve been like this a year and they’re still unlabeled so it’s obviously not high on my list.

Once the toys are in their containers I then add any larger stuff that doesn’t fit in a bin. We have several larger toys that just hang out in the corner on the floor and on the seat.

Regardless of what your own toy storage solution looks like keep a few things in mind:

Purge first. You can’t organize clutter. This is true for every aspect of organizing but is especially true for toys. Toys are like rabbits, they multiply quickly. If you don’t purge, they will take over.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Though we’re all drawn to Pinterest like a bug to a zapper, don’t feel like you have to go spend hundreds of dollars on shelves and bins to make your toy storage functional. Even if you’d like to make it look nicer down the road start with the organizational tools you already have available so you can figure out what works for you before you make an investment in a storage solution.

Don’t have high expectations. The second you finish putting the last label on your perfectly color coordinated bins you kid will show up and use his chocolate covered hand to dump the whole thing on the floor anyway. If you go through the trouble to make it pretty understand it won’t always be that way.

Maintain the space. You can’t spend two hours cleaning out the toys then forget about it for a month fully expecting it to stay organized. Organizing the space means maintaining the space. Prepare to spend just a little time every day putting everything back in its place.

A little toy organization can go a long way to keeping your entire household running smoothly; organized toys are more fun for kids to play with and easier for parents to put away. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long and doesn’t cost a lot of money to efficiently organize your toy storage space. All you need a little inspiration and a little motivation!

What tools do you use to organize toys? Favorite bins? Shelves?

 

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Motivation Monday: Keeping A Weekly Routine

A couple of weeks ago when we discussed decision fatigue I talked about how decision making abilities wane as your brain becomes fatigued. Personal experience says that it’s true for our motivation levels throughout the week as well, at least for me.

On Monday morning I wake up refreshed from the weekend and ready to tackle the week. I spend most of Monday getting my things in order to ensure the week is successful. Something about Monday brings to mind the iconic training scenes from Rocky. I can just hear the soundtrack in my head now. I am motivated to get things done and have no problem tackling the hard stuff; hard work now brings rewards later on!

Tuesday is when things get tough. I put my head down, determined to survive the week. Wednesday isn’t any better.

On Thursday I’m just barely holding things together and by the time Friday rolls around I really don’t care about much of anything. At all.

Somebody pour me a beer.

I suspect this is true for everyone else too, based on a totally non-scientific observation I’ve made at the gym over the past several months. I work out Monday through Thursday at our local YMCA, at the same time each day. On Monday, the gym is packed full of people. On Tuesday there are fewer, Wednesday even fewer still. By Thursday it’s practically a waste land and everyone who is there looks like they’ve been attacked by a pack of angry dogs.

I have no idea what it’s like on Friday because even I don’t go to the gym on Friday.

What can we learn from this? Everyone starts the week with good intentions but as stress and exhaustion from the week build, our desire to do any nonessential tasks disappears (as my husband so eloquently puts it “our give-a-shitter is broken”). Can we do anything about this? Not really but we can use this knowledge to our advantage and schedule our recurring weekly tasks to maximize productivity.

When we discussed creating a daily routine last month we talked about building habits and creating a schedule to keep those small household tasks from taking over your day. This easily translates to routine weekly tasks as well.

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We all have recurring weekly tasks that need to be completed. Laundry, grocery shopping and cleaning the house are all things that, around here anyway, need to be done every week. Those tasks can easily be broken up and assigned to specific days of the week and specific people if you so desire.

There’s several advantages to creating a weekly routine.

First and foremost, when you have tasks assigned to a particular day you know exactly what you need to do that day immediately upon waking up. Chores, especially ones that are easy to put off are less likely to fall through the cracks and by completing chores on the same day each week you always know the last time something was done. Lastly, you can schedule your tasks to take advantage of higher motivation levels earlier in the week making them less likely to get procrastinated.

My weekly routine looks like this:

Monday: laundry, change the pet water
Tuesday: laundry, take out trash
Wednesday: change sheets, pick up house
Thursday: laundry, sort & file mail
Friday: take out trash
Saturday: NOTHING
Sunday: clean out fridge, grocery shopping, laundry prep

I keep a copy of my weekly tasks taped to the inside of my calendar just in case I need a gentle reminder of what needs to be done.

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Creating a weekly routine is easy. Write down a list of everything you’d like to get done on a weekly basis. Consider your schedule, the amount of time you have available and start filling in tasks to get done each day. Pick the stuff you hate the most and get it done early in the week. The week should get easier the further into it you get. Try to evenly spread out your chores so that no one day is overloaded with things to do.

