Category Archives: Simplifying

More than a mini purge-FREEZER!

Ah, that felt good. I forgot to defrost our freestanding freezer this summer. You know how the time gets away from you. I was waiting for an above-freezing day to tackle it before the 50 lbs of grass-fed beef that we ordered is ready in January. New Year’s Day is supposed to be warm but I’m not sure what we’ll be doing so I went ahead and did it today. I did have to whip out the hair dryer to speed things along but it didn’t really take too much time. I ended up pitching some things (mostly leftovers and frozen grated zuchini) that I haven’t used and probably never will.

I’m not sure how this qualifies as simplifying except the purging part. Let me add that I’m considering purging the freezer altogether. I’ll decide about this after we use the beef. It’s an old freezer that a friend gave us and I’m thinking it has increased our electric bill significantly.

A Renewed Focus on Simplifying

1. Sorry if you read this blog and were offended by the naked “follower”. I just noticed that, have no idea how that got there and I blocked it. YUK!

2. I’ve been tackling mini purging projects. In the post-Christmas downtime, I have organized and purged the following:
     A. Pantry cabinet and shelves. (There is definitely more to do here. I’ll post a photo of my after-see if I can get some organizing baskets or whatever and post an “after after” photo. I am humble enough to show you my “before” but I forgot to take photos.

     B. Kitchen utensil drawer (the one with the big utensils). It was a mess and getting on my nerves. I’ll do the main drawer today. Our flatware stays fairly neat and organized but the side spaces to this drawer need a little attention.

     C. My nightstand. I usually have anywhere from 3 books to 10 stacked on this tiny space. I just took them all off the stand and have to dive into the cabinet underneath and move a few things to the basement shelves. I’m not brave enough to get rid of my favorite Catholic books. These are the books that I read the most. I’ll have to consider this as I move toward minimizing.

There you have it. My itty bitty purges.

I’m thinking of jumping into flylady again. When I first discovered her site about 6 or 7 years ago, I probably applied 50% or less of the principles and it still made a huge difference. I just want to be more organized. Speaking of that, I ordered this book. I’ll click on SimpleMom occassionally and always enjoy Tsh’s articles. I couldn’t resist another simplifying book with organization tossed in to boot. I’ll let you know how it is.

As I mentioned on my other blog, I’m considering my word for 2011. I haven’t decided what it is yet. I’ll let you know, though.

An Update and the True Cost of Furniture

Here we are, less than 6 months later and I SOLD the computer cabinet! Craigslist, I love you! Actually I don’t think I posted it until after Easter, so really, it only took about 3 months to sell. It was worth it. I had a price that I’d be happy with. Originally I posted for $300 more than that (what the heck, right?) No hits, then I brought it down by $100 increments twice and then reposted high just last week. A woman emailed asking if I’d accept the number I was originally thinking and she just came today with a deposit and will pay the balance when she picks it up. Yippee!

It is a good piece of furniture but I calculated the cost to us over the 11 years we’ve had it….$100/year. That may not sound like much but considering I haven’t needed it for work since 2000 or so, I’ve had it exactly 10 years longer than I needed it. Ouch!

I think I’m more excited about the space it will free up than the cash. It will also force me to purge what was left in there and reorganize and make my other spaces more efficient to make room for the things that I do keep. All good.

Recovering from Busyness

The past 2 weeks were exhausting. Luke finished up regular season baseball, he and Mark started basketball, there was a major holiday, Hannah worked as a ball person in a pro circuit tournament, Luke played in a tennis tournament and I agreed to host a luncheon. In short, it was a lot of running….and of course, it was HOT!

Up to that point, our summer was low-key and low stress. I found myself newly liberated from being our family’s cruise director-you know, managing everyone’s entertainment. That used to be necessary. Maintaining some routine and predictability helped us not drive each other crazy. This summer has been transitional in that the kids aren’t underfoot and spend long blocks of time playing outside in the neighborhood and with friends. One friend, in particular, shows up at about 11:00 everyday and doesn’t leave until dinner time. That’s fine, he’s sweet.

Anyway I know that I’m not my best when I’m running around like a crazy person. I know there are moms who prepare and organize for those busy days and I do to some extent but no matter what, the constant activity affects the family and the household in the most negative ways.

1. We have fewer healthy meals and snacks and more hot dogs or candy stand treats and sports drinks. That’s bad.

2. Everyone sleeps less. Later nights and sometimes earlier mornings makes everyone cranky. That’s not good.

3. Bad habits are harder to deal with. Since we’re on the go so much, it’s harder to stick to consequences. I know one thing, I need to get a handle on some back-chat (that’s “Supernanny’s” word for talking back), whining and re-establish some basic habits around here. Time with friends has suddenly become great leverage.

