Thursday, December 31, 2009

Decluttering Challenge, Day 4!

Today we are in two areas - our Master Bedrooms, and our Office/Desk Areas. You know what that means - go through your own clothes, and get rid of stuff you don't wear regularly. For me, my own clothing is an area where I feel a lot of guilt about getting rid of stuff. But if you've never gotten rid of something you feel guilty about, you've gotta try it! It's a freeing feeling to let go of that guilt and not have to look at something day after day that just makes you feel bad about not liking it, not returning it when you should have, or not fitting in it. Come on... try it!

For the office, don't spend any time actually dealing with the paperwork on your desk. Just make some piles for now. Mine are: To file, Bills, and To Do. You can deal with your paperwork later in small increments, but for now just get through it as quickly as possible. Also, think about your paperwork system - how you store it and how you deal with it. To create a plan that works for you, you have to be honest with yourself about what is working and what isn't.

Pssst.... next week I'll be introducing my new cleaning plan for 2010, with a deep cleaning and decluttering schedule for these same areas. I'm so excited!

• Donate old/unworn clothes & shoes
• Organize nightstands and top of computer armoire
• Throw out broken pens/pencils
• Make sure paperwork system is working
• Check paper, printer cartridges, stamps, and envelopes

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Decluttering Challenge Day 3!

Today we are in the Kids' Rooms and Playrooms/Toy Areas! It's time to make room for all those new Christmas toys! Be brave and get rid of anything your kids don't play with regularly. If you're too nervous to get rid of toys and artwork because you're worried your kids will miss them, hide them in the garage and re-evaluate in a few months. It's also time to take stock of your kids' wardrobes, so you know what you just HAVE to shop for in 2010!

To Do:
• Remove outgrown clothes
• Donate or store unused toys
• Throw out any toys that are broken or missing parts
• Check clothes in next size
• Go through kids' artwork

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's Decluttering Challenge, Day 2!

Today we are in the kitchen! Set a times for 30 minutes and get started! Here's my to-do list....

*Go through cabinet above pantry, clean out treats
*Sort through cookbooks
*Look through drawer with spoons, spatulas, etc., get rid of what we don't use
*Go through dishes, kid dishes, plasticware
*Look through pots, pans, and small appliances
*Get rid of serving platters I don't use

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Monday, December 28, 2009

On to the New Year with a Clutter Challenge!

I have a few ideas swirling about how to switch up my cleaning routine for the New Year, but I'll share those later this week.

This week I want to do a Giant New Year's Clutter Purge. I am going to tackle a new area each day this week and get rid of as much as I can. Not an all-day project, I'm thinking maybe 30-60 minutes a day. Anyone want to join me?

I'll post a Clutter Challenge each day. I'm going to post my personal to-do list for each room, but I'm sure you'll have more to add for your own home. Remember, don't get distracted and start to deep-clean, this is just ridding our homes of excess "stuff" so we can start the New Year off right!

MONDAY: LIVING ROOM AND HALL
*Go through videos and DVDs, get rid of ones we don't watch or are scratched, get rid of all cases and put DVDs in binders
*Purge magazines, get rid of old issues
*Go through blankets, keep only 1-2
*Go through front hall closet

Ready, Set, Go!

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Some good, cheap Target toy deals

I know I've been MIA, but I'll be back soon (hopefully later tonight) with some new organizational stuff I've been thinking about.

But first I wanted to pass along some good Target deals. Right now their Christmas stuff is 50% off, which also includes their aisle of stocking stuffer toys. I went on Saturday morning and there was tons, but it may be pretty picked over now. Depends on your local Target, of course. But if you're there, swing over and check out these two toys. I know the last thing I feel like buying right now is toys, but these are some pretty good deals.

Fisher Price TRIO Airplane Set

My son got this for Christmas and LOVES it. He is 2 and my daughter is 4, and they can both build with these blocks, sort of a cross between Unifix cubes and Tinker Toys. They give directions for building 4 different airplanes/helicopters, or they can build whatever. At $4.99 I thought I was already getting a good deal, but at half that, it's amazing. It's occurring to me now that I should have grabbed some for birthday gifts.

Yo Gabba Gabba Phase 10 Kids

This is a kids version of Phase 10. It has two different ways to play, one for smaller kids and one for older kids. I think the box says 4+, but my 2-year-old was able to play with a minimal amount of help. They put out a phase card (like 3 red cards, or 3 circles), and you just take turns drawing until someone gets the phase. If your child knows their colors, shapes, and can match numbers, they can play this game. Both my kids had a lot of fun with this game tonight. I believe it's $6.99 regularly, making it $3.50 right now.

They are also clearancing out all their Target brand toys that were on the endcaps, like their little dollhouse, robot, truck carrier, etc. Right now they're 30% off and there are some good deals, but I think I'm going to wait it out and see if they go even cheaper.

Anyone else see any good toy deals this week?

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The best $1 deal at Target

I'm sure almost everyone has seen the flashy $1 bins at the entrance of Targets. When I'm out shopping, without kids, I often find myself picking through the bins, struggling to resist buying another cheap spiral notebook, or a bobblehead pencil or a set of matchstick cars. Most of the stuff in those bins are total junk and will only add to the constant clutter in my house.
BUT...
There is one item in those bins that I've found to be the absolute best deal. They don't always have them, but when they do I stock up. What are they? The kids fork and spoon set. Don't laugh, it's true! Over in the baby aisle you will find the same fork and spoon sets for up to $5.00! I remember when I first started buying my kids forks and spoons and thought it was highway robbery to pay $4.99 for the tiny cutlery. And come to find out, it IS highway robbery since the same thing can be sold in the $1 bins, still for a profit, no doubt.
The only catch is that the $1 cutlery is usually holiday themed. But my kids can use Halloween and Christmas spoons and forks year round that price. Can't be beat!

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Update on the Photo Cards

A few posts ago, I wrote about the free Christmas card offer from seehere.com. I got my cards today, and the quality is pretty good! They came with envelopes, which was nice, and the card itself looks great. The only thing I'm not crazy about is that they're glossy rather than matte, but that's pretty minor considering they were free. Perhaps there was somewhere in their crazy program where I could have changed it to matte, but who knows....

Also, from what I've read online, they got so many people doing this offer that they are now charging for shipping. I believe it's about $3, which is still pretty good for 50 card + envelopes. So... happy card making!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Guest Post: The Lazy Girl's Guide to Saving Money

Hello, my name is Autumn and I’m lazy.

I should clarify: I’m naturally lazy. Over the years I’ve been able to refine my skills, yes, skills, of being lazy into what others might call “efficiency." Hopefully, I can share some of the wisdom I’ve acquired through my aversion to hard work onto you.

I told Katie that I was looking for a lazy girl’s guide to organization but came up short. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I could write something like that.’ Well, if you’re looking for organizational skills, I’m not the one to ask. Yet. So to tide you over until I become efficient in that area, here are some things I’ve learned about saving money.

I don’t use coupons. That would fall under the title of “Hard Work,” which I, of course, avoid. Instead, I sign up for the “club cards” the grocery stores I go to offer. Easy. Then while I’m shopping and trying to decide between different brands of the same item I look at their price per unit. This could also be per pound or per ounce, depending on what you’re buying. This is a much more accurate comparison than just looking at the price alone. Plus, you don’t have to do the math; the store has already done it for you. And at the end of that productive shopping trip you could get a nice little coupon that you didn’t have to clip.

Two words: free stuff. You can find free stuff ALL OVER, especially with the internet. First, craigslist.com has a whole section devoted to free stuff. As a mom some of my favorite sites with giveaways are Seeryus Mama and Now What Baby. Sign up for their feeds and they’ll send you info on giveaways and reviews. I’ve gotten some great stuff including baby shoes, lotion and gift cards.