Make sure to give yourself a couple of days off. You need a break from housework to keep yourself from getting burned out. On Friday I only have one simple chore and Saturday I do nothing outside my daily routine.

If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of creating an entire weekly routine at once or you just don’t have the time, try picking one task you’re likely to put off and doing it on the same day each week, as you conquer one you can add another.

Does each task on my weekly routine get completed every week? No. Most of the time the mail only gets sorted every two weeks and occasionally I get busy on Wednesday and I forget to change the sheets. Sometimes we’re busy on Sunday and I don’t make it to the grocery store and will do it Monday instead. Much like the monthly meal rotation I use this as a guideline to keep things on track and I rearrange tasks as needed.

Your schedule will look different from mine. We all have unique needs so no one routine will be like another but by sharing what works for me I’m hoping to give you ideas and motivate you to organize your mundane chores so you’ve got less to think about. That’s right, we’re talking about decision fatigue prevention – again.

By creating a weekly routine you can free up your brain to think about other things – like running your business, managing your job or educating your children – and you’re less likely to feel fried at the end of the day. It’s a win for everyone!

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Organized Grocery Shopping

I love grocery shopping. I love heading into the store with an empty basket and walking through the produce section to see all the delicious fruits and vegetables. I love wandering the aisles and imagining all the things I could make with the ingredients there. I fill my reusable bags full of healthy food and vibrant colors with my head held high.

Unless of course my kids are with me – in which case I’m buying everything on my list and getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

Since I only get to go grocery shopping alone about once every three months, you can bet I’m getting in, getting the things on my list and getting out as quickly as I can. Blissful browsing and hunting for that package of tamarind paste is just gonna have to wait.

Thankfully, there are ways organize your trip to save time and reduce stress – because organized grocery shopping is efficient grocery shopping. I feel like I’ve developed a pretty solid strategy and since it works so well for me I figured I’d share it with you.

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So here, without further ado, are my organized grocery shopping tips:

Know your store. I always shop at the same store and I know it well. I know the fastest and most efficient way to make my way through the store so that I can get the things I need quickly. Produce first, then the bakery, meats & cheese, dry goods, dairy, frozen foods and cleaning supplies.

Here’s a little drawing of how my favorite grocery store is laid out.

Grocery Store Layout

Have an organized list. I use two separate lists for keeping track of what I need. I have a list on a chalkboard in my kitchen (it’s not a real chalkboard – it’s a frame from Target with black paper inside that I write on with chalkboard markers) that I use on a daily basis.

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As I notice something that I need to purchase I write it on the chalkboard.

When I’m planning our meals for the week I use a list I created in Remember the Milk. First I sit down and add everything I need for our meals for that week, then I add anything I wrote on the chalkboard. At that point I erase chalkboard and have it ready for the next week.

Remember the Milk is my FAVORITE list making service. It’s cloud based and multi-platform so I can add stuff to my grocery list no matter where I am.

In Remember the Milk each item has four different priority options and I use those to keep my grocery list organized. I divided my grocery store into four sections and assigned each section a priority level. Every time I enter an item on my grocery list I assign it a priority setting depending on where it’s located in the store.

Priority 1 = Produce
Priority 2 = Seafood, Bakery, Deli, Meat & Cheese
Priority 3 = Dry Goods
No Priority = Dairy, Frozen Food, Cleaning Supplies & Pharmacy

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My grocery list is set to sort items based on priority so all the items in my list are grouped by where they are located in the store.

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As I walk through the store I make sure every item in that location is checked off before I move onto the next section. This eliminates a lot of walking back and forth which saves time. My goal is to hit each section once and not go back.

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Keep your basket organized. I use a smaller hand held basket inside the larger shopping cart to neatly stack produce. The smaller basket keeps the easily bruised produce from getting squished in the cart and it leaves the real estate in the buggy open for larger, heavier items like flour or laundry detergent so I’m not constantly rearranging stuff.

The carts at my grocery store have a smaller space in the top of the front and I use that for cold items.

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By organizing your cart by food type you can unload it by type at checkout. When you unload by type you make it easier for the person bagging the groceries to keep like items together making the checkout process faster. That’s a win for you and the grocery store!

Though grocery shopping is still a chore at least by being organized I’ve made it as painless as it can be. Yes, most of the time the kids fight and scream and sometimes cry but at least I have a plan and that’s a good place to start!

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Displaying Kid’s Art

My little girl loves to draw and paint. When she draws and paints her little soul becomes very transparent – I get a little glimpse of how she views her world in each piece of artwork she produces…

…and she produces a lot of artwork, several pieces a day. Not all of it is worthy of home display but every now and then she shows me something that makes my mommy heart swell with pride.

