Artwork overload

Two days of artwork!

Clay has been in preschool for two weeks now, and at first, I thought we got lucky. He only brought home two “projects” in the first week. I kept the very first one for his memory box, then tossed the other one into the recycling after he went to bed. Yay, no clutter! My joy did not last long. Last Friday, there were several items in his “mailbox” when we picked him up. Yesterday, there were even more.

In two days, he made 10 projects! Factoring in nap time and lunch time, they are doing a project every hour. They make something as often as a pregnant woman uses the bathroom. No wonder they ask parents for donations all the time. They are going broke buying art supplies!

I’m not new to art project overload. Our daycare uses a preschool curriculum, so I’ve been dealing with this for a few years now. I was spoiled over the summer, because they took a break from organized projects. But now we’re back in full force, with no end in sight. So what’s a clutter-fearing mom to do?

I’ve seen blog posts from super organized mommies on cool ways to save a child’s artwork, and posts from crafty moms, like my friends Dawn and Christine on their blog, Simply Tangerine, on fun ways to turn it into home decor. But let’s be honest, not every project is worth the time to assemble a digital collage or the money spent on an IKEA frame. For example, Clay’s letter As above. I imagine he’ll do greater things in life than write messy As with a green marker. I do like the personal aspect of the hand prints, and the colorful butterfly-like design could possibly be wall art.

I have a strategy that has worked so far and hopefully it can stand up to the test of preschool. I never want to throw anything directly into the trash, so I keep them in a plastic Target basket before sorting through them at the end of the week. The personal/sentimental pieces are put into his memory box (which is actually a box for now) and I keep the artsy-looking pieces in a box in my closet, as potential wall decor (when I redecorate or have a bigger house with more wall space). I also make a pile to give to immediate family members (grandparents are not picky and both my mom and mother-in-law are totally cool with clutter…I think it’s generational?). I recycle the rest. Once or twice I’ve blamed the house cleaner when Clay asks for a project I’ve already disposed of (“Martha must not have known you made it”). I’m not proud of it, but you do what you have to do.

A simple plan keeps me from being overwhelmed with clutter artwork. At least so far…now what’s the over/under on how many projects await me this afternoon?


What’s in your purse?

Before I had kids, my mom friends would eye my small purse saying, “when you have kids, you’ll buy a huge purse.” I just smiled and wondered if they were right.

When I was a kid, my mom had a purse the size of a small child. She’d put it in the front seat of our car, and it took up the entire seat…of a Volvo! I don’t even want to guess what was in there, except that whenever we needed something, she had it. We are grown and she still does. My kids aren’t so lucky.

I am a creature of habit, so I mostly buy small, black bags. They are great because they match everything and if you buy a nice brand, they last forever. We have Coach and Cole Haan outlets nearby, which sell last season’s bags for $100 or more off the retail price. I can easily slip them into my work bag with my laptop and not have to switch purses for work vs. social occasions. When I had kids, I realized I could use the same strategy with a diaper bag. Now I drop my purse into the diaper bag when I’m with the kids, or into my work bag when I’m heading to work. On the rare occasions I’m going out alone, I just carry my small purse.

I’ve seen the feature in magazines that reveals the contents of women’s purses. Single celebrities have La Mer cream, YSL lipgloss, iPhones and a few small items. Moms are different: they tote around food, toys, extra clothes, etc. But four years into motherhood, I haven’t swayed beyond my single girl contents. I have my wallet, sunglasses, keys, Aquaphor Lip Repair, Chanel Glossimer lip gloss, hand sanitizer, a hair tie, a pen, my phone and Trident White gum. Granted, in my diaper bag, I have diapers and wipes, sunscreen, Children’s Tylenol, Band-Aids and a few snacks. But I don’t need to carry those things everywhere I go!

I’ve thought about why I’m so resistant to larger purses. I am a minimalist and hate clutter, so even if I bought a big bag, it would be half-empty. It would take more time to dig through it to find things. Small purses are cheaper and work for me. My kids will have memories of my purse sitting on the center console, rather than taking up its own seat. They’ll learn to go to their grandma when they actually need something. She’ll definitely have it.

Current purse (Cole Haan this time)


Inside the purse (minus my phone)

Easy fixes

We’ve lived in our house for almost two years, and I finally feel like it’s starting to come together. This is the first time I’ve owned a home, and before we moved in I’d done very little decorating and no DIY renovation. Without a permanent home, it wasn’t worth my time or money. My dad, however, did plenty of work on our rentals over the years. He was very handy, but sadly he passed away unexpectedly, and I never got the chance to learn his skills.