Your local library is an amazing resource for free stuff. They have an in on what’s going on in your community. Plus, you get to borrow books and movies without paying a cent (unless you have a sweet little baby that likes to chew corners off of board books, but I digress). Speaking of books, goodreads.com is not only a great resource for reviews but they also have their own giveaway system. It’s call first reads and publishers give out a certain number of either pre- or post-release books for ordinary people like you and me to review. I’ve gotten two so I can vouch that it’s the real deal.

While we’re discussing public services let’s talk about transportation and parks. Usually when people think about public transportation their first thought is “gross” and a close second is “crazy people”. Well, that’s hit or miss depending on your city, where you live and where you want to go. Try it, though, at least once. You might be able to get a bus pass or some kind of discounted fare if you find it’s cost effective for you. And if you do decide it really is too disgusting or risky because of their clientele try walking. Exercise + free transportation = happiness.

Parks are a great alternative to other kid-friendly/wallet-busting activities. Heck, even if you don’t have kids it’s wonderful to sit outside reading your free book that you got from the library or won from first reads. Check out your local museums, too. They’ll often offer discounted days or rates depending on your situation.

My in-laws are notorious for their amazing finds at thrift stores and estate sales. Admittedly, this does require some leg work which is probably why I haven’t caught the shopping bug yet. See if there’s a Goodwill Outlet near you. They sell stuff by the pound. Take a moment to imagine all the things you could get…

“Never say ‘no’ to gifts” has become one of my mantras. This may take some getting used to if you value your pride like I did. Look at it this way: you’re getting what you need/want while the person giving it to you is able to de-clutter their home. It’s a win-win. Like they say, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” I know that doesn’t quite apply here in the traditional sense. Just replace “gift horse” with “gift-giving friend”. Imagine how that could affect your relationship.

And, finally, don’t buy something you can make yourself. There is a website devoted to the myriad of uses for vinegar. Amazing. This list is by no means extensive as I trust you all know how to use Google.
Baking Soda – taking out ring-around-the-collar
Olive oil – eye make-up remover
Dish soap – removing make-up from clothing or bedding
Seriously, just Google “how to make ___” and BAM! You’re practically done already.

Thanks, Autumn! We'd love to hear from you again any time!

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Free Photo Cards! + a review

Most of you have probably already seen this offer, but I wanted to pass it along to any friends who don't stalk the internet all day like I do. This website (Fuji's photo website) is offering 50 free photo cards, plus free shipping! You don't even put in a credit card or anything. The code is good through 11/30. I ordered mine on Tuesday, and got an e-mail today saying they'd shipped, so I'll come back and let you know if it's legit. But since you don't put in a credit card, the worst that can happen is that you can design a card and not get it, right? By the way, although it says it's for either the 4x8 or the 5x7, neither my friend or I could get the code to work for the 5x7, only the 4x8. Maybe we're missing something, not sure. So here's the link:

50 free photo cards

Here's my review, after having done this. First, the good things about this website. They have SUPER cute designs. Also, they're completely customizable - you can do however many pictures you want, wherever you want, change backgrounds, add borders, crop, photoshop, add text, etc. It's amazing! You can be so much more creative. And it appears as though you can order any number, as opposed to most websites, where you have to order in increments of 25 or 50. It also lets you share a link to your card, share it on Facebook, etc. Kind of cool. And the website looks like it always has free shipping on their photo products.

The downsides? HORRIBLY DESIGNED PROGRAM. I mean it. One of the WORST I have ever used. I spend my fair share of time on the internet and consider myself fairly technologically savvy, and I was about ready to pull my hair out trying to do my cards. It would lose my pictures, add a certain picture of my kids to the card again and again when I was trying to add a different one, change the shape of the picture, etc. I pressed the button that said "Load" and it took me back to the main menu and erased my card. Also, although you can put your pictures anywhere, there's no option to turn on gridlines or anything, so you just have to estimate if you're lining them up straight or making them even remotely the same size. UGH! It should not be that difficult. The most annoying thing is that I could not find an "Undo" button anywhere. So if you do something that messes up your card (which I did about 1.5 million times), you're just out of luck. So save early and save often, so you can go back to the saved version of your card.

That being said, I was so enraptured with getting to design it all myself that I would probably use them again if they had a discount deal, since now I think I've got the hang of the program.

So, I'll let you know in a few days how ours turned out. Here's a sneak peek. I went with a funny one this year (well, I think it's funny) since I couldn't get a great picture of all three kids. On this image it looks like the edges to my pictures are all scraggly, but it didn't look like that on the Preview or the project, so hopefully it's okay. Stay tuned.



PS: Do I DARE design my photo calendars on this website? Would I spend weeks on them with all the customizing I could do? Just think! I could finally fit like 100 pictures of my kids on each month! My mom would be so happy! Though, would it be worth it once I'd jabbed out both my eyeballs in frustration?

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Clutter-Free Christmas


So my kids, like most kids, have WAY too many toys. We don't even buy them toys except on Christmas and birthdays. I have no idea where they're all coming from. Reproducing plastic spawn as I sleep.

Anyway, I made it a goal not to give my kids toys this Christmas. I know, I'm a total shrew. But they get spoiled by grandparents, and I was even going to let Santa get them a toy or two. But from Mom and Dad, I vowed, there would be no plastic toys given this year.

I was thinking more along the lines of letting my daughter do a ballet class, buying my son a Lightening McQueen blanket, etc. Stuff they would like, but that wasn't just more stuff.

But I am a slave to commercialism, especially the crisp and clean kind dancing alluringly before me at my precious Target. The stupid toys are calling my name. The dollhouses and the racetracks and the traintracks and the Barbie clothes.... I'm suddenly plotting to spend hundreds on each kid behind my husband's back (although he pointed out that he'd probably figure it out on Christmas morning and know that it was me).

So help! Let's think of some good Christmas gifts that are not just crappy clutter. It can be for anyone, any age. If you read this, you have to leave a comment about a good gift you've given. Ready? Go!

PS: That's totally not my tree or my house. Just a random image I swiped off Google. I don't want you to get the wrong idea...

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Flylady, in practice

So Flylady has this whole routine, morning, afternoon, and evening. If her views on cleaning resonate with you, it's worth a look into her routine. But she's just really sharing what works for HER, and really encourages you to do what works for YOU. After much trial and error with different parts of her system, I've settled into something that works pretty well for me.

I posted my daily cleaning routine a few months ago, in THIS post. As you can see, it's pretty simple. Nothing compared to Flylady's. I would cry if I was facing that routine every day! But these are the parts of my daily routine that were inspired by Flylady.

* Having a cleaning routine. This is one thing that has helped me to stop seeing the house as a huge undone list of chores. When I start stressing out about a messy cabinet in the bathroom, I just stop, and make a note to tackle that job on Wednesday (my day to deep-clean bathrooms). I know that I'll get there, I'll do that room. It doesn't have to be now. Just knowing that it will happen on Wednesday if I don't get to it sooner calms me down immediately. It also helps me feel productive. Can I ever check "Clean Kitchen" off my mental list? No, it is perpetually messy and getting messier throughout the day every day. But I can cross off "15 minutes in Kitchen" and feel like I actually accomplished the task at hand, and it will still be done at the end of the day.

* Getting dressed to the shoes. This is a must for me, every single day. I can't get anything done when I'm in my pajamas, and I just feel better when I look in the mirror, like I can take on more of my life. And I like being able to walk out the door for an impromptu lunch date or trip to the park with friends.

* A load of laundry a day. This is one of the absolutes of my cleaning routine. It's very do-able, and everyone has clothes when they need them, without piles of laundry all over.

* A shiny kitchen sink when I go to bed. And I'll add to this, the sound of the dishwasher running. I love going to bed knowing I have a clean kitchen, and I love waking up to a clean kitchen.

* Fifteen minutes of cleaning. Flylady is all about 15-minute cleaning sessions. If you've never tried it, you would be AMAZED at what you can accomplish in 15 minutes. In fact, once when I asked my mom what she wished she'd known as a young mother, she said, "The power of fifteen minutes of cleaning." Try it, seriously. Go into the room that bugs you the most, set a timer, and start with the job that bugs you the most.

