About Jane

Jane Broadbent is a woman with a passion for adventure and a mom in need of a little sanity! Tired of living each day in "survival mode", Jane made a career change from marketing executive to preschool teacher. Now she fills her days being a full-time mom and wife, part-time teacher and writer, and travelling as much as possible. Follow Jane on her journey at www.awonderfulmess.com.

4 Easy St. Patrick Day Craft Ideas for Kids

Irish Checkers!

Irish Checkers!

Our Pot of Gold Rainbow and Shamrocks made from hearts.

Our Pot of Gold Rainbow and Shamrocks made from hearts.

St. Patrick’s Day could be the secret to life.  You take a grey, cold, lifeless world and add a tiny green plant than in all other places would be considered a weed.  But at the end of a long, hard winter that tiny weed promises that winter will end and more green will come.  We celebrate by dousing any splash of green with “water” (there is water in beer), collecting all the green we see, and displaying it along with gold because, let’s face it, any hint of spring is worth it’s weight in gold.

I wrote this when spring had not quite sprung, we had yet another snow/sleet/what-ever-you-call that cold wet grey stuff falling from the sky, and I was desperate for a bit of green and hint of life.  M-man and I probably went a bit crazy with the shamrock decorations.  My house now looks like either a construction paper rainbow of lucky charms or where leprechauns go to die. I always knew St. Patty’s day got messy (hello, green beer), but this really takes it to a different level. If you want to join in the mess, here are 4 easy St. Patrick Day crafts for kids:

 

A Pot of Gold Rainbow.

M-Man is a worrier. It is just hard wired in him. I thought this activity could help him practice seeing the bright side. First we talked a bit about luck and how you can’t control when you have good luck, but if you are always looking for the good in things then you’ll find a lot more. One luckiest things you can see is a rainbow, which is why lephrechauns hide their pot of gold at the end. (I am sure this is in no way an accurate account of St. Patrick Day lure, but come on. I’m working with an anxious four-and-a-half year old here!)

 

Next, we make our construction paper pot of gold. I traced a pot shape on two pieces of paper and cut them out. M-Man stapled them together to form a pocket, punched holes for the handle with a hole punch, and cut the yarn for the handle. (Yay fine motor skills!) Then, he cut out strips of paper that we taped together to make a rainbow that can slide in and out of the pot.

 

We hung our pot of gold on the back door*. Every day until St. Patrick’s Day M-Man looks to see if the rainbow is in the pot. Some days it’s there, others it’s not. But on the days that it is in the pot, then he’s lucky and gets a small little treat. So far he’s gotten a few fake tattoos, some seashells, and a homemade checkers game. Which brings us to….

 

Irish Checkers

This is a great activity because you really use it! First, fold a piece of construction paper in half. Cut some lines in it, being careful to not cut all the way to the end. (This is another wonderful fine motor activity for your little guy to do.) This will be the “base” of the board.

 

Then, cut some paper strips. These will make up the squares. We chose rainbow colored, but I would recommend making sure the base is a different color than the squares. We have a green base and a green square strip and it causes confusion all the time… don’t be like us.

 

Next, show your child how to weave the paper strips together. This could cause some frustration, so its probably best you are helping with this step.

 

Finally, you need to find something to be the checker pieces. We used gold doubloons because my little pirate has more play gold than my bank account.   To make one set a different color, I taped some green fabric pieces to some of the coins. A drop of nailpolish would have worked as well.

 

From there, enjoy yourself! We really enjoy playing our homemade game. Mick learned how to play checkers for this game, and we have had so much fun playing a game that he made.

 

Make some shamrocks. 

Notice our shamrocks?   To make them we reused our Valentine’s Day hearts! I love reusing materials whenever possible. Not only is it good for ol’mother earth but it teaches M-Man this importance of being resourceful and not wasteful. Additionally, this one was super simple, but showed how simple shapes are often the building blocks for other shapes.

 

Melt a rainbow.  

Cut out a two matching rainbow shapes from wax paper. Next, take some crayon shavings and have the child arrange them into a rainbow on the wax paper and iron them on a low setting. Hang it in a window, stand back and admire.  After all, you need a grey sky to see the colors of a rainbow.