I had been putting it all on the refrigerator but I don’t really like putting a bunch of stuff on the fridge – it looks cluttered and since our fridge hides in a corner I don’t get to see it much anyway.

Displaying kid’s art is quite the dilemma. How do you showcase their hard work without it adding clutter to the house?

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Solution: I created an art gallery in our breakfast room just for the kids. I went shopping for some large, simple black frames with backs that are easy to remove. I finally found what I was looking for at Target (big surprise).

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Their art gallery is in our breakfast room and I mixed in some art done by a professional artist in with the kids art.

When the kids produce a particularly good piece of art, I date it and put it in the frame for us to admire as long as we want. When it’s time in the frame is over, it goes into a pocket folder labeled by month (all of Evie’s preschool work is also going into the pocket folder).

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Sometime in the future I’ll go through it all and decide which pieces I should keep forever and which ones I can toss – not now though. For now, they’re all keepers.

 

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A Day in the Life {September 23, 2015}

I’ve always loved reading other people’s day in the life posts and I thought it would be a great way to share with you what my typical day looks like.

I have two kids. My daughter, Evelyn is 4 years, 4 months old and my son Alvy is 2 years 3 months old. Though Evie goes to preschool two days a week, this is not one of those days so I have both kids home with me today. I wrote this post on Wednesday, September 23, 2015.  Here’s a day in the life of me.

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5:00 AM – The alarm on my watch goes off. It’s my goal in the mornings to wake up before my kids do and lately Alvy has been waking around 5:30, so I roll out of bed and make some coffee. The second my legs hit the floor I can feel them screaming at me.

I started training for the Houston Marathon this week. On Monday I lifted weights for the first time in a month (ouch) and yesterday I did speed work so this morning my legs are mad. Very, very, very mad.

5:11 AM – As the coffee is brewing I hear, “MOMMMMMMMY,” yelled from upstairs so I walk upstairs to Alvy’s room fully expecting him to be awake and ready to get up. When I get up there I find him still laying down with his back to me. He hasn’t seen me so I walk back out and stand at the top of the stairs just out of sight.

{For the record Alvy has a 35 db hearing loss, which means his entire world is much quieter than yours. Anything quieter than 35 db – like birds chirping, a clock ticking, and his mommy walking around in his room – he can’t hear at all. Occasionally, I discover an advantage to his hearing loss – this is one of them…I don’t have to tip toe.}

After 5 minutes of standing by his door and listening to him roll around in his crib he finally gets still and I walk back downstairs to pour my coffee. I dig out my planner and start thinking about my day. Luckily, there only one thing that has to get done which means I’ve got the rest of the day to catch up on little stuff I’ve been putting off. I dig out my bullet journal and start looking at the list of stuff I’ve been working on that needs completing.

5:39 – I hear Alvy again. This time he’s singing, “Mommy, oh Mommy, yere yar yooooou?” I go back upstairs to find him jumping up and down in his crib. I pick him, get him a little snack and spend 15 minutes sitting on the couch cuddling him and watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Once I can tell he’s fully awake and satisfied with the state of his morning I go back to planning my day.

I spend 30 glorious uninterrupted minutes writing.

6:30 – I hear Jason get out of bed and Evelyn follows. She has been sick the last several days and has been sleeping with us. When we went grocery shopping yesterday she saw all the Halloween stuff out and is now excited about trick-or-treating. She immediately asks if she can put her princess dress on so we can pretend to trick-or-treat outside (it’s still dark out). After five minutes, I’m finally able to convince her that now isn’t the best time and maybe we should wait to do that tonight.

Instead we update her calendar and fight with Alvy who keeps stealing her magnets.

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6:45 – Jason leaves for work. I continue to work while the kids play.

7:05 – I start breakfast. As breakfast is cooking I unload the dishwasher and move my laptop into the kitchen so I can continue writing. I cook an entire package of bacon, some of which we will eat this morning and the rest will go in a jar for later.

7:45 – We sit down to breakfast. Neither of the kids eat. Both their plates of food go completely untouched. Despite asking for a banana just two minutes earlier Alvy declares, “No. No eat. No. Nooooo!”

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Awesome.

8:00 – I clean up the kitchen, make the bed, get myself dressed and get the kids dressed. I feed the cat and the dog. I also put in a load of laundry. Morning routine complete.

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8:25 – The kids finally ate some of their breakfast and Evie signs, “May I be excused?” from across the room. I sign, “Yes,” back to her and both kids begin to run crazy around the house.