* The idea of "zones." In my routine, I spend (in theory) 15 minutes a day deep cleaning or decluttering one zone of my house. Monday is Master Bedroom, Tuesday is Kitchen, Wednesday is Bathrooms, Thursday is Kids' Rooms, Friday is Living Room/Hall, and Saturday is Yard/Garage. I would LOVE to get to a point where I did my "regular" chores more, well, regularly, and I could really use this time to focus on the deep-cleaning and decluttering. I'll get there. I'm trying.

I'm slightly embarrassed by how emotionally high-strung I seem to be reading over these Flylady posts. I hope I'm not coming off that way. I actually consider myself a pretty mellow person. It's just that there's a lot of baggage that goes along with keeping a house clean, so much that it seems like it represents about you as a wife and mother. I admit my transition to a stay-at-home-mom was a rocky one. I chose my profession because I loved it and I was great at it. Staying home and raising kids and keeping my house clean.... I do it because I feel like it's the right thing for our family right now, but I do NOT feel particularly talented in this arena, and that's been hard for me. The thoughts and theories of Flylady have really helped me in this area, and hopefully all my blathering about my soul-searching can help someone else as well.

But enough about me. Have you ever tried Flylady? Did anything about the routine stick? What do you like and dislike?

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Flylady, in theory

I've been asked a few times about the Flylady system, and to what extent I follow it. I wanted to talk a little bit about this system because I really do owe my (usually) relatively clean house to her. Today I'll sort of give an overview of her theories and why it's a good match for me, and then tomorrow I'll talk about her program and which parts I actually do.

If you're not familiar with Flylady, her website is HERE. She emphasizes letting go of perfectionism in house cleaning, and not being hard on ourselves when it can't be perfect. She also introduced me to the concept of cleaning with a timer, and the power of short bursts of cleaning.

I'll start you out with a story. As a young married, my house was usually always messy. I'm messy. So is my husband. But I hate the mess. And him? Not really so much. So I'm walking around our house with him, trying to get him to see what I see. I remember telling him, "And when I walk into the kitchen, all I see are those dirty dishes and a floor that needs to be mopped. And here in our bedroom, all I can see are those gross baseboards! When I look into our bathroom, I see toothpaste spatters all over our mirrors!" Naively expecting him to suddenly awaken to the filth around us and apologize for his lack of participation in our household chores, I was stopped in my tracks when he said simply and softly, "I'm sorry that's how you see our home."

I think that anyone who has ever lived with another person knows that "clean" is a relative term. One person can look at a kitchen and pronouce it perfectly clean, while another would still be scrubbing down surfaces for hours. And my husband? Truly doesn't see it. He honestly doesn't. He sees our home in terms of the beautiful family that lives here, not in terms of chores still undone. So how did that change me? It's not either "clean" or "not clean." It's a home. And I had to make my peace with imperfection in order to maintain my sanity.

Of course it's different for everyone. I assume that for some people cleanliness comes more naturally, and the perfectly clean home comes without those feelings of being overwhelmed and frustrated by the task at hand. Others are fine with messiness, and focus their attention on children, hobbies, and more worthwhile pursuits than baseboards (How many times have I mentioned baseboards? Can you tell mine just haunt me?). And then there's me, and probably millions like me. I want my house to be clean, but the concept is overwhelming to me, and frustrating, and it makes me not even want to start because I don't have the time or energy to do it right.

And so began my love affair with Flylady. If you haven't read her website, check it out. It all starts with a shiny kitchen sink...

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Mom's Morning Out

In my group of friends, I am the Queen of setting up groups. I think Mom's Morning Out may have been the first one I set up, and it's my all-time favorite.

There are currently five of us in our group. Each Friday morning, one of us takes our turn hosting everybody's kids at our house from 9:30 to noon. Then, we get the next four Friday mornings FREE! Free to run errands, do homework, do Christmas shopping, clean the house, or, as I'm far more likely to do, waste time on the internet or take a nap.

One important aspect to making the group successful is to make sure that everyone is on the same page as far as expectations and rules. Here's how we do it in our group:
*To attend, the kid has to be over 1 year old and no longer taking a morning nap. No crabby crying babies.
*It doesn't matter if you have 1 or 2 kids in the group, you just host once. More than two kids, you host twice. I made up that rule and may end up regretting it, since I'll be the first and only so far to have three not in school yet!
*You also have to agree as a group upon standards of sickness. We're all pretty lax, so a clear runny nose, and minor coughs and colds are okay. Vomiting or green snot means you keep your kid home.
*In our group our kids also all watch TV and movies, so we're all cool with cartoons being shown, or a movie, but that's something you may want to go over if you choose to set up a group yourself.

This group has worked out really, really well for us over the years. I love having a morning free every single week, and my kids love getting together to play with their friends. I love having the time to myself and not paying for it, and my kids get a chance to be independent and learn to be away from me, while being watched by people that I trust. Everybody wins!

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A sanity-saving tip!

I have a 4.5 year old son and an almost 3 year old daughter who both occasionally wet the bed. And of course they both usually wet the bed on the same night. I swear they're out to get me sometimes! Anyway, they both went through a phase a few months ago where they were wetting the bed almost every single night. We'd just come back from a month-long vacation, just moved into our new house, etc, so they were really off schedule. Even so, I was about ready to lose my mind!

The real problem was when I'd strip their bedding and put it in the laundry room, but then I'd get busy and forget to wash or dry it before nap or bedtime. Then I didn't have their mattress protectors for their beds or any of their bedding. I was getting so frustrated because I detest being "forced" to do laundry like that.

Then I had a brilliant idea! It has seriously saved me so much energy and sanity. I bought an extra mattress protector and an extra set of sheets for each of their beds. I make their beds with 2 sets of everything. So it goes like this: mattress protector, fitted sheet, flat sheet, mattress protector, fitted sheet, flat sheet, comforter. When they do have an accident, I just strip the top layer of the bedding off, and their beds are all ready to go again!

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Oprah Wants Us to Have Cheap Shoes

The Oprah Winfrey Show is giving out a coupon for 50% off your entire purchase at Payless Shoes. From what I've heard, this even applies to sale and clearance items. But it's only good TODAY! Check it out...

http://www.oprah.com/article/oprahshow/20091016-tows-payless

The cool part is that you can print out a coupon, or they'll text you a code you can show the Payless cashier. So if you're like me, and your printer is frequently sketchy and/or out of ink, you can still get in on the deal.

We're going today. If this works, I might have to change my opinion of Oprah from total hate, to just minor hate. :)

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Massive Toy Reorg

After the kids birthday party I let them have free reign over the downstairs area of our house with their new toys for a week. At the end of that week I was pulling my hair out and wondering how in the world I was going to get it all organized and back on track. So after some careful thought and discussion with my husband we decided it was time to crack down on the "one thing out at a time" rule and "pick up after your done with it" rule.

Up until this point I had been very lax on the clean up the toys rule. Having three very young kids made it pretty low on my priority list each day. It was faster and easier for me to just do it. I didn't want to fight them on it or take the time to teach them how when it was time for a nap or time to head out the door, so I just let it slide. Yes, I'm terrible, but it was how I survived the day and it worked for me for the first 3 years. That all changed after I did my major toy, book and game reorganization.

First thing I did was sort out all the toys that they have out grown or just didn't play with that often. This had been tough up to this point because I was holding onto all the baby toys for my youngest, but he's old enough now that I could purge them all. All those toys are now off to homes that can use them. This is going to become a new practice of mine at least once a year.

Second I took stock of everything we had left and made a rough list of where I wanted them to "live". I also determined approximately how many totes I'd need to make my dream a reality. My goal was to get all their toys up into the tops of their closets so they would no longer be able to pull down whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. I figure as they get older and are used to the new rules I'll be able to put them back down at their level. For now, no way.