That’s enough of a mess for now. Thanks for reading!

XO

Jane

If you give a mom a work deadline….

If you give a mom a work deadline….

If you give a mom a work deadline,
She will clear her schedule to finish the project.

When she clears her day to finish the project,
She will probably get a call from the school that her son has had an accident and needs a change of clothes.

She will get in the car and bring him the change of clothes.
When she gets in the car she’ll notice that her husband’s medicine was left in the car.
So she’ll drive downtown to give it to him.

When she gets back from downtown it’s almost time for carpool so she’ll go straight to the school. She might even pass the time by doing some work in the car and listening to the radio. When she goes to turn the car back on, she’ll realize that her battery is dead. So she’ll call AAA.

By now the baby needs a change. Going to change the baby she’ll realize that in her rush to bring the change of clothes she left the diaper bag at home. So she’ll put some tissues in the diaper instead.

After she’s done stuffing the diaper, it will be time to nurse. She will nurse the baby. After nursing it will be time for pick up. Since the car is still dead she’ll walk inside. Since it is raining, she’ll look for her umbrella, only to realize it is in the hall by the diaper bag.

The mom and baby will pick up the boy. The boy is so excited to see them, he’ll want to go home right then and have lunch! Only the car is still dead. Looking around the car, the Mom might find one small pack of crackers. The boy, Mom and baby will share this pack of crackers while waiting in the car in the rain for the car guy to come.

The car guy will finally come. He will look at her funny. The mom might then realize that she has left her blouse open after nursing.

Once the car is working the mom, boy, and baby will go home. Entering the door, the mom might notice a funny smell and realize she forgot to turn the burner down on the soup she had been making for dinner. She will open the pot to find the soup burnt.

Smelling the burnt soup smell will make the boy refuse to eat lunch. By the time he finally eats something it is time to get back in the car to go to speech.

Only in her rush to deal with the soup the Mom forgot where she put her keys. So she’ll make up a game called “find Mommy’s keys”. They will all play and finally find the keys. But by this time they are late for speech.

Getting home from speech, the boy will want a snack. Giving him a snack will remind the mom that there is nothing for dinner. She’ll look through the take out menus.

Looking at the papers will remind the mom that she still has her work deadline. So she will clears her evening schedule to finish the project. Except when a mom clears her schedule, she will probably get a call to interrupt it…

And how was your Monday?

Cinderella Ate My Child… And I am perfectly OK with it

Cinderella ate my child… And I am perfectly OK with it. The difference, Ms. Orenstein, is that my child is a boy. That is I was OK, until he started wearing Cinderella panties.

I introduced M-man, then two years old, to Cinderella out of desperation. My cousin was getting married and we faced 16 hours of family togetherness, in a car, with a two year old. Desperate to entertain and constrain an active two year old, I turned to my old favorite – Disney movies. Only little M-Man was going through some tough nightmares at this time, so whatever he watched could not have a scary bad guy, any monsters, or really sad parts. That means: no Toy Story (I mean, really, Sid is one scary kid), Monsters’ Inc. (a funny monster is still a monster), and definitely no Lion King (Mufasa. Sniff.). I landed on Cinderella, thinking the mice and animals could be fun. He LOVED it! He loved the funny mice and birds, he loved the bibbity, bobbity, booing Fairy God-Mother, he even loved Lucifer the evil step-cat! But mostly he loved Cinderella and Prince Charming. He watched Cinderella countless times. His stuffed animals attended royal balls, drawings of castles filled the gallery wall, and dress up always included a prince element. Then we visited Disney World and he met “the real” Cinderella. It. Was. Love. Pure love. After meeting her, he was so aw-struck he literally could not talk for a solid 5 minutes, which, as anyone who’s ever had a two year old knows, is a significant amount of time.

I thought it was wonderful. We talked about optimism and the power of hope and the importance of dreams as Cinderella sang about her dreaming heart. We talked about kindness. Love, different types of families, how men should treat women… I covered all of them with my two-year-old boy within the story of Cinderella. Then came potty training. As a reward for doing such a good job with his potty training, I let him pick out a new pack of underwear. He studied each pack intently. This was a serious decision and not to be taken lightly. Then, eyes shining, he turned to me and proudly showed me his selection. Cinderella panties. White with powder blue and purple trim and a picture of Cinderella on the front. My hand froze. Watching the movie was one thing, but wearing Cinderella panties? In what I believe was a defining parenting moment, I swallowed the no in my throat and said, “Those look great, dear,” and carried on shopping.