9:12 – I herd the kids into the car and we drive to the BMW dealership. On Sunday night the car told us it needed more oil and this is the first chance I’ve had to get it refilled. It’s an easy service offered by the dealership. I pull up, tell them I need oil, turn off the engine, pop the hood and they pour in a quart of oil. The service guy gives me a big thumbs up and we’re on our way. I didn’t even have to get out of the car. In total it took 2 minutes. Unfortunately, it’s a 30 minute drive each way so this whole trip took an hour.

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Mission accomplished.

10:15 – We get back home. Alvy plays outside (I can see him through the kitchen window), Evie plays upstairs and I do a little housework. I put the laundry in the dryer, fold some clothes that never got folded yesterday (shame on me!), put another load of laundry in and reassemble my charging station which I had to take apart over the weekend while we were out of town.

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For the record, my legs are still excruciatingly sore.

11:25 – I start making lunch. I make myself a BLT salad (mayo thinned with water for the dressing, lettuce, cherry tomatoes and some of that bacon left over from breakfast). I decide it needs a little extra protein so I boil some eggs (one for today’s salad, one for tomorrow) and I make the kids grilled cheese.

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11:50 – Lunch time. I let the kids eat lunch in the den in front of the TV so they can watch Signing Time. I eat my salad standing up in the kitchen while I make homemade jello. I also work on this post a little.

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12:15 PM – My lunch is gone so I work a little more on folding clothes while the kids finish up lunch.

12:40 – The kids are done with lunch, I carry Alvy upstairs and we read two books – both different versions of Goldilocks (homework from Alvy’s teacher of the deaf) and put him in his crib for a nap.

1:05 – Alvy is down, not asleep but at least in his crib. I had promised Evelyn earlier in the day that’d we play while Alvy was sleeping so I set the timer on my watch for a half hour and she and I go upstairs to play in her room. She dresses up as a princess. We dance, play with her stuffed animals and play hide-n-go-seek.

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1:40 – Playtime is over. We both go downstairs and I finally finish up the last of the laundry, clean up the kitchen from lunch and change into my running clothes.

2:30 – We get the jello out of the fridge and cut it into squares for a snack. Evie paints with watercolors and I work on the blog a little bit.

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My legs still hurt.

3:00 – I prep dinner. We’re having Pork Fried Cauliflower, a paleo take on Chicken Fried Rice but instead of chicken I use ground pork and instead of rice I use chopped cauliflower. I dice onions, garlic, carrots and pulse the cauliflower in the food processor and put it on a sheet tray for roasting when we get home. I also marinate the pork in a combination of soy sauce, mirin and sambal chili paste and put it in the fridge.

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I also clean up the mess I just made prepping dinner.

3:25 – I get Evelyn in her leotard, put my running shoes on and pack my gym bag.

3:35 – Alvy wakes up and we all sit down on the couch for a few minutes. For the first time all day I actually sit down. I’m already tired (and I haven’t even been to the gym yet) and my brain needs the downtime. I browse Facebook and read mindless articles on the internet, like this one. I also give the kids a snack.

4:10 – Jason gets home. We chat for a few minutes while he changes clothes and eats a little snack.

4:25 – We part ways. He takes Evelyn to gymnastics and I take Alvy to the YMCA so I can workout. Even though my legs are still super sore I know I need to spend that time moving my body. Marathon training is as much about training your mind as it is your body. If I can’t exercise through pain now there’s no way I can do it on race day. I spend 35 minutes spinning and then get on the treadmill and run three miles (8:34 pace).

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The workout was hard but it did a good job of flushing some of that lactic acid out of my muscles. When I get home my legs are feeling a little less stiff.

5:45 – Alvy and I get home. I take a quick shower then cook dinner.

6:45. Evie is exhausted from the day and as she’s sitting at the table declares that she’s too tired to eat. She asks if she can go to lay down and we let her. This is the first full days she’s felt well enough to do anything and I can only assume her little body is still a bit under the weather. She goes upstairs and lays down in bed and falls asleep – still wearing her gymnastics leotard.

7:15 – Dinner is over. Jason and I both clean the kitchen together while Alvy plays with some shapes in the floor. We make the coffee, turn on the dishwasher and I make Evie’s lunch for tomorrow.

After the kitchen is clean we both sit down in the den and do our own things. I work on this post, Jason plays video games and Alvy continues to play with his shapes. I check on Evelyn…she is snoring. Poor thing.

Alvy starts climbing all over Jason who is still attempting to pay video games.

8:15 – I try to pick Alvy up to take him upstairs for bed but I’m informed by my little two year old that “Daddy playing race cars. Go away. Turn around. Go away.”

