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

 

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!

Bathrooms and Snow Days

Week 2 of the My 6-week Get-Organized Challenge.

The bathroom.  Let’s face it, when it comes to cleaning, bathrooms, and kids it really should be a four-letter word.  When we bought the house, the master bathroom was the huge selling point.  The jetted, corner tub inspired visions of a blissful, spa-like bathroom with an orchid and decorative rocks filled my head.  Two years later the only thing this room inspires is a headache.  My jetted tub creates wild storms for Mr. Man and his collection of Jake and the Neverland-Octonauts-sailing-submarine-pirates bath toy collection.  My sink has challenged my husband to a beard growing contest might be winning.  My vanity holds everything from deodorant to band-aids.  I even found a half-eaten bag of graham cracker snacks left there from October. It. Was. Gross.

The Before:

Here’s just one drawer to give you an idea…

 

So this last snow day I took full advantage. While one boy napped and the other vegged out with a movie (ah, the beauty of snow days!) I tackled the bathroom.  All it took one kid’s movie, two mini-muffin pans, some snack-size zip lock baggies, and elbow grease.  It’s not perfect, but it is a huge improvement.  Week 2 of my organization challenge complete!  And I included one cute shot of what a VA snow day looks like.  The New Englander in me chuckles every time!

The After:

IMG_3885 IMG_3880 IMG_3882 IMG_3913

 

 

Taming the Laundry Room.

Where has the time gone since I made that resolution to really get organized this year?  Just between you and me, I haven’t even begun to take the Christmas ornaments off the fire-hazard, I mean Christmas tree!  But, it’s time to start.  Time to get off the couch and clean under it.  Mess and clutter foul up my family more than anything else. We bicker trying to find things, feel rushed and thrown together, and never just rest in a peaceful room. There is a reason why teachers take weeks before school planning, setting up and arranging their rooms – environment matters.  So, I am rolling up my sleeves and working on my environment.  I am holding myself to a six-week cleaning challenge. Hopefully by then I’ll be a bit closer to fulfilling one of my greatest resolutions, living in an organized house.

I thought the most logical place to start was the least sexy place in the house – the laundry room. It is the minivan of the home – maybe not sexy, but boy it can hold a lot of useful crap. I figured if I could get it under control I’d be off to a great start. I’m not done yet, I still need to figure out where to keep the cats’ food so the dogs don’t eat it yet I can still use my folding table and I need to develop a good recycling system, but it’s a start.  Here’s what helped me tame the laundry room:

  1. Install a shelf over the washer.  It sounds so simple, but installing a shelf next to the washer was the best thing I did.  Suddenly my detergents are right at hand, spills don’t matter because they go right into the washer, and I have room on my folding table.
  2. Mount a wall drying rack.  I took a short cut here.  I had hooks already on the wall and a standing drying rack.  So I simply put them together.  I now have a place to hang shirts to dry, nothing drags on the ground, and when I’m done it folds completely out of the way.  I love simplicity!
  3. Repurpose a back-of-door shoe rack.  I am in love with this simple, clever idea!  I spent $7 at Wal-mart and got a completely made over, tidy closet that is easy to maintain.  Cleaners, miscellaneous things like extra screws and other things that live the junk drawer are contained and easy to find when hung on the door.  I am now obsessed with adding back-of-door shoe racks to all of my closet doors.
  4. Hang a broom rack.  Brooms, mops, and dustpans need a place live when not in use, and cluttering a poorly named “broom closet” simply was not cutting it.  So I spent $5, attached a broom rack to the wall behind the door, and now all my brooms are off the floor, ready for use when I need them, and I have room to store the kitty litter in the broom closet.

All for now – until next week!

Jane

PS: If you have any great organizational tips or life hacks that you think are brilliant, please share them! I need all the help I can get to get my self not just off the couch but also cleaning under it. In a home with two kids 5 and under, two dogs, and two cats I am looking for simple to create, easy to keep going hacks. Bonus points are given to anything that helps wrangle the tumbleweeds of pet hair and mountains of kids’ arts and craft projects!