4. When the kids are exhausted and it’s too hot outside, screens creep back in to every corner of the house and that’s never a good thing. I’m way too wiped out to come up with a constructive alternative. I’m grateful for books on tape. They’ve been a good alternative to screens when the kids are tired but not the end of the screens, especially when I’m too busy to get to the decent libraries with a larger selection of good audio books.

5. Mark and I have NO time with each other. That’s never good for a family.

The good news is, things are getting back to normal. I don’t forsee anything coming up that will call for weeks of running. I’ll make a conscious effort to keep things simple and NOT agree to extra. It’s just necessary.


Another good argument for LESS.

I read this post today and I’m so glad that there are smart people writing about what I have trouble articulating. We’ve dialed back quite a bit this summer. We’ve made a conscious decision to do less. Luke opted not to work as a ball person for a pro tennis tournament (qualifier) that is held locally the second week of July. It’s a fun experience but he decided he’d rather just watch matches and he’s still finishing up baseball and starting a pretty relaxed basketball league that’s only during July. Hannah had to choose between working as a ball person and playing in a tournament herself at her home club. It was a tough decision but she opted not to play. These were thoughtful decisions on both of their parts and I have to say that they are both content with the choices.

Last year they worked as ball people, played in the club tennis tournament, played basketball and Luke was finishing up playing on 2 baseball teams (the 2 team thing wasn’t planned, he was a “call up” and ended up just being “called up” for every game) all during the second week of July and it was too much. Even though nothing literally overlapped, we were all constantly running and I was trying to make arrangements for Kate and Mark to be with friends and family some of the time so that they wouldn’t have to be dragged around.

These choices between 2 (or more) “good” things are tough to make and I’m kicking myself that this is the first time that I’m making the kids choose.

I completely agree with the idea that the constant motion and running from one thing to the next-no matter how great or valuable the experience might be, allows NO time to process the experience. You don’t really enjoy it, let alone learn and grow from it. Not only that but anticipating an experience is also part of learning. Kim John Payne discusses this in his most EXCELLENT book, “Simplicity Parenting“. I talk more about the book here.

So, our summer days have allowed for more boredom, more playing around the neighborhood with friends, more quiet and I think we have all benefitted from it. As a result, we are eating dinner together nearly every night, enjoying ice cream cones on the back porch and everyone’s getting to bed at a reasonable hour-not an ideal hour but a reasonable hour most nights.

Luke, especially, is one who is benefitting most noticeably by this dialed back schedule. He spontaneously talks about the things he’s thinking about. I’ve noticed there hasn’t been much crisis or anxiety in those conversations. He’ll tell me funny things his friend said, randomly talk baseball, say out loud what he’s thinking about anything and it’s so nice. He’s a lot more calm this summer in spite of the boredom of doing less. He still drives his brother and sister crazy with his silliness, but I really think boredom suits him and all of us better than frenetic.

For my part, I’ve taken a break from school planning and have been tackling some projects that last summer’s running would never have allowed for. I spend long stretches of time at home and I’m a lot more calm as a result.

Camcorder? What Camcorder?

Well, it happened. “Where’s the camcorder?” Mark asked the other night as we were going to sleep. Why? I wondered. In the 6 or 7 years since we’ve had it, he’s never asked to used it. Don’t be horrified that I made the executive decision to get rid of it. There are some things that Mark feels comfortable leaving to me. Small appliances that only I use is one of them.

When I simply told him that it was broken and I didn’t want to spend the time and money to get it repaired, he didn’t give it a second thought. No regret, no “we should have….” or “that cost a lot of money…” It was fine and he was at peace with the decision.

I was surprised that I didn’t regret the decision not to investigate repair. It was all fine. I just didn’t expect the question to surface so soon. I anticipated second thoughts-nope.

Simplicity Parenting

If you are a parent and haven’t read this book yet by Kim John Payne, don’t waste another minute! I’ve read tons of parenting books, and “Simplicity Parenting” may be THE BEST, most practical, most articulate, most relevant parenting book of our time. I consider it a tool in the belt of anyone who is struggling to fight the tide of over-indulging, over-scheduling and over-obsessing about the kids. If you know that Less really is more but have a tough time explaining it to the other PTA moms or your parents or the aunts who think your kids are deprived because you don’t take them to the dollar store for fun-buy this book.