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I guess they were having fun bonding. Instead I pick up the toys in the, den, brush my teeth and get myself ready for bed. Evening routine complete.

8:45 – I take Alvy upstairs to bed. Jason and I alternate putting the kids to bed every night and tonight is my night with Alvy – he got lucky that Evie fell asleep on her own. It’s not a bath night so I’m off easy. I change him into pajamas, read him two books, cuddle him for five minutes then lay him down. I sit down in the glider in his room for a few minutes while I wait for him to settle down.

9:30 – I come back downstairs to find Jason still playing video games, which is okay with me. I get a little hunger pang so eat a very small bowl of cereal.

9:45 – We both head to bed. I consider reading for a bit but I fall asleep before I can grab my tablet off the nightstand.

THE END.

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The Benefits of Labeling & My Favorite Labeling Tools

You know that feeling right after you clean out a drawer or a closet and it looks clean and happy? It just seems that the world’s stress is being relieved simply by reorganizing your pens or cleaning out your pantry.

Eventually though the inevitable happens. Stuff gets shoved in all willy nilly. Nothing goes back where you had it. You forget which shelf the peanut butter goes on so you just shove it in an any available space. Your hard won organization is gone.

*sad face*

So how do you keep the organizational peace? How do you keep the chaos from returning from a previously organized space?

Labels.

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I know. You think you don’t need labels.

Silly, Joni! I’m the only one who puts anything away. I don’t need labels. I know where everything goes!

You’re wrong. If you’re going to take the time to organize a space – be it a junk drawer or your refrigerator – you need to label it to make sure that everyone in the household is accountable to putting things back in the proper place. Including you.

It doesn’t take much to label something. A sticky note and a pen go a long way. If you want to get fancy you can purchase a label maker.

I bought my label maker at Wal-Mart several years ago (here’s the Amazon link for one that is similar). It’s not one of those fancy ones with special fonts that comes with it’s own case but it’s compact and refill tape is cheap and easy to find.

You can get the tape in white plastic, white paper and clear plastic. White plastic tends to be may favorite for high contrast and easily readability but I use clear when I want to put the label on top of something else.

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The type of label I use depends a lot on the intended use of the space. I’ll use my label maker for stuff I know needs to be easy to read and whose contents won’t likely change.

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I’ll use chalkboard vinyl and chalkboard markers for labels that may change. The vinyl can be cut to any shape and the chalkboard marker can be wiped off the vinyl and rewritten as your needs change. No need to remove the label.

For example, the kids’ dresser drawers are labeled with chalkboard vinyl/markers because as the seasons change we may need to rework the use of drawer space. I don’t have to remove the label, just wipe it clean and rewrite.

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I also use chalkboard vinyl and markers on my spice tins.

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I didn’t appreciate the power of a label until very recently. For a while I thought that labels were for everyone else because obviously I would remember where stuff goes (since I put it there) but I quickly learned that the labels work just as well for me. There’s something about a label that forces you to be less lazy and more proactive when putting things away.

Yes, even us organizational types have a lazy streak.

Labeling holds you and your entire household accountable to the contents of a container. If you want to make sure the pens always go back in the same place, no matter who is putting them away, a label is the way to go.

Want to dip your toes in the pool but don’t have a lot of time? Start with a small project like a particularly messy dresser drawer. Once you see how easy and efficient labeling is you’ll be labeling everything.

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Watch out kids! You’re next!

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Organizing Meal Prep

So far on this blog we’ve talked about meal planning and refrigerator organization but we haven’t touched on something equally as important. Meal prep. How do you get those hard planned meals from the fridge to the table without gouging out your eyes?

Like almost everything we’ve discussed, a little planning goes a long way.

Organizing Meal Prep

I know there are people out there who seem to think prepping an entire week of dinners at one time is the way to go. I can’t seem to find the desire to stand in the kitchen and chop veggies for three hours on a Sunday afternoon. I’d much rather be football.

I do pre-prep food but I don’t do it all at once. Instead I spread it out, a little at a time, as I’m cooking. If I’m making bacon for breakfast, I make a double batch and save the rest for later. If I’m chopping an onion and only need half for a recipe, I will chop the other half anyway and put it in the fridge. Slicing tomatoes for burgers? Chop what you don’t use and save it for an omlet!

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Every morning for breakfast I try to eat a vegetable. It’s tough to get enough veggies in your diet so I try to sneak them in when ever I can. One of my favorite breakfast vegetables sweet potato hash browns. Grating sweet potatoes and keeping them in my fridge is one of my favorite things to pre-prepare. Since breakfast casserole is on my rotating meal plan and grated sweet potatoes are the bottom layer of my casserole, I grate a couple of extra sweet potatoes for breakfast. Easy breakfast vegetable – done.