M-Man is now four and still wears Cinderella underwear. One time recently he wanted to wear a Cinderella pair instead of a Spiderman paid I had grabbed. I asked him why. He very plainly said that he likes the Cinderella ones better because they do not have a “penis pocket”. This means the picture is on the front instead of the back (or butt) and he can see it better. Though this moment did crystallize why he insists on wearing his all of his other underwear backwards, I felt sick at the thought that someone would tease him as school. Still, I dropped him off at school with his Spiderman shirt and Cinderella panties.

Yesterday The Boston Globe Magazine ran an article about the problem with separate toys for boys and girls. Not surprisingly, it’s negative. Boys stop playing with girls earlier than developmentally appropriate, thereby strengthening gender stereotypes and deepening gender inequalities. It is natural for boys and girls to play together. Through this play, children gain a foundation of respect for the opposite gender because they realize that the other sex really isn’t all that different from them. Playing together teaches that everyone likes to play, and is therefore equal. From this equality comes respect.

As a mom of two boys, it is extremely important that my sons respect women. I want my sons to value strength, independence, and kindness in girls and later in women. But our children live in a blue and pink world. So it is up to us as parents to get our boys and girls to play together. It is up to us to teach them to see that blue and pink are simply colors. When Mother Nature creates a rainbow or paints a flower she doesn’t let the color dictate where it goes. Neither should the color of the toy aisle dictate what toys my child plays with. Neither should a cartoon picture on a pair of underwear lead me to discourage my son from wearing them.

So I am going to let my son wear Cinderella underwear as long as he wants. I am going to set up play dates with boys and girls. I am going to buy toys based on his interests, not aisles. I am going to model that certain colors do not belong to one gender or another (“Yes, Mommy wears blue shirts. And Daddy wears pink shirts.) I am going to ask him which girls in his class are strong, fast runners, and funny; helping him create concrete examples. And I vow to keep doing this, even when girls become gross and then not gross again. I will talk with, listen to, and observe my son. I will remember how I act around “boy things” and “girl things” matters. Because when he is in college and at a frat party, I want to know he will respect the girls there. I want him to date girls who are smart, interesting, and adventurous. I want one day for him to find his Cinderella, and for him to be one heck of a Prince Charming.

Until that day, I want him to wear Cinderella underwear.

5 Ways to Celebrate Reading All Week Long

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss! In honor of Read Across America Week here are a few ways to celebrate reading with your family. And if you are wondering, yes, my boys will be doing all of these.

photo 1(3) photo 2(2)

 

  1. Bake a cake. Reading should be celebrated! And nothing says party to a preschooler more than a cake decorated by them in honor of their favorite book or author. M-Man and I Seussified ours, but how about a spooky Harry Potter cake or a James and the Giant Peach cake? Grab some sprinkles, a favorite book and go to town. Just look out for sticky pages.
  2. Make a puppet show. Create some puppets based on the book. Sock puppets, paper bag puppets, and wooden spoons are all classics. Have your child design them in the likeness of the books’ characters. Another way to inspire literary play is to photocopy the characters, laminate them, and tape them to craft sticks.
  3. Dine like a literary. This is my favorite. Bring their favorite characters to the dinner table. Let the child pick a favorite book and give everyone a character to dress up as at dinner. To date Pete and I have been the Harry Potter gang, almost every super hero, and Dr. Dolittle’s practice. Another way is to pick a theme for the dinner and everyone bring a book to talk about within the theme. For example, if the theme is “Farm” each family member could bring The Big Red Barn, Charlotte’s Web, and Animal Farm. Spend the dinner sharing what each book is about and what you like about it.
  4. Find a new author. Visit and support your local bookstore. I have nothing against Barnes and Nobel; I love their train tables, but if you are lucky enough to have a good local bookstore near you, take the time to visit it this week. The staff will be knowledgeable, most likely friendly, and will be able to introduce you to a whole world of new and wonderful children books. If you are not able to get there, here is list that impressed me recently and I have earmarked for future birthday gifts http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jordan-b-nielsen/20-new-classics-every-chi_b_6512072.html.
  5. Have a library party. Nothing beats the real deal. I am of course referring to the local library. Have you been to yours lately? Since the way we consume books is changing, libraries are changing too. From eBooks to free office space, libraries offer many more services than ever before. As for kids, there are obviously books, but also toys, music, movies… We will end our Read Across America Week by visiting our own library making an afternoon of it. We will make hats to wear because a party hat always means a good time. (I’m not sure yet if I am joking or not. I’ll let you know.)