Then it was off to Fred Meyer to take advantage of a tote organization sale they were having. $1 for each of the small totes and $2.50 for the medium ones. I was so excited! I overbought, afraid of running out in the middle of a cleaning streak, and knew I could return the unused ones when I was all done.

The third step was to go from room to room, pulling toys down, putting them into their tote and moving them to the room that was to be their new home. The only time to do a project like this is when the kids are awake, so it made the project a little more tricky with them wanting to play with anything I got down to organize. But I also used it as an opportunity to teach them why I was doing it and how we were going to be changing our toy playing time.

The final thing I did was label all the totes. I color coordinated the labels by room. Addison pink, Ethan Blue, Austin Green, Family Room Closet Orange and Garage Play Area Purple. This way not even my husband could get confused over where things belong. :)

The whole process took an entire week of my "spare time" during the day. But man was it worth it. I felt like a new Mom after it was all done and I'm happy to report that the kids have responded very well to the new rules. We have a cleaner, less chaotic and more structured house now and my kids definitely thrive in that type of environment. I find that they play longer and better with something when it's singled out and only available if they've chosen it as their toy to play with. They've caught on to the "clean up when you're done" idea and although they still need coaching, are doing so great! Goes to show that it was truly my lack of effort that was setting us back this past year or so. Now we're all set!

Here are the final results. And I'm proud to say that if I went and looked in these closets right now they would look exactly as these pictures are. :) YEAH for organization!

Addison's closet and shelving unit. I put labels with little pictures on the drawers of the shelf unit so that she'd know what went in each drawer.


Ethan's closet. I forgot to take a picture of Austin's closet, but it looks very similar to the rest of the pictures. :)

Garage play area. SO nice to get all the toys up off the main floor of this space.
And finally the downstairs hall closet. This took the most work because it has all the kids craft stuff in it. It was overrun and totally chaotic prior to this, so it feels wonderful to have a place for every type of craft supply and to have it all labeled and put away. I'm a lot more motivated to get a craft out for the kids now, and that's a great thing.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mealtime Simplification

In most ways, I'm a pretty typical mom. I talk to a lot of other moms both in real life and online, and I feel like I'm pretty up to speed on the current trends in parenting. And in one case, I know I am an outcast. Mealtimes.

The current "right" way to be a mom is to make one thing and that's what your kids eat. "I'm not a short-order cook!" is what I constantly hear. Or that people don't want to raise picky eaters, or they have to try bites of everything, etc.

My theory is a little bit different. It was primarily born out of desperation. My husband works most nights, and mealtime is just not a battle I am going to wage on my own every night. I'm just not. But also, I just don't believe in making your kids eat what you fix. Everyone has food preferences, some more than others. Why should my kids have to like the same foods that I do? For instance, my daughter doesn't like spicy foods, but we do. How many times do I want to sit at a dinner table "making" her eat something spicy? Zero, is my personal answer.

So here's what we do: The same dinner is served to everyone, usually along with a fruit or vegetable that I know my kids like. You eat what you want to eat, and you're done when you want to be done. When EVERYONE is done, if you are still hungry, you can have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Here's why this works for us. First of all, my kids RARELY end up asking for a sandwich. Either they are really hungry, and they'll end up either eating or picking at dinner until they're full, or they weren't really hungry, in which case they don't need a sandwich. But if they do have a sandwich, so what? Wheat bread, peanut butter, and jelly a pretty balanced meal.

I have one relatively good eater, and one very picky eater, and this works well for both of them. My huge disclaimer is that my kids are all still little. I don't know if this would work for for bigger families, or families with older kids. But for me, it's most important that mealtime is a happy, peaceful time of the day, and that my kids learn to listen to their bodies and eat what they need to in order to be full. And that's what works for us.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

The kids birthday party

So I thought I was going to be able to post a whole bunch of tips about my kids birthday party here, but after spending an entire week writing and posting pictures of the party on my personal blog, I don't have it in me to write any more. The posting with all the decorations is probably the most informative if you're looking for ideas.
The key to the party planning was starting about a month in advance, buying and prepping everything before hand and extensively using MS OneNote to keep track of all the things I needed to buy, prepare, set up and remember. If you've never used OneNote, and you have access to it, I highly recommend it. Especially to those of you that are organization freaks like myself. It's awesome!
Here is the link to the decorations post if you're interested in checking it out:
http://twins.wheelertribe.com/?p=10300

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Deal at Target this week

At Target this week they are having a good Motts deal. If you buy 5 of their juices or applesauce 6-packs, you get a $5 Target gift card. At my Target the 6-packs of applesauce are $1.69 (making them 69 cents each) and the juice was $1.79. The packs of applesauce had lots of yummy flavors too, like peach, strawberry, and Granny Smith apple. I think you can do this multiple times in one transaction.

So, if you needed an excuse to go to Target this week, now you've got one! Off you go!

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Friday, October 2, 2009

How the Internet Helps Me Pretend I Know How to Cook

Shhhhh.... I have a secret. I get compliments nearly every time I bring a dish somewhere. And my secret is allrecipes.com. Although my husband is a chef, I'm not. And we both love to look for new recipes online. The great thing about Allrecipes is that it's like the Amazon.com of the cooking world - gets a LOT of traffic from regular people, who rate the recipes and recommend changes. If a recipe has 4.5 out of 5 stars with 2,987 reviews, it's going to be good. And most of the people on Allrecipes are just normal people, not fancy chefs or anything.

For those of you who use Allrecipes, what are your favorites? Mine are:
Caramel Apple Pie II
Mom's Macaroni and Cheese
Sugar Cookies With Buttercream Frosting
No-Bake Cookies III
Sloppy Joes

If you've never used Allrecipes, try it out. There are great new adventures in food, along with a million versions of the classics. The key is when you do a search, sort by rating rather than relevance, so that the highest-rated recipes come up first. It's also fun to click on a category such as Soups and Stews, and see their 20 highest-rated recipes. You can save favorite recipes to an online recipe box, and print them out to keep in a recipe box or binder.

I feel a little silly writing this post, because in my head I feel like everyone must use Allrecipes as much as we do. But I know that's not actually true. So if you've never tried it, go take a look around!

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Organize with baskets

I like to organize with baskets and bins. I like the plastic bins that come in all colors and sizes. I use them to store clothing, crafts, papers, markers, etc. I like to use smaller baskets and bins in cupboards and drawers. The bathroom drawers that my kids use sometimes gets very unorganized, so I use small baskets inside the drawers to help them keep things separated and organized. It works very well. Also, my master bath doesn't have a lot of storage area, so I put a plastic basket on top of the counter to contain all my stuff. I have pictures that I'd LOVE to share, but my card reader isn't working at the moment. I'll work on it later and see if I can get a picture or two uploaded.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Switching Out"

In my house, we do a lot of "switching out." Meaning, because we have limited space, we don't keep all of our toys, books, stuffed animals, etc. in the bedrooms at the same time. I like to think that even if we did have more space, we would still do this, because I feel like it cuts down on clutter and that my kids play with more if they have less out.

Remember that show Clean Sweep? One thing I remember Peter Walsh would always stress is that you only have the space that you have. Period. And you have to make the things that you have in the room fit in the space you have, not the space you wish you had. Each of my kids has one bin for books (you can see them in this post - one is hot pink and one is blue). They can only keep enough books in the house to fill their bin. All the other books get stored in the garage, and they can "switch out" when they want to. If they go out to feed the dog and stumble across a book they want to bring in, they have to take one out.

Although it's tempting to go through my kids' stuff when they're at playdates (and sometimes I do), I believe that involving them in this process from the very beginning teaches them valuable skills. My daughter just turned 4, and she's been doing this herself for a while. She's surprisingly good at evaluating what she loves and uses the most, what can go out to the garage for a while, and what she can give away.