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This goes for any vegetable. I have an entire stash of pre-chopped fruits and veggies in my refrigerator at any time waiting to be put into something tasty.

To store all these chopped veggies and keep them from drying out I use mason jars. Now before you start rolling your eyes and thinking I’ve spent too much time browsing Pinterest, let me explain.

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Surprise, mason jars are actually designed for food storage so they are perfectly capable of storing food! They’re clear so it’s easy to see what’s inside them. They’re cheap, around $10 for a dozen of my favorite, pint sized jars. Their lids are the perfect surface for labeling with chalkboard markers. They are vertically oriented, which means you can store more food in less space. Most importantly they are 100% air tight, meaning food that the food inside stays fresh longer and doesn’t stink up your fridge.

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Chopped strawberries and carrots stay moist. Apples and avocados don’t turn brown. Fresh grated cheese doesn’t get hard and crusty. Those grated sweet potatoes? I’ve kept them for two weeks with no problem. They seem to get eaten long before they go bad. It’s a food prep miracle!

As difficult as it is to get more fruits and vegetables into our diets organizing meal prep is a small step toward changing our eating habits. I encourage you to give it a try!

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Motivation Monday: How Lighting Affects Productivity

I’m starting a series here called Motivation Monday – posts to help you find motivation to be productive for the coming week. To kick things off I want to talk about something that often goes overlooked. Lighting.

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Do you ever feel like you’re in a slump? You’ve got a to do list as long as your arm but nothing is getting done because your couch (or worse, Facebook) has the gravitational pull of the Sun.

Is it dark outside? Raining? Overcast? For whatever reason you can’t seem to concentrate and it’s draining your energy.

Every couple of weeks I get in this funk (for lack of a better word) that I can’t seem to get myself out of. I go through the motions of my day but get nothing done because I can’t concentrate. I jump from task to task, starting each one but never finishing. When that happens I have a trick that almost always works to help restore my concentration and motivation.

What is it?

I turn on the lights.

Not just the big lights or the important lights, all the lights. I turn on every light in the house. Lamps, closet lights, overhead lights all. the. lights. The brightness wakes me up and makes it much easier to see the things that need to get done.

Case in point. The photos below are of my house. It was about 8 o’clock in the morning and pouring down rain on a random Wednesday.

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Kitchen – lights off.

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Kitchen – lights on!

The visual difference that the flip of a few light switches makes is surprising. Even though it was rainy when I took these pictures the house still transforms from dark and sad to happy and alive.

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Living room – lights off.

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Living room – lights on!

I’m not the first person to figure this out. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory did a study in 2002 about how lighting affects productivity in offices, schools and retail locations (yikes!) and the results aren’t that surprising. Office workers with access to natural light, or full-spectrum artificial lights had lower absentee rates; students performed better on tests and had fewer cavities.

Yes, fewer cavities. Go figure.

So the next time you’re at home and you’ve got three loads of laundry staring you in the face make it a little easier by turning on your lights, pulling back the curtains and opening the blinds.

But what do you do if you’re at work? If you’re lucky enough to have an office to yourself, go buy some lamps so you can get rid of that nasty fluorescent light – and don’t put CFLs in your new lamps, silly! Splurge on some daylight simulating bulbs. If you’re doubly lucky and have a window in your office make sure you open the blinds!

Are you in one of those soul sucking open concept offices that offer no privacy and no control over your environment? the next time you’re feeling mopy take five minutes and go outside to get some sunlight and fresh air. After a short walk  you will come back feeling refreshed and hopefully a little more motivated.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that you leave all your lights on all the time. That would be wasteful and I hate waste. But a careful, intentional use of lighting to help you get more stuff done – that to me is worth the 20 cents it will add to your electricity bill.

P.S. You want to know something funny? In an odd verification of the lighting theory, the behavior of my children completely changed when I was taking the photos for this post. The day I took these pictures the kids had been up for two hours and had done nothing but whine and complain the entire morning. As soon as I turned on the lights to take pictures the whining stopped. I mean, it stopped. Completely. They went from whining and complaining to playing happily in no less than five minutes. Not kidding.

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organizing the laundry

Organizing the Laundry

organizing the laundryLaundry. No one likes doing laundry.  It’s a pain. It takes forever. It’s never finished. Folding laundry might be the most universally hated household chore in existence.