Things to Do When Stuck Inside with a Preschooler

IMG_3913Winters in Virginia will always make the New Englander in me smile.  Snow storms are few and far between, but when they come they bring with them snow days a plenty.  you’ll hear a lot about how “Virgina doesn’t have the equipment or the snow budget…”, but I think M-man hit the mark best.  When driving him back to school after four days off, he asked with a look of utter confusion on his face “But Mommy, we can’t go to school.  There’s snow on the ground.”  Well, snow is still on the ground, the weather forecast calls for another 6 inches tonight, and schools are fully expecting another couple of snow days.  So parents will dress the little guys head-to-toe in marshmallow-filled snow suits and send them outside to play.  Until the inevitable lost mitten, wet hands, snow ball to the face, or (and this is the worst) Mom gets cold.  Too soon the winter wonderland adventure ends and cabin fever sets in.  Pair that with the fact that in our house snow days mean drinking copious amounts of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows plus baking cookies or brownies or both and you can quickly have a preschool disaster.  There are only so many crafts you can do and pictures you can color before one of you starts climbing the walls.  So for all the parents gearing up for another snow day, here’s something I wrote during my preschool teacher years when you just can’t weather another snowman, but your little person needs to move. (Wall climbing not included.).

 

Here are a few ideas on how to keep a preschooler active when stuck inside:

 

Freeze Dance Party

Grab your tot and turn on the tunes! Anything with a beat will work. Dance and be silly with your child as you listen to the music. Help teach impulse control and listening skills by having the child freeze when you briefly stop the music. An added element to the Dance Party could be “dressing up” prior to the party – raid mom and dad’s closet and don silly hats, ties, make-up… anything can go as long as the child will not trip over it.

 

Obstacle Course

Turn your house into a personal training course. Run up stairs, climb under tables, tag walls, crab walk (or any other animal walk) across the living room, climb through hula hoops, lift up old sheets like parachutes, hop over jump ropes on the floor… the world (or your house) is your oyster!

 

Treasure Hunt

Arrrgh, there be rough weather outside and a slurry of pirates inside. Your dining room table becomes a pirate ship when your tot finds a treasure map taped underneath! Use picture clues of items throughout the house to lead him or her on the hunt. At the end hide tissue paper coins inside a treasure bag along with a healthy snack. Share the snack together onboard the pirate ship (underneath the table) while counting the coins and reliving the hunt.

 

Yoga

Encourage your child to appreciate the quiet beauty of a snowy day while you find your inner peace from your mats (or beach towels). Downward Facing Dog, the Cat Stretch, the Camel Stretch, the Tree Pose, and the Heart Pose are all child friendly yoga moves.

 

Book Acting

Draw your child into reading by acting out the book together. My family’s favorite is “The Gingerbread Man” as our little man “runs, runs, runs as fast as he can, but we can’t catch him because he’s the gingerbread man!”. Mom and Dad then take turns being the other characters. Click here for a list of recommended books.

 

Poetry Slam

Ask your child to listen to a poem as you read it. After you are finished, discuss the poem with your child. What were the favorite characters or event that happened? Then encourage the child to act out the characters or actions as you read the poem a second time.

 

Shape and Movement Game

Cut out various shapes from construction paper. When you hold up a triangle, your child can only move his or her head. When you hold up a circle, the child can only move his or her legs. For a square, only move shoulders; for a rectangle, only hips. For an oval, the child can move his or her entire body! Change shapes quickly and play music during the game to add to the fun.