I really hesitate to go into detail into any of it, because I can’t possibly do it justice. The book, itself, is so clearly and thoughtfully written that I’ll just defer. Payne articulates so well, with tangible support, things that I know to be true but I’ll be darned if I can explain. 

He advocates creating a balance among 1) activity and busyness, 2) pauses and down time and 3) periods where the child is completely immersed in a pursuit for the pure enjoyment of it-(without you staging it). The kind of activity where he loses track of time. Payne discusses and supports why it’s critical to make time for each of these. But the book covers lots more.

The other thing I love about the book is that he’s just not hanging his hat on generalities. He doesn’t say, “such and such will lead to burnout”. Instead, he illustrates with sometimes brilliant analogies, how an imbalance and hyperparenting is so counterproductive.

I talk with a lot of parents about how invasive organized sports can be to our family even though the kids don’t do a lot of them. I love to watch the kids on the field, court, whatever, but I get so resentful about the disruption to good dinners, regular bedtimes and the overall routine and wellness of the family dynamic. I’ve said all along, that I think kids would be much better off playing baseball in each others’ backyards until they were 12 than starting T-ball when they were 4. It’s crazy and unnecessary. Payne generally agrees and he gives solid support for it.

Since Mark teaches tennis for a living, all of the kids had a racket in their hands at a very early age. I resisted as long as I could to jump into the tournament “circuit” but I wish I would have waited longer. Hannah and Luke were 9 and 8 when they started playing tournaments. Generally, the parents are hyper-involved, obsessing about points and line calls and ranking. Tennis is unique in that it has no clock, kids keep the score themselves and it is self-officiated -unless there is a problem. That’s a lot of pressure for any kid, let alone an 8 year old. I’m generally disenchanted with the tournament system for young players and think it’s really odd that most of the kids who are playing at this level hardly ever just go out and play for fun. I think people must think I’m odd that the kids don’t play more tournaments or every tournament. Finally, I have a resource to back up my intuition. I really don’t care what other parents think but it’s been challenging to articulate to Mark and the kids why I don’t think it’s a good thing to enter every tournament that comes down the pike. Naturally, they get caught up in the wave of expectation. “Everyone else is playing that tournament, why aren’t you? It’s double points!” 

Luckily, I don’t have to deal with the too-muchness of school but this book gives me even more incentive to carve out time where we don’t have anything scheduled. 

I’ve been reading snippets to Mark. He hasn’t disagreed with anything so far and he’s motivated to read it himself which I think will help in making simpicity a priority for him, too.

Approaching the Books

As a homeschooler, it’s very difficult to let go of books. Some of the best homeschool support and reference books aren’t typically available in the library. Curricula specific to homeschoolers is hardly ever available. The same goes for Catholic books, both fiction and non-fiction. Those are the main categories that I purchase the most and have the hardest time purging. And to be honest I looooooove the look, feel, even the smell of a good book in my hands. I’m attached.

This is a tough purge but I’m applying 4 criteria.

1) Is the resource readily available at the library? If so, I don’t need it.

This standard helped me purge books like specific animal books (polar bears, bats, lions, etc.), some books about weather, planets, that kind of thing. This was easier to do if I decided that the quality of the book wasn’t that great.

2) Have I used the resource often or within the past 2-3 years? (I think for other things one year is a good limit but with books, we often come back to a topic or time period a few years later as the younger kids revisit it ). If we did study the subject matter that the book covers, did we use this particular resource? If not, bah-bye.

3) Does the book have a schizophrenic quality. You know the kind, you open it and are assaulted with scads of pictures or drawings all over the 2 page lay-out with blurbs or captions for each small vignette.

Most Usborne and DK books are formatted in this way and some are good but generally, they give me a headache just looking at them and I think that presentation can be overwhelming. Come to think of it, most of the textbooks that the schools use have this format which is why I don’t use them. Sensory overload, which is not what I’m looking for at this point. Less is more in this regard, too. I won’t get rid of books like this if the kids have actually used and enjoyed them, though.

4) Do I need to apply the principles of detachment and trust? Abby Sascer has a great ebook available here in which she replaced the term decluttering for detachment. There’s plenty of scriptural support for this principle and she makes a good case for it as well. I realize that if I don’t detach from my stuff, including books, I’m not going to achieve order in my home. Things aren’t totally chaotic here, far from it but there are things that we have to simplify in order to focus on the things that matter. The problem is that stuff gets in the way of even knowing what matters. “Trust” applies to letting go of resources that the kids likely won’t use for a few years. Here, I’m dispensing with the “we-might-use-it-some-day” mentality. It takes trust to tell myself that if the kids are studying that particular topic in 2 or 3 years, then I will have the resources to provide what they need and most likely it will be a better fit.