She's great at doing this with clothes, shoes, toys, books, and stuffed animals. The only thing I CANNOT figure out how to downsize is artwork/schoolwork. She claims it is ALL special to her, and can't part with anything. Any great suggestions?

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody Do Your Share

I've been struggling lately with how to get my kids to pick up their toys. I know, I know, it's a battle that's been fought since the beginning of time probably. I'll tell you my ideas and thoughts so far, but I'd appreciate any input from more experienced moms!

The new bins have really helped with my daughter. She's 4, and is perfectly willing to clean up one bin before getting out another. My little boy is another story though. Let me preface this by saying that me cleaning his toys up for him is not an option. I've got a new baby and enough other stuff to do in a day. Anyway, when I tell him it's time to clean up his cars, he replies with a simple, "No." In a very polite tone, it sounds as though he would follow it up with, "I'd really rather not, thank you anyway." But he just refuses. I've threatened to take his bin of cars out to the garage, and he just says, "Okay," and even helps me take them out there. Meanwhile, my daughter is practically sobbing, "No! That's so sad! Don't take all his cars!"

I tried that a few times, but it didn't work at all. I don't know why he won't clean his stuff up. Maybe he doesn't understand yet, maybe it's just overwhelming to him, maybe he just doesn't feel like it. So my new theory is to just not let him have a lot of toys in the house. After a full day of no cars at all (which was miserable for everyone since he just swiped my daughter's toys all day), he was allowed to earn them back two at a time if he cleaned up after himself each day. Right now he's got about 8 in the house, and I think that's where I'm going to draw the line. Most of the rest of his toys are out in the garage as well. If he's not to the point where he can pick up a big mess, then he shouldn't have enough toys to make a big mess. So far, he doesn't really seem to care. Maybe 8 matchbox cars is all a boy really needs to make him happy?

Any great ideas for how to get toddlers to clean up their own stuff?

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

An Overly Organized Birthday Party

I am right in the midst of planning and preparing for my twins AND my 1 year old sons birthday party this Saturday. The theme is Lion King/Jungle. I always overdo it on these parties and this year is no exception. The key to planning a party at this scale is lists, lists and more lists. And an "I must be crazy-I know this is worth it!-I love my kids this much, right?" attitude doesn't hurt either.

I'm extremely organized and hopefully that will help catapult me to the finish line on Saturday. For those of you interested in all the tips, techniques, ideas and how to's for a kid's birthday party, stay tuned. I will try and get it all posted, with lots of pictures, sometime next week (barring I survive of course).

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Clothing Inventory

I'm always on the lookout for good deals on kids' clothes so that I can stock up in advance on the sizes they're growing into. To start, I keep a tote for each size in the garage that just says "Bigger Sizes" and when I buy something for them to grow into, I toss it in there. But I invariably pull the bin out and discover that, while my child has plenty of shirts and pants to grow into, they have zero pairs of pajamas, or church clothes, or whatever. Periodically I look through the totes, and sometimes make a list of what I have, which I either bring into the house and promptly lose, or put in the bin with the clothes, where it's completely inaccessible.

This week I had my husband drag the "Bigger Sizes" clothing bins into the house. I'm in the mood to do some shopping, and I needed to know what I had an excuse to buy! I had the idea to make an inventory in a Word document and save it to my desktop. That way when I buy something, I can easily update it, and it's always handy and close by if I know I'm heading out to a sale, like this week's Old Navy 50% off clearance. For each child in the size coming up, I listed everything like shirts, dresses, pants, etc. and then how many of each I had. At the bottom I wrote in bold the things I need to buy.

And secretly I am so excited because while I thought my older daughter was all set for 4T thanks to generous hand-me-downs (whoops, 26 short-sleeved shirts), I discovered she only has one pair of jeans and one pair of shorts! Let the shopping begin!

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Clean without "cleaning"

Over the years, I've found an easy, easy way to make an area of my house look cleaner, without actually cleaning. Interested? I thought you might be! ;)

The concept is simple: Put things away. I don't mean that in the traditional pick-it-up-so-it's-not-a-mess way. I mean, if there's something you don't need sitting out at all times, put it away, as in out of sight, only bringing it out when you need it (and then putting it away again when you're done). Stuff like the toaster, blender, toothbrushes, soaps, sponges, etc. It makes such a huge difference to just store things in a cupboard instead of on a counter!

Observe.

My sink area before:

My sink area after:

I just went to the home section at Wal*Mart and bought some plastic containers. I found mine near the laundry baskets and such. It's the perfect size to hold my sponges, magic erasers, my dish scrubbing brush and mop pads. I also bought one of those wire shelves (the kind with 4 legs to give you extra storage space on a shelf), which is where I put my hand soap and dish soap. It's no hassle at all to bend down and get the soap or a sponge out of the cupboard below my sink. I though it would be, but it's really not. And even if it were mildly annoying, the simple fact that my kitchen instantly looks cleaner by just putting those few things away makes it all worth it!

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Organizing Tips for Gift Wrap, Crafts and More

A couple of years ago I took the time to get all my craft supplies, gift wrapping supplies and party supplies cleaned up and organized. It was well worth the time and effort. I've had people tell me my closet is like a mini store, which is awesome because that's exactly what I was going for! I rarely ever have to buy things like gift wrap, bows, bags, paint, stickers, paper, markers, stationary... They are all right there waiting for me when I need them.

The best way to build up your own supply is to recycle, recycle, recycle. Put on your nerd hat at parties and fold up the used tissue paper for future use. Keep bows and nice ribbon and obviously hang on to those gift bags. Shop clearance and heavily discounted items post-holidays. And to get yourself some basics, shop your local Dollar stores. If you do this for a year or two, you'll have a bunch of stuff that you're not sure where to store or how to organize.

It'll then be time to branch out into some drawers or totes of some kind. I like the plastic three drawer towers personally, but any type of storage device will do. You can get creative with this if space and money is limited. I am fortunate enough to have some extra space in my son's closet, so that is where my little plastic drawer shrine is located. Labels on the outside of the drawers are the icing on the cake and make anything you need right at your fingertips.

Not only will you feel calm and organized when holiday, party or craft events come around, but you'll be saving yourself money as well. If you do decide to splurge on some nice storage drawers they will pay for themselves after just a couple of times that you DON'T have to run to the store and grab a last minute gift bag, bow, card and tissue paper (easily $10).

Here are some pictures of my mini store. I've also got my baby supply drawers right next to them. And Austin decided to make a cameo appearance in the photos too! Cute boy.

I don't know if you can see inside the second drawer from the top on this picture, but it's where all my bows and ribbon are stored. I came up with a great way to store all those fancy thick ribbons you get on packages. Take an empty wrapping paper tube and cut it to the length you want. Then wrap the ribbon around the tube and secure it with tape, a staple or a rubber band. It keeps all those ribbons looking like new and makes storing and reusing them a breeze.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

I finally finished!

Next week we are bringing our third baby home to our 1200 square foot house. I've had some serious doubts that we were going to be able to fit another kid in here without looking cluttery. Well, I finally finished, and I think things look great! We kept our youngest's room as is for the nursery, and moved him in with his big sister. We took all the toys and put them in a bookcase in the hallway.

Here's how it turned out:

The kids' room...
I hate the strollers there, but the kids play with them daily, so they really need to be accessible. The bins in the bookcase have books for each of them. We have more books out in the garage, but both kids know that if they want to bring some new books in, they have to take some out. They have to keep it down to an amount that easily fits into that size bin.

No decor yet. We are holding off on that until we figure out if these two will be sharing for the long-term, or if we will move, or if we will eventually switch the baby in with whichever older kid is the same gender.


The kids' closet


The bookcase full of toys:


My original plan for this bookcase was to buy several extra bins to keep in the closet for the toys that didn't fit in here, so that I could easily rotate them and just switch out the bins. But it turned out that pretty much all the kids' toys fit in here, so I may just keep that in mind for the future.