 

Become

Let your child act out the features/characteristics of some every day items such as a bike, rake, hose, wheelbarrow, beach ball, kitchen mixer, etc.

 

Line Challenges

Using masking or painters tape make a line on the floor. Encourage your child to see how many things he or she can do on the line: jump over the line, walk on the line, hop along the line, stand on the end of the line with one foot, stretch out on the line, slide on the line, tiptoes across the line, roll over the line, lie beside the line, run or skip around the line, etc.

 

Classical Music and Movement

Play classical music to encourage creative movements. Selected sections from Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals are excellent for inspiring animal movements; Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Little Swans” from Swan Lake is a natural for tiptoeing; Herbert’s “March of the Toys” from Babes in Toyland or Grieg’s “Norwegian Rustic March” from Lyric Suite; etc.

 

And when you run through these, “Do you want to build a snowman?”.  Thanks for reading!

 

XO

Jane

House Stuff Happens

It was quite possible some of the longest hours my husband and I ever experienced short of those first few weeks with a new born.  We were returning home from New Zealand, a trip of a lifetime, when one phone call brought reality crashing home.  Our furnace exploded.

 

Thankfully, it was internal.  That means no fire, none of our animals were harmed (there were no animals harmed in the writing of this post), and our house was intact.  It was just very, very dirty.  When an oil furnace explodes, it sends a plumage of think, black, oily smoke all over your house.  An insurance guy described it best by saying “It’s like a fire, only with no flames.”  I had no idea how much damage smoke can do.  The worst of the damage was in the basement and attic.  We lost a fair amount of stuff.  I however, as Hubs will attest, am optimistic to the point of annoying.  There is always a silver liner.  In this case, my big lesson was that stuff happens, and when it does your stuff will quite possibly get damaged.  It’s hard, it’s emotional, and boy it’s exhausting.  The silver liner is: it’s just stuff.  Our furnace exploded before we had kids, so now I have an even greater appreciation of keeping my family safe, but even then I just felt relief that everyone was safe (because in our house animals are people, too).  And hey, it helped us do a major de-clutter and get rid of a lot of stuff!

With all the wacky weather we’ve been having, I have been seeing a lot of posts about freezing pipes, ice dams, and just awful stuff for home owners to endure.  I just wanted to write a little tribute to anyone who is currently going through something like this to hang in there.  I hope your house gets better soon.  And in the meantime, hug your family tight, keep your sense of humor, and know you are in my thoughts and prayers.

 

XO

Jane

Making Your Home Office Work

Before: My messy home office.  Notice the piles of clutter in front of the filing cabinet.  Just a bit ironic!

Before: My messy home office. Notice the piles of clutter in front of the filing cabinet. Just a bit ironic!

It’s been a week.  First Hubs and I caught a stomach bug.  For a solid 24hrs I proved that, yes, you can parent from a horizontal position thanks to the help of Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger.  Then, poor, sweet little baby H-Bear caught a cold.  A snotty, juicy, keep-you-up-all-night, cold.  After going to the doc two days in a row, it finally settled into an ear infection so he got the meds to knock it out.  He’s been on them for a few days and thankfully already has a sparkle back in his blue eyes.  Throw a week of snow days (the New Englander in my will never understand VA snow days), and one healthy-as-a-horse, rambunctious, four-year-old boy and….  It’s been a week.  However, the dedicated organizer in me stuck it out and finished the sixth week of my 6-Week Clutter-Buster Challenge.  Sure, the rest of the house is trashed to the point Hubs dubbed it “Little Bangladesh”, the dishes in my sink are over flowing, and the only clean clothes in the house sit upstairs in laundry baskets, but I organized my home office!

After: Ahhhh.... Suddenly I can see my desk and use my filing cabinet.  This is MUCH better!

After: Ahhhh…. Suddenly I can see my desk and use my filing cabinet. This is MUCH better!but I organized my home office.

 

A well functioning home office keeps all the house “must-dos” in order.  Whether your home office is a spot in the kitchen to pay bills or a separate room dedicated to your business, it needs to be organized to function.  And needless to say, ours was not functioning well.  Here are a few ideas that I used to make my home office work:

1. Plan around what your space needs.  The more I try to dig my house out of its mess, the more I value the planning time that goes into true organization.  My office needed to handle our home files and bills, my writing, and my marketing business.