Fortunately, doing laundry doesn’t have to be the monster we make it out to be. By organizing the laundry and doing it with purpose we can keep keep the laundry monster out of the hamper.

Do laundry often.

As odd as it sounds I’m telling you to do this chore that you hate – more often.

Why? Because laundry that is done often really isn’t that bad. Washing often means smaller loads and smaller loads dry faster, are less daunting and quicker to fold. By washing frequently you give stains less time to set and you don’t need as many clothes.

When you wait until you’re out of clothes, you’re forcing yourself to tackle the laundry all at once because ALL MY UNDERWEAR AND SOCKS ARE DIRTY! You’ve backed yourself into a laundry corner that involves being stuck at home all weekend while you wash, dry and fold 10 loads of laundry all at once. Because if all YOUR socks are dirty, most likely so are everyone else’s.

Remember when I said that intentional living was going to be mentioned often on this blog? Intentional living means being proactive, not reactive. No more putting out fires. Let’s keep the fires from starting in the first place.

When you do laundry before it becomes urgent, you’re choosing to solve a problem before it even becomes one saving yourself the stress of a minor-crisis. If you’re going to be stressed save it for something important, don’t waste it on laundry.

Sort as you go.

Get a sorting hamper and sort as you wear your clothes. By sorting clothes as you go, you can do laundry through out the week, doing a little bit every day. We have a three bin laundry hamper so we sort into three piles: colors, whites and nice clothes. I labeled the bins so it’s clear to everyone in the house what goes in which bin.

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I bought this hamper about 12 years ago and it shows. It’s stained and fraying on the sides. I’ve had to repair it several times but I love it and it works great so I’m sticking with it. When the canvas finally gives out I will probably attempt to make a new one. I love it that much.

Create a laundry schedule.

Plan it according to how you wear your clothes. I have 4 categories of laundry. The three mentioned above and kitchen laundry.  I do one category of laundry each day Monday through Thursday. My number one goal is to have all the laundry done during the work week so I can do something fun on Friday and relax a bit on the weekend.

Sunday: I go upstairs and get the kid’s laundry hampers. I then sort all their clothes in with our clothes so I’ve got laundry prepped for the week. Hampers are then taken back upstairs.

Monday: I wash all the colors on Monday. Sometimes it’s one load, sometimes it’s two. It just depends on how busy we were over the weekend and how many sets of clothes we went through. By washing colors on Monday I make sure that the kids and I have plenty to wear throughout the week and the stinkies from the weekend don’t rot in the hamper.

Tuesday: I wash all the whites. Sometimes one load, sometimes two. It all depends.

Wednesday: Kitchen laundry/catchup from Monday & Tuesday if we were busy. Kitchen laundry is generally a very small load so I try to use this day to do any catch up from Monday and Tuesday if we were busy and I didn’t get a chance to finish my loads those days.

Thursday: Nice clothes, which get divided up into 3 separate loads: light, dark and denim By doing nice clothes on Thursday, my hubby has plenty of clothes to choose from on Monday morning. (He wears jeans on Friday).

Treat stains on the spot.

Find a good stain remover that allows you to pre-treat and leave on the garment (not all pre-treaters allowing letting the garment to set. My favorite is Shout Advance Gel. I keep a spray bottle of this stuff in the sock drawer of my dresser so Jason and I can easily treat our clothes before they even go in the hamper. I also keep a bottle in Alvy’s room (on a very high shelf) so I can do the same when I’m changing him.

Let it go. 

No matter how much laundry gets shoved in the hamper when that category is done for the week, it is DONE. Big fat check mark. Don’t touch it again until the next week. When your spouse comes home and throws a towel in the whites, which you just finished putting away don’t stare daggers his/her way, just take a deep breath. That towel will be there next week.

The same goes for the kid’s clothes. Anything that goes into the hampers after they’ve been emptied on Sunday will have to wait until the next week.

When you start a category, FINISH it.

When I say finish it I mean FINISH IT, including folding it and putting it away before you go to bed. When you wake up in the morning you don’t want to start you day with a pile of laundry staring you in the face. Once you’re behind, you’re BEHIND and catching up is tough. I generally try to start all my loads before noon because I know that if it goes in after noon then most likely it won’t get finished before I go to bed.

Have a folding routine. 

Since folding laundry is right next to having a root canal on my list of things I’d like to do on any given day, I do everything I can to make it as easy as possible.