Finally, it might seem wasteful, but I decided to recycle or donate books whose pages are yellowing, staple bound (like cheap scholastic books) and any books that have seen better days. I think holding junky books detracts from the innate pleasure of reading. No matter how classic the story is, if the book is beaten up, it’s getting chucked.

Now the debate about what to do with all of these books. Some will most definitely go to the library. I can offer homeschooling friends a look-see, but I so hesitate to clutter up their bookshelves. (Any of my friends reading can shoot me an email-trust me, you probably don’t want or need what I’m getting rid of).  I may take them to the used book sale at our local homeschool conference next week, but again, that’s a lot of energy. I think I’ll have more tolerance for expending energy on “stuff” after lent. I’ve been toying with the idea of letting my older 2 children list books on Sort of like a mini-business. They can enter them, price them, prepare them for mailing and I can get them to the post office.

I’ll let you know how this is going as I work on this area of clutter in the house.

What to Do with the Games

A look at our living room. Small on space-large on storage! I know, I know, I
need a serious decorator. My brother painted that watercolor above the mantel of 
Mark’s family cabin. It’s awesome.

An email from Cheryl inspired me to tackle our games. There are only a few games that I have the patience to sit down with. Even as a kid, I didn’t love board games. Mark likes to play, though and the kids also play with each other, so they are worth keeping around.

We don’t have an overload of games but we do have some that aren’t played as often as others. For this chore, I didn’t deal with the various card games we have that I consider more learning or math games. This wasn’t an overly burdensome task since the games are stored in a living room cabinet that isn’t ideally suited for much else. I do purge them pretty consistently but they can get toppled and messy in there. I don’t get how they manage to get all askew-we’re talking all rectangular and 2 basic sizes, but somehow they get all sideways and slanted.

Today I purged all the puzzles that the kids have outgrown. Mostly wooden puzzles. I also got rid of a felt board and just a few games. It was only a small box but better at the junk store than in my cabinets.

I don’t think anyone’s ever played “Operation” the right way, it’s just entertaining trying to grab the things and get zapped. The “funny bone” still makes me smile. “Pretty Pretty Princess” is for when my nieces visit.
Have you seen Sarah’s empty drawers and bins? She’s my hero. I’m slightly afraid of empty spaces in cabinets and drawers, though. That’s a junk magnet waiting to happen in my house. But it is a noble goal and I’m going to get 1.
Wanna see my other cabinets, sure ya do. These are a dream, especially in our kind of small house. I say “kind of” because there aren’t too many rooms but except for the living room they feel big.
That is not a can of formula, it’s filled with poker chips. It’s
a toddler game, cut a hole in the lid and let them plunk away.
I need to pitch that.

More play stuff and some photo albums. I really don’t like 
photo albums, I’d rather keep the pictures in boxes in
semi-chronological order or by event.

Stereo, remaining CD’s, photos and printer.
The previous owner kept their TV in here so it’s
There you have it, a tour of my living room cabinets. Could be better, could be worse.
I also cleaned out a couple of drawers in the big computer cabinet. I’ll post about that tomorrow.

2 Small Successes

#1. I had one of those internal debates again and was going to poll some homeschoolers for help but before I got that far, I decided that it was fine to pitch old math books. The homeschool police probably aren’t going to be knocking on my door to make sure my 5th grader completed his 3rd grade book or my 6th grader really actually learned addition way back when. I also concluded that the kids have no interest in browsing through these materials. Maybe most people ALWAYS chuck the old math books after their paperwork is turned in at the end of the year, but I had some insecurities about that. I’ll have to do some investigating regarding whether high school transcripts might require samples of higher level math or something. But I think I can safely purge used elementary math books.

#2. At first I was throwing these into a big bag, you know for the  challenge, but that was HEAVY with everything else that was in there. Then I remembered that I was taking a load of junk mail, newpapers and magazines to our church’s fundraising recycle bin. I wasn’t sure if they accepted school or office paper so I checked the website of the company that provides the bins. DING DING DING. I loved not putting more recyclables in the landfill.

One more thing, I’ve been shredding like nobody’s business around here. I can’t believe how long I’ve allowed totally USELESS paper to take up real estate in our house. Crazy. When a thing has been sitting in a bottom file drawer for more than 10 years and neither of us has looked at it in that amount of time, we’re not going to miss it.