2. Know and accommodate for how you work.  I envy people who tough a piece of paper and file it.  I am a bulk filer.  So I needed a place to put my papers until I can carve out some time and file.  A basket solved this problem nicely.  I also do a lot of my work on the go, usually from the car while H-Bear naps and M-Man is in school (oh, how I wish he would nap nicely in his crib!).  So for me, files need to be mobile.  Thankfully, some simple three-ring binders easily take my home office from home to car.

3. Keep things you use the most in view.  I like it when things are simple.  Keeping the files I use a lot out and within easy reach makes it simple for me to grab a file and work on it.  Unfortunately this often results in piles of folders cluttering up my desk.  By simply repurposing a magazine holder I already had, files are now within reach but organized.  I love how storing them vertically gives me tons of work space on my desktop.

4. Give everything a place.  I love my desk.  But it’s open leg, simple design does not provide the storage I needed.  Stamps, staplers, and every other piece of office equipment could be found scattered around the room, but never when I needed them.  So, I added some vertical storage.  I moved a wall shelf from the guest room to my office and suddenly things had a place.  I am not in love with this solution yet.  Honestly, I’m not quiet sure what I want.  I looked at some cubbie systems and cabinets, and nothing seemed right.  I also am trying to get away from taking the quick fix by buying new, cheap furniture made in China.  It seems so wasteful – both of money and of materials.  Decluttering does not have to mean adding to the landfill.  So, for now I’ll use the shelf I had and keep looking for a salvaged solution.  Thankfully, all of my office supplies from stamps to staplers now have a place where they belong.

5. Bring in things you love.  I used to get stressed out just stepping into my office.  The disorder didn’t help, but every time I went in there I just thought of all the work I had to do.  Boxes of files, mailing supplies, and office supplies were everywhere.  I never wanted to go in there unless I had to.  My mind could not focus.  I had lost sight that it is HOME office.  So I brought in a few of my favorite old books, decorated with pictures that M-Man drew, and added a few meaningful knick-knacks. Now M-man and I play games in there, we’ll read in there, and I just love spending time in my new office.  My mind can rest and focus, which means everything works better!

 

I am proud that I stuck with my 6-Week Clutter-Buster Challenge.  It feels great just getting a few things done.  There is still a ton to do, but it’s a little bit better.  And I’m learning that sometimes when you’re juggling two kids, four animals, one husband, and working from home, a little is just enough.  Just doing a little can help you breathe through the mess of the day and feel good about your accomplishments when you sleep.  I’d love for you to share how you declutter and keep your wonderful life a bit more organized and a bit less of a mess.  Until next time.  Thanks for reading!

 

XO

Jane

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Our heart mailbox.

Our heart mailbox.

M-Man's valentine to us - his thumbprint heart!

M-Man’s valentine to us – his thumbprint heart!

Valentine’s Day gets a bad rap. Sure, there are reasons as to why it can be a complicated holiday (made by Hallmark, can make people feel lonely, blah, blah, blah).  I love Valentine’s Day.  I think it just needs a bit of a makeover.  It is a day to celebrate love.  That is a wonderful thing to celebrate!  I wish the world remembered to celebrate love a bit more throughout the rest of the year.  Love is not all about romance or fifty shades of anything.  I honestly think that is the most shallow kind.  Real love is when you would put someone’s happiness before your own.  Moms, dads, grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends, dogs, cats, …even my son’s old catfish…  everyone has someone they love.  Valentine’s Day is just a day to remember to show it.  The show doesn’t have to be big, or fancy, or expensive.  It just has to be shown however you best say I love you.  (For me, construction paper is my tool of choice.)  Hubs and I try to teach our boys that it’s good to show love, and that you should show love and kindness every day.  But, lives get busy.  People get tired, bills have to be paid, work stinks and sometimes you just get grumpy.  Sometimes the ones you love the most are the ones who get your grumpy side the most, because you know that you can be grumpy and your honest self with them and they will still love you.  Valentine’s Day serves as a reminder to pause your to-do list, no matter how much is on it or what you’re worried about, and show the people you love how much they matter.  It’s the simplest holiday, really: you don’t need presents, you don’t need to decorate, there are no big breaks to get through, no meals to plan, no family gatherings to get through, and no religious element.  You just need to pause and say I love you.  So, to all of the people I love, near and far, you are special to me and I love you.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