I fold laundry on our bed. It’s a big flat space and is perfect for spreading everything out. It’s also easy to put away mine and Jason’s clothes if I’m already in the bedroom.

folding routine

I dump the basket full of laundry in the center of the bed. My husband and I have two kids, a boy and a girl which means we have two males and two females in our household so I break up our piles by gender. When I fold I always put the girl’s clothes on the left side of the bed and the boys clothes on the right.  Towels and linens go on my dresser behind me. Folding is much faster if you’re not constantly searching for random piles.

If you don’t have an even boy/girl split you can divide up your piles by age or order of bedrooms. It’s totally up to you. The takeaway here is that when you’re not constantly searching for stacks of clothes folding will go much faster.

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For clothes that need to be hung, I take them out of the dryer immediately and lay them out on our bed in stacks by type of item. I’ll stack up all the shirts, all the shorts and all the pants. Then I count how many hangers I need and come back to put them on hangers. After everything is on hangers I put them in the closet.

I know what you’re thinking, well you stay at home all day so you have a the time to get laundry done. Yes, that’s partially true but even if you work outside the home you can still get one load of laundry done every day. Put it in the washer before you leave for work, put it in the dryer as soon as you get home and fold/put it away after dinner.

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Refrigerator Organization

refrigeratorThe sniff test. We’ve all done it.

Me: What is this?
Me: Looks like chicken.
Me: When did I make chicken?
Me: Wednesday?

*sniff*

Some things in life seem utterly unattainable – completely clean laundry is one, an organized refrigerator is another.

We’ve all got plenty of motivation to keep the refrigerator cleaned out (food poisoning aside). For starters you waste less food because you know exactly what you have and when it went in. You can eat/cook it before it goes bad and when you go back to the store you don’t accidentally overbuy, saving you money.

More importantly, a organized fridge is better for the environment. That’s right, friends. We throw away up to 40% of food we buy. 40%! We throw away more food than we throw away paper, plastic, glass and metal – think about that the next time you haul your bin of recyclables to the curb, yet let last week’s salad greens rot in the bottom drawer. Less food bought (because you know what you have before you go to the store) and more food consumed (because you ate it before it went bad) means fewer dollars wasted and less food in the landfills.

Not only does food waste account for a large percentage of landfill usage, agriculture accounts for approximately 1/3 of global carbon emissions and 80% of the water usage in the state of California. And unless you’ve been living under a rock you know California is in its 4th year of severe drought.

We are literally throwing carbon emissions, water and money straight into the trash. As it turns out you don’t have to go buy a fancy battery powered car to help out mother earth…just organize your fridge!

Phew!

*off soapbox*

Paired with a good meal plan, a solid refrigerator organization plan will help save the planet and save you some money. Here’s a few guidelines to get you started:

Rule #1: Clean it out weekly. Clean out the fridge right before you go grocery shopping. It’s a good chance to get rid of anything that has gone bad as well as take inventory of what you have and what you need. Plus, when you get home and you’re unloading your groceries you’ve got plenty of space inside for the new batch of food.

Rule #2: Invest in some quality leftovers containers. Look for containers that are, clear, microwave safe and stackable (both for storage in the cabinet and for use in the fridge). My favorites for leftovers are these Rubbermaid glass containers but for food prep (which I will cover in a future post) mason jars are the way to go. They’re cheap, space efficient and reusable.

Rule #3: Contain everything. Use clear bins to organize smaller items by category. It’ll keep the smaller jars from sliding randomly around the shelf so you can find stuff quickly and easily.

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Rule #3: Label everything. Write the contents and the date on each container that goes in the fridge. I’ve tried all kinds of labeling devices but my favorite is chalkboard markers. They work on pretty much any nonporous surface and come clean in the dishwasher. You can find them on Amazon or pretty much any hobby store.

I keep my chalkboard markers velcroed on the side of the fridge for easy access. Be sure to test your containers first to make sure they wash off properly and don’t get them on your clothes they will stain.

 

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Around my house labeling the leftovers turns into an impromptu game of Pictionary. What do you think it is? Chicken?

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Rule #4: Label shelves. I know it seems silly but it makes finding stuff so much easier. Have a dedicated shelf for leftovers, beverages, condiments, etc. Always put stuff away in the proper place. I originally did this so when Jason put things away they’d go in the right place but truth be told it’s keeping me honest too.

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Rule #5: Use the crisper drawers. Put fruits and vegetables in the crisper drawers and make sure the humidity setting is in the right place for the drawer’s contents – lower humidity for fruits and higher humidity for vegetables. That’s what those drawers are for. (No they’re not for beer!) You’ll be surprised at how much longer you fruits and veggies stay fresh when the settings are correct.

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By following these few simple rules you can help save the planet and your wallet too! Do you have any refrigerator organization tips to add? Please add to the conversation in the comments!

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