Paralyzed by paper

July 5th, 2006

Chris,
Paper, paper everywhere.
So, what do I do with it?
School work
Special cards
artwork
notes
invitations
etc.

Please HELP!

Signed,
Paralyzed by Paper

Dear Paralyzed by Paper,

Oh, paper. This is one of the banes of my existence and I am sure every mother out there. There isn’t enough room in anyone’s house for all the paper that children generate. Somedays I feel like my children are single handedly responsible for wiping out all the mature forests in our country.

The key to any system is actually doing it. I know that sounds simplistic, but how many times have you begun a new organization system, have your hopes set high, only to abandon it several days or weeks later. You need to find a system that works for you and stick to it. Even when you don’t want to.

That said, I am ruthless. I save very little.

Get an invitation? Immediately write all the pertinent information on the calendar and toss the invitation in the trash. You don’t need it.

I have a HUGE calendar. One of those desk blotter sized ones. There is room on there to write everything that I could possibly need to write, including the phone numbers for parties or doctor appointments. I use my different colored highlighters for different things. Baseball games are yellow, doctor appointments green, etc. This way I can glance from across the room and easily see what is going on for the next few weeks.

Don’t think you have room for a huge calendar? What about on the back of a closet door? Keep your pen tied to the thumbtack there so it is always handy. Do you have a pantry in your kitchen? That is where I keep mine. I don’t like clutter. You’ll never see things taped to the front of my refrigerator.

Cards? Store bought go in the trash as soon as possible without being offensive. I don’t think I have ever read the card over the open trash can, but I’ve come close.

Homemade cards I’ll cherish, clutch to my bosom, and shower the recipient with my undying gratitude and love, before quietly disposing of it. If it is really spectacular and not another rendition of MOTHER written down the side of the card with words like Mommy- Old- Tells Me What To Do, etc. I’ll take a picture of the child holding the card, before I file the card away in my special storage cabinet, aka the outside garbage can.

I have one large drawer in my pantry where I put works of art. Every so often I go through and determine the best representative artwork they have done, books they have written, etc and toss the rest. Anything not able to be stored flat or worthy of public display is tossed. Egg carton caterpillars with glues on wiggly eyes? Cute, but buh-bye. Anything made out of a discarded coffee can? Oh how clever, but buh-bye. Any sort of pen holder, ashtray, paper weight. They go in my special cabinet straight away.

I display my children’s artwork.

Children's Artwork

I have many paintings matted and framed, hanging on my walls. I have pottery on display, and ceramic creations hanging on the wall.
Children's ceramics

It is a nice way to make the house feel like it belongs to the children. It makes them proud of their contribution to the decorating. Framing just makes it look nicer and more polished than scotch tape.

Since we homeschool, I probably keep more of my children’s school papers than a parent who has a child in traditional school would need to. I put their papers into colored folders, each child has their own folder. At the end of the year I put all the consumable books they have used and folders into a box and put it into the attic.

I go through the mail as soon as I come home with it. Everything that isn’t a magazine or a bill is tossed right away. Sometimes I get rid of the extra stuff at the post office in their recycling bins so that I don’t even have to cart it home. Then I put the mail where it belongs. Yes it has it’s own place.

Look at these organization systems at Pottery Barn. But don’t shop there, unless you have lots of money to spend on something you can get much cheaper somewhere else. See how you can make something similar yourself for much less money, that will suit your needs perfectly.

Good luck. And if all else fails you can make a bunch of paper airplanes and wear some large paper hats.

A Large Paper Hat

what do you do with all those shoes?

July 4th, 2006

Being organized is not my strong point. My anal retentive husband wishes it were.

I am full of good ideas. I would be great at telling other people what to do, but when it comes to implementing the organizational strategies in my own life, well let’s just say that if the road to hell is paved with good intentions I have already gone there and back several times.

I love organizational stuff. I love baskets and bins and dream of having a playroom like you see in one of those Pottery barn catalogs, where all the toys are put away in their labeled baskets.

Unfortunately, I have children who actually want to play with the toys and not just admire them in their bins or lined up neatly on the bookcases.