I’ve been so focused on big picture updates, that I’ve neglected the small things that bug us, either aesthetically or functionally. Painting the interior of the entire house was hard work, so I was worn out and overlooked easy fixes that could be done in a matter of minutes. Now that I’m (hopefully) done painting, I’ve realized that easy fixes can make a big difference. It’s a great feeling when you spend a few minutes on something and it looks or works better, without a huge time or money commitment!

Easy fix number one:  the prior owner of our house hung faux bamboo shades on the French doors leading to our backyard.  They are nice looking doors (or they were until a weed-wacking incident, but that’s a story for another time) and our yard is private, so covering them wasn’t necessary. But we kept those ugly shades for months! Then one day I climbed on a dining room chair (didn’t even take the time to get a step-ladder) and unscrewed them. It took all of 10 minutes. Our dining room was immediately brighter and the ugly shades were gone forever!

I’m embarrassed it took so long for us to do another easy fix. We only had one garage door remote and couldn’t get the opener to pair with our car’s Home Link system. So, thinking I would have to install a whole new garage door opener, which I was too frugal/busy to do, Chase and I alternated weeks having the remote. Some days he would take it when it wasn’t his turn and I would be annoyed since I had to get out of the car to open the door. Even Clay would tease Chase about taking it on my day. We did this for 20 months! Then I decided to check Amazon for a second remote. I searched for two minutes before finding one that looked like ours. It was $18, with no tax and free two-day shipping, thanks to Amazon Prime. We held it up to the receiver for 30 seconds, and our days of remote wars were over. Well, for the garage remote anyway…sometimes I just need a break from MLB Network!

Our most recent easy fix was Sunday, when I decided to remove the reverse osmosis water tank under our kitchen sink. We never hooked up the system because we get Culligan water and didn’t see the point in spending extra money. The tank took up an entire cabinet, which in our small kitchen, is a lot of space. I was storing our cleaning supplies in the garage, but wanted to move them into the kitchen. I figured it couldn’t be that hard to disconnect, which it wasn’t. But the minute I unhooked it, it was like a fire hydrant, shooting water up to the ceiling and across the room. Fortunately I covered it with my hand and ran outside before causing any real damage. So if you count the time I spent drying the kitchen, it took about 10 minutes. If I’d turned off the valve properly, it would have taken 30 seconds. It was a soggy process, but I was able to move our cleaning supplies to a more accessible location and free up some space on my garage shelves.

There is a good chance that if he were still alive, my dad would be doing our house projects for us. Not only was he good at them, but he enjoyed doing it. I’m learning to like it too, and I always think how proud he’d be when I finish something.  Even something as easy as pulling down ugly blinds. And I can just see him laughing at me for nearly flooding my kitchen!

Are you packed?

Some people hate packing. Me? I don’t mind it because it means I’m going on a trip! My mom worked for United Airlines, so we traveled often and I learned to pack light. And, if I haven’t mentioned it, I’m generally pretty organized. Maybe just a little compulsive. Chase loves it though, since he’s always anxious to get out of town. When he asks me, “are you packed?,” the answer is always, “yes!”

When we met, Chase lived in San Diego and I lived in D.C., so we traveled back and forth often. The  greatest perk of my government job was flex time.  Since I had every other Friday off, I did the bulk of the flying…and packing. Packing for San Diego is simple. The city is casual, and the temps are between 60-80 year round. I would throw some sunscreen and makeup in with a few tops, jeans, skirts (I rarely wear shorts) and flip-flops. One carry-on got me through a weekend. And in most cases, it still would. If I was traveling alone. But I have kids!

Our first trip as parents was to my in-laws’ home in Big Bear Lake when Clay was three weeks old. We brought a slew of baby gear and 27 different outfits. How does someone who weighs seven pounds have enough stuff to fill a GMC Yukon? I always prided myself on being an efficient packer and I wasn’t going to let a kid get in the way. I learned quickly that baby gear can multitask (stroller as a high chair, blanket as a changing pad, etc.). I would bring essential gear, clothes and toys, nothing extra. The good news is that as kids get older, traveling with them no longer requires a forklift to load your car. They can sleep in a bed or eat in a regular chair. They don’t go through six outfits or 15 diapers. So, finally, we have less to pack. Hooray!