XO – Jane

He’s Crafty… How to Organize Kids’ Arts and Crafts

My son calls himself a crafter. The proud four-year-old exclamation of “I’m quite the cwafter, huh, Mom?” following each creation’s reveal melts my heart every time! I try to encourage his interest. At any given time I have on hand: googlie eyes, glitter, paper towel rolls, fabric scraps, foam shapes, pom-poms… you get the idea. It also means that at any given time I have an arts and crafts mess somewhere.  My house looks like a children’s craft shop. And while the former preschool teacher in me loves his passion for “cwafting”, the mom in me likes to think I have better ways of spending my time than on my hands and knees picking up pieces of the craft du jour. This brings me to my fifth week of 6-Week Clutter-Buster Challenge: How to organize your kid’s arts and craft supplies. (I want to add, “so they don’t just become Crap Supplies”, but I’m better than that, right? Wink, wink.)

 

My goals were for his art supplies to have their own place and looked tidy, yet were still easily accessible to M-man. (There goes that former preschool teacher again!) And of course, the organization solution needed to be easy enough that M-man could do it and make it a habit. I got to say, I think I succeeded. Here’s what I did:

 

  1. Observe.  It felt counter intuitive, but instead of jumping in right away, I took the time to really observe M-man. I watched how and where he naturally crafted, and put into words what specifically I wanted I wanted to improve. By watching, I learned that there were actually two crafting “hot spots” that need a bit of finessing: the kitchen and the family room. Once I identified where the messes were happening, I drilled down to the type of messes occurring and why they bothered me. The family room tended to attract paper cutting, coloring, and sticker work where the kitchen was where the bigger, messier arts and craft projects were happening. (Phew!) So, I made a plan for each place based on what naturally happening in those places. I’m about modifying habits, not creating new one!
  2. Give them a table. When M-man crafts he sppprrreeeaaadddss out. Unfortunately, he typically spreads out all over the family room rug. Enter one-year old baby H-Bear into the mix and suddenly the family room rug became an all you-can-choke-on buffet. Our refrain became H-Bear putting something in his mouth, me frantically fishing it out (I’m STILL waiting on that penny to surface), while M-man yelled about his artwork getting messed up. We needed a change. We needed a change in height. I rearranged the furniture so our resident artist could have a proper table to sit at and craft. Craft doodads are now kept out of the baby’s mouth, the four-year-old’s masterpieces are safe, and all it took was getting off the floor.
  3. Keep materials visible, but contained. As far as I am concerned, Bell jars are the greatest invention of all time. They allow me to store the kids’ arts and craft materials so M-Man can see what he has and use what he has, but everything has a place. I then took the ‘visible but contained’ rule one step further. In the kitchen I added a small, glass-front cabinet near the kitchen table, and in the family room I hung a cute cubby piece over the crafting table. Both these pieces keep art materials visible for the resident artist, but provide needed storage solutions in handsome pieces that compliment the décor.
  4. Establish a purging routine. We display and keep a lot of M-Man’s artwork. But if it were up to my son, we would keep every scrap of paper. As you can imagine, my house holds a mountain of crafting clutter. I needed a system to quietly and gently purge at a few of the lesser masterpieces. I developed system centered on a Tupperware container. The container lives by the crafting cubby in the kitchen and we call it the crafting tub.  In reality, it is more the crafting purgatory and is my key to having at least some control over the amount of construction paper in piles on my dining room table. Whenever a piece of artwork is created that I might not want to save forever (we all know those pieces), I put it in the box and hold on to it for a few weeks. It’s my litmus test. If M-Man really loves the project, he’ll ask about it within this time period. Otherwise, it’s out of sight, out of mind. It’s then easy to empty the old pieces from the box on trash night* and life continues onto the next masterpiece (*it is important to leave no trace or they will be found in the trash and then you’ll have to save it forever).