Each kid has four bins of toys and then the bottom one for shoes. And just because I know you're all dying of curiosity, my daughter's bins are Barbies, dress-ups, Polly Pocket/Littlest Pet Shop/Other Choking Hazard type toys, and an empty one. My son has one for trains, one for animals/dinos/robots, one for cars/motorcycles/etc., and one for his Hot Wheels City. Their games are on top of the bookshelf and their art stuff is on a table in their room that's not visible in the picture.

So far I really like having their toys organized this way. It makes it so that they really only play with one thing at a time, and clean-up is easy. So far, so good!

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Cleaning Buddies

You know those nights. The kids are in bed, there's laundry, dishes, and housework to be done and you're just too tired and unmotivated to do it. For me, I always find my way to the internet. Anyone else fall into that trap?

Tonight my friend and I did something that worked for us, so I thought I'd share. We talked at about 9pm tonight and agreed to call each other back in a half hour. We told each other exactly what we were going to clean during those 30 minutes, and then reported back to each other. It worked so well we did another half hour.

Tonight I went from having absolutely zero motivation to do anything to accomplishing quite a bit. I did two loads of laundry, unloaded the dishwasher, loaded the dishwasher, tidied and wiped down my kitchen countertops, swept and mopped my floors, vaccuumed my baseboards, and cleaned off my desk. Not bad for an hour, huh?

So you can't have my cleaning buddy because she's mine, but if this sounds like something that would work for you, find one of your own! Call someone who can motivate you, and tell them to check back with you in a half hour. Then give them your list of 2-3 things you're going to work on and get going! The embarrassment of telling someone you just spent the half hour on Facebook instead of accomplishing what you wanted to do just may be incentive enough to get you cleaning! Have fun!

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My Organized Pantry

Before we bought this house this past May, I never had a real pantry that I had room to organize the way I wanted to. I always tell people that the pantry is what sold me the house. While that's mostly a joke, it definitely has some truth to it! This pantry is very large, about 6 feet x 9 feet. So far, there is only shelving on 2 of the walls, but I could easily put up shelving on the other wall if I needed/wanted to.

It's taken me a few weeks to figure out the best way to organize it. I just re-did it again, for the second time since moving in, last week. I'm happier with it this way than I was before, but I'm still not sure it's *quite* right. Even so, I thought I'd share my method so far.

Here's the view of the whole pantry from the laundry room

To your right when you first walk in the pantry there is a little nook area. I decided that was the perfect spot for the trash can, and then I had my husband install a utility bar where I keep my ironing board, broom and our aprons. I also store my vacuum and mop right there. The steam cleaner isn't usually there (it's normally in the garage), but I had to use it the other day and need to use it again, so it's staying for now.

The top shelf on the back wall is where I keep all the non-food items -- toilet paper, paper plates, napkins, etc. I put them on the top because they're not things I need every day. Plus, I'm short, and I didn't those types of things taking up space on the shelves I could reach. The next shelf down is for all my baking supplies. The plastic tubs with yellow lids we just got at Sam's Club last week, and I'm in love. They're all labeled -- the first one is all-purpose flour, then bread flour, then granulated sugar, then brown sugar. You can see another large one on the bottom right of the picture. That one will be filled with pancake mix (so all I have to do is mix the wet ingredients when we want pancakes -- huge time saver!) once I get a chance to fill the darn thing. The next shelf down is for all the cereals and bread. I debated putting it up higher so it was out of the kids' way, but then I realized I want them to learn to be a little self-sufficient (i.e. be able to pour their own cereal in the morning so I can sleep in!). The bottom shelf is for all the heavier bulk items, like large bags of flour, potatoes, onions, etc. I originally had those items on the top shelf, but it was kind of a pain (literally!) trying to get a heavy bag of flour down, so I decided the bottom shelf would be best.

Moving on to the right. The top on this side we have reserved for all the snack foods -- soda, granola bars, Ritz, etc. I even have to keep the apples up there, otherwise my kids will eat them all in one sitting. The next shelf is for pastas and rice. That tall container is labeled for spaghetti noodles, the one next to it is for egg noodles, then the container to the far right is for jasmine rice. On that container, I also taped the directions for cooking the rice right below the label. The next shelf down is for all my canned products -- fruits, then beans, then soups, then veggies, tomato products, then ethnic stuff (like refried beans, diced green chilies, coconut milk, etc).

This is just a continuation of that same shelf. At the top on the right is where I keep the litter box scooper (obviously that's not something I want the kids to play with!) and the bulk bag of cat food. Next to the rice on the second shelf is where I keep all the oils and vinegars. Then on the next shelf there's the continuation of the cans. The very bottom is for the kitty litter. The container you can barely see on the bottom right is where I store cat food (it's a pour container I can use to refill their feeder so I don't have to open the huge bag all the time).

So that's that! Did I bore you to death? ;) I think the fact that I'm excited to show off my pantry proves that I'm an organizing freak-of-nature! lol.


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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Homemade Baby Food

Making your own baby food is really not as hard as it sounds. I discovered the art of making homemade baby food after buying jar baby food for my twins for about a month. They were big eaters, so the cost of buying jar upon jar of food was getting a bit ridiculous. I decided to look into making my own and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was and how good it made me feel as a Mom. I'm now am on my third baby and have made all of his food thus far. He's been a huge eater as well, so I feel good knowing that I've saved us a little money by taking the time to make my own. Not only that, but I think the food tastes better and has higher nutritional value.

The best website out there (in my opinion), that will walk you through every step and detail is:
http://www.wholesomebabyfood.com/

They've got instructions on how to make and freeze your food, details on what's appropriate for each stage/age, recipes for all kinds of baby and toddler finger foods, and much more. I am particular fond of the Sweet Potato Fries in the Baby Finger Foods section of the website.

For any Mom's out there that have thought about trying to do it, I say go for it! There is a bit of a learning curve the first couple of times you do it, but after you get the hang of it it's really slick. Give it a try and have fun!

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sweet and Spicy Chicken

I know we've already had two chicken recipes, but this is too good not to share. This recipe is courtesy of my friend Brooke, who served it on my first night visiting her in Texas. I believe we each had two burritos, then put some over chips for nachos, then proceeded to eat it straight with our forks. It's that good.

SWEET AND SPICY CHICKEN
4-6 chicken breasts
1 jar salsa (any kind)
1-2 c. brown sugar (I use 2 c.)

Throw it all in the crockpot and let cook. Shortly before serving, take the chicken out and shred it, then throw it back in to let it soak up the juices.

My favorite way to eat this is wrapped in a tortilla with sour cream and cheese (no veggies to distract from the deliciousness). But it's also good over nachos, with sour cream and guacamole. My much-healthier friend Rachelle also claims it's good over salads, but I'll just trust her on that one.

I serve this often and get asked for the recipe every single time. I know you think you've had this if you've had chicken and salsa in the crockpot, but trust me it's much, much better with the brown sugar.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Crockpot Balsamic Chicken

This is my husband's favorite crockpot recipe! It is classy, simple and really tasty. I promise I'll post more unique Crockpot recipes in days to come!

Crockpot Balsamic Chicken

4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast Halves – approx. 1.5 to 2 lbs.

½ C. Olive Oil

½ - 1 C. Balsamic Vinegar – depending on how tangy you like the recipe

1 large can of diced tomatoes

1 can tomato sauce

3-4 cloves of garlic minced or pressed

2 t. crushed dry oregano

Combine all ingredients in Crockpot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Shred chicken with a fork and serve chicken and sauce over rice or angel hair pasta. The consistency and taste of the sauce is sweet and tangy like an Italian barbeque sauce.