Now that we are packing mostly clothes and toiletries, we have designated suitcases: a medium-sized one for the kids to share, a small one for me, and a duffel bag for Chase (which he packs himself). I make piles of clothes and other necessities before I pack them, to make sure we have everything. Since we use the same bags for every trip, I put things in the same section of the bag each time, so if Chase goes looking for something that I’ve packed, he knows where to find it (kids’ blankets and books in the top zipper compartment, shoes in the bottom, etc.). This also helps when re-packing, so I notice if something is missing. I also bring a plastic trash bag, and rather than putting dirty clothes back in the suitcase with the clean ones, I put them in the bag for our trip home. It keeps clean clothes away from dirt, and I don’t waste time sorting clothes when we get home, trying to remember what has been worn. I put the dirty clothes straight into the wash, and the unworn ones back into the drawers where they belong. 

In addition to the suitcases, we bring a canvas grocery bag of snacks and two sippy cups per kid (one for milk, one for water/juice). I also pack another small tote for the iPads, phone chargers, sunscreen and the magazines that I subscribe to, but haven’t yet had time to read (I save them for trips). 

As for unpacking, I am one of those crazy people who does it right away. Even if I’m tired, I would rather get organized and start my week that way, than have it hanging over my head the following day. For me, a packed suitcase on my bedroom floor would just be another painful reminder that I’m not on vacation anymore.

Four years after that first trip with a baby, we spent this past weekend in Big Bear (something we do fairly often). Efficient packing allowed us to take our smaller, more fuel-efficient car. We had so much fun out on the lake that I didn’t even read my magazines. But I did unpack them when we got home and put them back in the magazine rack where they belong. When Chase asks, they’ll be packed and ready to take on our next trip!

Craigslist cash for baby gear

My friends all know I love craigslist. Before I had kids I used it occasionally, finding both good deals (a rental condo we ended up living for two years) and bad (a BMW convertible, that, between the monthly payments and repair costs, probably cost as much as our rent). I even sold a few things (couches, TVs, etc.).

I have a small house and I have kids. Therein likes the problem. Kids need (or we are led to believe they need) a lot of stuff. Especially babies. Baby showers all over America are full of beautifully wrapped bouncy seats, swings, Pack ‘n Plays, Bumbo seats, etc. At my shower, I was so thankful for the gifts my family and friends so generously gave us. For larger items, I registered for/bought neutral colors, so it didn’t matter if we had a boy or girl next, I could reuse them (this is also helpful for resale). I had everything I needed to keep Clay clean (!), busy, safe and happy.  But I did feel a bit anxious wondering where I would put it all. As babies do, Clay outgrew things quickly. I found storage space in the garage, saving it for an eventual second baby. My kids are 23 months apart, so that time came pretty quickly. I pulled it all out, cleaned it up and we were in back in the baby business.

By the time Avery was one and we ruled out having more kids, I couldn’t wait to purge baby gear. The benefit of being such a neat freak is that our stuff was in really good shape, which is a miracle since babies poop and puke a lot! I’m also fanatic about reading consumer reviews online before buying anything, so my items held up pretty well through both kids.

For a few months, I listed a couple of items per week. I cleaned them up before posting so I was ready to show them at any time, and didn’t put a phone number on the ad, since I don’t have time to talk on the phone. I did most correspondence through email, other than occasionally giving my phone number to someone in case they got lost coming to pick something up. I learned how to properly word the ad headlines (be descriptive on brand, color and condition) and the posts (use the manufacturer’s description, say how long you used the item and always include a photo). I priced items knowing that people would try to negotiate. Since the items were made for babies, they were small and could all fit in the back of our SUV, so I didn’t have people come to our home. I would either meet them at the Bank of America nearby (they always have security guards outside) or have them come to my office parking lot. I did not have to worry about Chase being home or strangers knowing where I live and that I have children, so I felt much safer.

Other than getting clutter out of our house, the other big advantage to selling baby gear on craigslist was that I always had cash in my wallet, as a result of my sales. Chase joked about my “craigslist cash” because I rarely carry cash otherwise. At one point I also tried to sell baby clothes to one of the local resale stores, but I decided that it took too much time, for not as much of a cash return. To drive there and wait for them to look through and offer me $25 for $300 worth of clothes, was just not worth it. I would rather give the clothes to friends, knowing that I’m saving them time and money, and then I also enjoy seeing the clothes again on our friends’ kids. Clothes and toys that aren’t in perfect condition I give to Goodwill (down the street from my office, so I go on my lunch break).

Chase thinks I’m nuts, but I’ve also met some really nice people. And he doesn’t complain when I take the family to dinner with my craigslist cash!