 

I can’t believe that next week is my last week of my 6-Week, Clutter-Buster Challenge. I’m so glad I made myself do this. The house is laughably far from being done, far from perfect, and seems to generate it’s own clutter, but it’s a start.  I believe that as long as I do one thing to improve life’s mess each week that I would not normally do (dishes and laundry don’t count – sorry!) then I’m doing something right.  In the meantime, I am going to go enjoy my two boys chasing each other around the toys and detritus in the living room.  Thanks for reading!

 

XO

Jane

 

How to Quickly Clear Bookshelf Clutter

It’s week 4 of my 6-week declutter-challenge and I have a new nemesis. Books. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading. I wish I had more time to cozy up with a good book and blissfully read for hours (collective sigh from all mom’s everywhere at this fantasy). What drives me crazy is book hoarding. Books are beautiful works of art that someone had poured years of their life into creating. Got it. But, if those said works of art simply sit unread on my bookshelf collecting dust they are clutter with a cover. So my project for this week is to go through my bookshelf and get rid of the clutter. The “right” way to do this would be to take everything off the book shelf, then thoughtfully put back only want you want while tossing or moving the items you don’t want. Only as a mom of two boys four and under I really don’t have the time to luxuriously take things off, sort through them, thoughtfully return them, and then proudly pin the photo of a beautiful, clutter-free bookshelf. If I even attempted this I would be able to take everything off just in time to be called away to change a diaper or wipe someone’s behind. Instead I am quietly purging the bookshelf clutter, one box at a time. In one week I am three boxes down, my shelves are thinning out, and I was able to do it without my kids melting down. Here’s what I did:

  1. Grab a box.  Or an empty laundry basket, whatever you have.  In my case I had an empty diaper box.
  2. Fill it with books you know you can part with.  These can be gifts people gave you and never read, paperbacks that you read five years ago and will probably never read again, or an old textbook from college you for some reason hung on to.  They all go into the box.
  3. Sort these into “Donate”, “Sell”, or “Throw Away”.  You have a number of different options here.
    1. Donate: I started with the “Donate” because it’s the easiest.  Simply drop them off at the local library, Children’s Museum, or your church.  You’ll feel good because the books will get a new life and your house it a bit less cluttered.
    2. Sell: Next is the “Sell” pile. I started by looking up their resale value on www.BookScouter.com.  It’s a great site that compares 60 different book resale sites and gives you the highest price.  It is really easy to use and helped me feel a bit more informed about what I had.  Other great options for selling books are on Amazon, ebay, or simply taking them to your used book store. Selling was tedious, but easier than I thought it would be, and don’t expect to be rolling in dough.  My box got me about $20 bucks.  But any extra cash is nice!
    3. Throw Away:  Ugh.  No one likes to throw away books, but for some it’s the old option.  (You could always upcycle and use them for crafting, but that is for another post, not one about clearing clutter)  Old college text books, random paper pamphlets, and paperbacks worn beyond repair all get tossed into the garbage.  I save this for the day before trash day so I can’t get “throw out remorse”.  Once it’s in the bin, it’s gone.
  4. Keep it looking good.  I am fascinated by those bookshelves in the Potterybarn catalog that display their books spine in so you can only see the pages.  I always wonder if it’s a copyright thing, a design thing, or some combination.  Regardless, it turns out it is a pretty great way of keeping the clutter from creeping back into the bookshelf.  There will be some books that fall into the “Maybe” area – you probably could or should get rid of them but for some reason you still want to hold on to them.  The way to get around this put them in book purgatory.  Turn them around so they are spine-in.  Then, when it’s time to declutter again you can start with these.  If you still haven’t read them in the extra time, it really is time to get rid of them.  If you are thrilled to see it and want to read it, then it’s a keeper.
  5. Don’t forget the Library.  I love the public library.  Instead of going to Barnes and Noble and buying new books all the time, check one out from the library.  Or download an ebook for your kindle.  Both of these give you wonderful ways to read the next great book without adding to the book clutter.

Now, look at your bookshelf, take a deep breath, and give yourself a pat on the back.  I know I did!