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Chicken Lime Tostada Recipe

We love this recipe in our family. It's super easy to make, tastes out of this world and makes enough to have leftovers the next night. It's a light and summery type of recipe too, with very little cooking required (perfect for hot days). I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Salad/Chicken Mix
3 cups chicken, shredded (You can use canned white chicken for a time saver and it still tastes delicious)
4 cups iceberg lettuce, shredded
1 small carrot, shredded/grated
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

Combine 1st 4 ingredients together in a large bowl and toss w/ Lime Dressing (below). Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Lime Dressing
2 TB fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp grated lime peel
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup olive oil

Now assemble your tostadas with your favorite Mexican food toppings.

I layer mine as follows:

  • Crunchy Tostada Shell (cook per the instructions on the box - I put a picture below of what these look like at the store, sometimes they can be hard to find)

  • Refried Beans (I warm mine up in the microwave for a minute or two)

  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese

  • Salad/Chicken Mixture from above

  • Sour Cream

  • Guacamole or fresh cut avocados

  • Salsa (if you have time, make your own pico de gallo)

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Catching Up!

Do you ever feel like you can't keep up? Like you're always a step behind? That's how June has been for me. I've been running around like crazy and it seems we're home long enough to make a big mess, but not to clean it up!? So...to get things back in order I like to set my timer. I'll pick a room and set the timer for 10, 20 or 30 minutes (depending on the severity of the situation! :) ) and get busy. I'm able to make each room look "company ready" in a short period of time, even if I have to put the deep cleaning off for a day or two! This trick helps me to stay on top of the house when life gets really busy! And it helps me maintain my sanity! I really hate it when the house is a mess! So...Ready...Set...GO!!

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Good deals!

This is one of the best times to buy kids' clothes if you stock up for the bigger sizes like I do. Yesterday at the mall I noticed that Children's Place was having their Monster Sale, and Old Navy had a ton of stuff on Clearance, plus an additional 25% off your entire purchase if you use your Old Navy/GAP/Banana Republic card.

Also, we popped into the Disney store while we were their, and their character flip-flops and sunglasses are only $1.60! Can't beat that!

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Seasonal Clothing Swap

For those of you that live in season-neutral states you can either skip over this post, or read it and point and laugh at the rest of us Mom's that suffer through season changes twice a year.

Usually when a season change is in the air you get that kid-like euphoria that an exciting change is around the corner. You are either itching for the warm weather so you can migrate your herd of kids outdoors or you're sick the hot weather and so happy for the cool fall air and upcoming holidays to start. But the euphoria soon wears off when you realize that with this change of seasons comes a nasty little chore I like to call the seasonal swap.

The worst part is the in-between weeks. You know, where it warms up for a few days, you start buying shorts and tank tops and then it's back down to freezing temperatures the next day. So you have to keep your kid's closets stocked with both summer and winter clothes at the same. Such a pain. But then the weather finally makes up it's mind and it's time to do the swap.

I am a tote fanatic. I love those things. So my method for the season swap is to sort all the clothes, shoes, etc. into piles and tote them away. I label the totes with everything that is in them so that I can either use as hand-me-downs later for younger kids, sell them on eBay, donate them, or pass them along to family or friends with kids. I also put a bright colored sticker on the tote if there is more room for clothes in them still.

Another tip for those of you that like to save everything...
I've found that if you pull out the few items of clothing that have some sentimental value (an Easter dress, a hat someone made, a first pair of shoes, etc) that helps you keep from going overboard on saving clothes just because you just can't bear to part with them. Pull them out when you're doing your seasonal swap and put them in a separate tote, labeled as such, and then continue to add to it as needed. That way you've already pulled out the important pieces and you can part with the other stuff a lot easier when the time comes.

I just finished my seasonal swap and took a few pictures of the end result.




All the totes labeled and ready to go up into the attic.





PHEW, closets cleaned out and another project checked off the list.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tip of the Day

Just a short one from me today, courtesy of Flylady...

If you're looking for something to eat in the fridge/freezer/fruit bowl, and you pass over something because it's "too old," THROW IT AWAY! It will not get any more appetizing to you as the week goes on!

Am I the only one that laughed at that tip because it hits close to home?

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Daily Cleaning Routine

Here's my daily cleaning routine. A lot of times it doesn't happen, but this is what I aim for. Some things I do each day, other things I switch up throughout the week.

MORNING
*Make Bed
*Unload Dishwasher
*Put in a load of laundry (Mon: Whites, Tues: Brights, Wed: Kids, Thurs: Darks, Fri: Sheets and Towels, Sat: Catch-up)
*Get self and kids dressed and ready

AFTERNOON
*15 minutes cleaning/organizing (Mon: Master Bed, Tues: Kitchen, Wed: Bathrooms, Thurs: Kids' Rooms, Fri: Living Room/Hall)
*15 minutes office "job" (Mon: Pay Bills, Tues: Tidy Desk, Wed: Make Phone Calls, Thurs: To-Do List, Fri: Filing)
*Dry Laundry

EVENING
*Put away laundry
*Clutter pick-up
*Sweep & mop
*Start dishwasher

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Getting to know Katie


I'm Katie. I spend my days hanging with these two, a little girl who's 3 (and thinks she's Taylor Swift) and a little boy who's 2 (and thinks he's a robot). We're about to welcome our third baby in August. I've been married to my husband James for five years and we live in California. We bought a little "starter home" that we're now stuck in thanks to the fancy real estate market over here. It's a really cute house, and I love it and love being close to family, but we really just do not have the room that I'd like. So my biggest challenge in my home right now is fitting another baby into a space that was very cramped to begin with, and I'm really looking forward to reading everyone's ideas on organizing!

I am naturally quite messy, and I admit that I'm proud of how far I've come since I've been married. My house will never be spotless, and I've made my peace with that. :) But my goal is to keep it clean enough that I can always invite people over without having to do much to get things company-ready. I'll post my daily cleaning routine separately in the next post.

I named this blog Simply Clean Living because I've found that living simply brings a feeling of great peace into our home. I love getting rid of unnecessary clutter and toys and having our home feel simple and organized. I also find that when I stay on top of the cleaning, even doing just the bare minimum, I am a much happier wife and mother, which in turn affects our family. I look forward to getting motivation and ideas from others on this blog!

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Simple Couponing – For the Faint of Heart

I am a fan of couponing. I figure if you can save a buck or two, you should. If you can save money on groceries you’ll have more funds for shoes, right? (DSW.com – I’ll be coming to you soon…)

However, I’m definitely into “couponing-lite.” I am in awe of those bargain-divas who can get $200.00 worth of groceries for $20.00 and I am well aware of the effort they put in to score these awesome deals. Well… I don’t really have the gumption or the prowess to do this type of mega-couponing, so I keep it simple. I am also a non-confrontational wimp and don’t have the guts to stand up to bossy cashiers (those who do the CVS and WAGS deals know what I’m talking about.)

Here are my simple couponing tips:

1) Organize!

I know this is a no-brainer, but here is the method that works for me. I have a handy-dandy expandable accordion style coupon organizer. I label the little folders with basic categories: dairy items, canned goods, condiments and dressings, snacks, cereal, toiletries, medicines, cleaners/laundry and baby items.

Every Sunday I go through the inserts and cut out coupons for items that I know our family use. I toss the rest – I can’t deal with clutter – it hurts my brain. I then file them away in my organizer.

2) Keep an eye on store deals and circulars.

This is pretty simple and I’ve found it’s the most time effective way to save money on your grocery bill. Stock up on basics – utilize your freezer –plan your meals around the specials. I admit, I am not hard-core on this one – I pick the grocery store I use most and make one big trip once a week. For me, the simpler the better and one stop shopping works for me and my house.

I also like to use website that combine coupons with store deals. My favorite is www.thegrocerygame.com You have to pay a small subscription fee, but I feel it’s worth it for a lazy couponer like me!

3)Visit the websites of your favorite products:

I’ve found this is the best way to get coupons for things like organic/natural foods, your favorite toiletries and cleaning products. Most will have a direct link to either a printable coupon or a way to request one. You can always send a complimentary e-mail; you might score a sweet coupon or sample.

4)Never pay retail for these items (the coupons are way too easy to come by):

  • Toiletries: toothpaste, shampoo, soap, toilet paper and big brand cosmetics.
  • Cleaning items (if you use name brand), if you prefer even cheaper and more natural products check out Anissa’s tips in the post below.
  • Cereal: these coupons are especially fab when combined with store specials!
  • Baby items: if you don’t see your favorite brands listed in circulars, these are extremely easy to obtain with a visit to a website or a complimentary e-mail.
  • Big brand OTC medications: if you aren’t big on the generics you can almost always find a coupon for Tylenol, Advil, Claritin, etc.
So there are a few of my “lazy couponer” tips. Even with my lack of attention to coupon detail– I always manage to save about 30-40% off my grocery bill.

I would love to hear about your favorite simple couponing tips!


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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Homemade Cleaning Supplies

Lately, I’ve been telling people about some easy ways to save money on household cleaning products. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction finding ways to save money here and there around the home, without having to go out and get a job. It’s my way of “making money”, which is very rewarding. I love the homemade laundry detergent, since it costs only one PENNY per load of wash. WOW. Plus, it’s all natural and safe for babies/kids. I put the link to this recipe at the very bottom.

Just as a disclaimer, I did not create these tips and recipes, but I did do all the research online and compiled the tips from various places and listed those that I found to be the best.

I use this to replace my kitchen and bathroom disinfectant cleaners:
Disinfectant all purpose cleaner: Mix a few drops of natural (Castile) soap, 2 cups water, and 15 drops each of tea tree and lavender essential oil (you can use just the tea tree oil- but 30 drops, which is what I do). You can spray this on all surfaces, like cutting boards, counters, toilets, walls, (except it will streak glass). This stuff disinfects (thanks to the tea tree oil) but is so safe you can actually spray it on your baby - you can’t say that about most commercial household cleaners.

I use this for my All Purpose Cleaner (Like 409) replacement:
All-Purpose Cleaner: Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 2 liters water. Store and keep. Use for bath and kitchen counters, toilet exterior, refrigerator, Laundry Room, Sinks, Microwave, removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels. This will streak, so not recommended on windows and mirrors.

I use this for my Windex and Hardwood floor cleaner replacement:

1:1 Ratio of water and vinegar. Store and keep in spray and squirt bottles. Use for chrome fixtures, windows, mirrors, appliance fronts, bathroom floors and hardwood floors. I've actually started adding about 15 drops of tea tree oil to this mixture now so that I get that extra disinfecting boost for my floors, since I have a 8 month old that crawls around on them constantly.

I use this to replace my Clorox Soft Scrub:
Toilet Bowl Cleaner: Mix 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 cup vinegar, pour into basin and let it set for a few minutes. Scrub with brush and rinse. A mixture of borax (2 parts) and lemon juice (one part) will also work.
Tub and Tile Cleaner: For simple cleaning, rub in baking soda with a damp sponge and rinse with fresh water. For tougher jobs, wipe surfaces with vinegar first and follow with baking soda as a scouring powder. (Vinegar can break down tile grout, so use sparingly.)

I am using this to replace my wood furniture cleaner:
Mix 1 cup olive oil with cup lemon juice. Furniture polish for your hardwood furniture.

Just some other tips in general:
Vinegar
Bathroom - Clean the bathtub, toilet, sink, and countertops. Use pure vinegar in the toilet bowl to get rid of rings. Flush the toilet to allow the water level to go down. Pour the undiluted vinegar around the inside of the rim. scrub down the bowl.
Laundry Room - Use vinegar as a natural fabric softener. This can be especially helpful for families who have sensitive skin. Add 1/ cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle in place of store bought fabric softener. Vinegar has the added benefit of breaking down laundry detergent more effectively. (A plus when you have a family member whose skin detects every trace of detergent.)

Lemon Juice
Lemon juice is another natural substance that can be used to clean your home. Lemon juice can be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits. Lemon is a great substance to clean and shine brass and copper. Lemon juice can be mixed with vinegar and or baking soda to make cleaning pastes. Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle baking soda on the cut section. Use the lemon to scrub dishes, surfaces, and stains. Put a whole lemon peel through the garbage disposal. It freshens the drain and the kitchen. Orange peels can be used with the same results.

Microfiber
Another alternative is microfiber cloths which lift off dirt, grease and dust without the need for cleaning chemicals, because they are formulated to penetrate and trap dirt. There are a number of different brands. A good quality cloth can last for several years.
I am using a microfiber broom and mop that rocks! I highly recommend this. After the laundry detergent, this would be my next best find. (Thanks to my friend Gina for giving me this idea. http://www.microfiber-products-online.com/hmk.html) You can launder the dry and wet microfiber pads so you don’t have to buy new ones over and over like the Swiffer products. Plus it is 10 times faster to sweep and mop with this thing than a traditional broom and mop and cleans 10 times better in my opinion. Add that with the homemade floor cleaner and you'll be saving time and money.

How cool is this?:
Microwave cleaning: Place a bowl of straight vinegar or a bowl of water with 1s drops tea tree oil in the microwave, heat for about 2 minutes. Microwave will steam itself and be easy to wipe out with a wet cloth.

Link to homemade laundry detergent recipe:
http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/laundrysoap.htm
A personal side note about the laundry detergent. I made a batch just as the recipe called for, and it worked out great, but I noticed that my heavy stain loads, like my kids clothes, did not come out like I was wanting. So I just made my second batch of the detergent and this time doubled the Borax and Washing Soda to increase the stain fighting power. This has seemed to do the trick and I'm much happier with the results.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Laundry Monster


One of the things I am most strict about around the house is my laundry. Each day of the week is designated for a different load to be done. I toss it in in the morning, switch it sometime during the day, and then dump it out on my bed when it's dry. Then at night before bed, my husband and I each put away our own stuff.

This routine works really well for us and I never end up with piles of unmanageable laundry. We have a small family, so we generally just have one of each of these loads per week. However, if we have more than one, I would still do it on the same day (e.g. both loads of kids' clothes on Wednesday). Here's the routine that works for us:

MONDAY: Whites
TUESDAY: Brights
WEDNESDAY: Kids' Clothes
THURSDAY: Darks
FRIDAY: Sheets and Towels
SATURDAY: Anything I missed during the week

I dump the laundry on the bed for several reasons. First, then it's not shoved into the basket getting wrinkled. Second, I'm forced to put it away. After I put the clean clothes on the bed, I immediately put tomorrow's load in the basket and take it to the laundry room so I'm set to go for tomorrow. I find that keeping laundry baskets in my house is, for me, a clutter magnet, so I try to keep them in the laundry room.

A friend of mine designates one day as laundry day and just does it all day long. Any other ideas? What has worked for you?

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Where Do I Even Start?

I thought a good first post for the re-launch of Simply Clean Living would be to talk about blitzing. We all have those days when we wake up and think, "WHAT happened to my house?" And it's all so overwhelming that you feel like you can't even start.

I have a remedy for that called blitzing. A blitz at my house is 30 minutes and no more. I set my timer for 5 minutes and spend 5 minutes cleaning each of the six main areas of my house: kitchen, living room, hall/bathroom, my son's room, my daughter's room, and the main bedroom/bathroom. I sometimes adjust that and add in our desk area instead or in addition. I probably do this 1-2 mornings a week.

It's really amazing how much you can get done in only five minutes. I start by taking out everything that doesn't belong in that room, and then move on from there based on what's bugging me the most.

I've hesitated blogging about this because it's really no good without pictures, and I felt stupid posting pictures of a really trashed house. But these are from when we just got back from a vacation, so it felt more valid somehow to have it be so messy. First a before shot, and then an after shot of each area.

Kitchen



Living Room




My Son's Room





My Daughter's Room





Master Bed





Desk Area





As you can see, it's still not perfect, but I feel so much better and more peaceful after doing it. I at least feel like I can actually live in my house, and all those anxious feelings die down. Try it! See what you think!

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