The one area that I do shine is my mudroom closet. I know. You are saying a closet, is that the best you can do? Well with nine people and an average size closet, living in a climate where bulky winter clothes are needed 6 months out of the year, I think my organization is quite a feat.

Yes, it is a small small area. I think that it works because I thought about what the closet needed to do before I designed it. When we bought the house there was no closet on the first floor, no mudroom, no dedicated laundryroom. All of those things are imperative for a large family, or really any family, so we added on to our house.

The space for the closet was limited so I knew that I would have to organize in other than a traditional manner for it to work for us. There is a bar with a shelf above it that runs along the back of the closet and along the right side. I hang up my coats as well as some of the extra jackets and vests that belong to the children. The bar is higher than normal to leave ample room underneath.

On the shelf I have baskets which, in the winter, hold out of season things like umbrellas, sunscreen, rain ponchos, swim diapers.

Mudroom closet

On the left hand side I have shelves which hold wire baskets.

Each kid has their own basket labeled with their name to keep their hats, gloves, sunglasses, etc. Rob and I each have one and there are several left over for the extras. On the uppermost shelf I have two small wire baskets, the content of which changes depending on what I am going to be doing. I’ll put mail in one if I am going to the post office so I remember to mail it, my wallet, extra diapers if I know I have exhausted my supply in the car. Right now the shopping cart cover and sling are waiting to go back into the van after being brought inside to be washed.

All the kids socks are kept in this closet. The large white bin on the bottom shelf holds the socks. The one on the right holds baseball hats. Yes, we have that many baseball hats with six boys.

Mudroom closet baskets

On the right side of the closet I have a peg rack. Each child has a hook to hand their coat and snowpants on. There is room underneath for two pair of shoes per child. Their snow boots are kept lined up near the back door where I can better contain the mud and wet mess that they make.

mudroom closet

It usually looks neater than this but the baby kept running in there and grabbing the shoes and tossing them around while I was trying to take the picture. I also use baskets in the children’s bedrooms to hold their small personal toys and books. The boys have some blue wooden bins. I have found boys wreck havoc on traditional baskets, these are much sturdier. (Please ignore their bedroom floor, it is slated to be refinished this spring, fall, lifetime)

Organizing the bedroom toys

My daughter has several baskets and stacking “suitcases” to hold all her tiny treasures.

Organizing the bedroom toys

People, they have lots of questions for me

July 2nd, 2006

Hi Chris, I am a mother of 4 ages 3 boys-9 months, 3, 6, and a 9 yr. old girl (who thinks she is 25). I cannot seem to find a plan and stick to it. We have done so many charts and such, but honestly I just want them to carry their own weight and behave most of the time. I find myself at night wondering what I can do to really make the house run a little smoother and have the kids really take a more active roll in keeping the house clean (this is done on most occasions, but it takes a lot of negotiating before they finally do something).

Anyway, I was just looking for a little advice in this department when you have some extra time (ha ha).I think the key to having any chore system work is to stick with it. Even though that sounds like such trite and easy advice, we all know that it is very easy to let things slide and the next thing you know your kids aren’t cleaning up their own stuff, mom is feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and the children are balking at helping out.

In my house we are a team. I tell my children that if they all help out we can do the things that need to be done more quickly and then have time for other fun things. Are there times that they refuse to help or stall? Of course, they are children not trained circus animals.

But the consequences of not helping are logical, natural consequences. Want me to play a game? Sorry I had to clean up the entire kitchen alone and now it is too late.

You didn’t want to pick your Legos up off of the floor? Sorry, they are now inside the vacuum if you want them you should go sort through the debris in the canister and retrieve them.

Children have to be shown how to do household tasks many times before they are ready to do it themselves. Telling your nine year old to clean up the family room will not mean the same thing to her as it does to you. Sending her off to with the order to “Clean Up!” without instruction will just result in frustration for both of you.

Ask me how I know this, better yet, don’t ask, just look at my gray hair.

Break the chore down into small manageable pieces and do it with her until she knows exactly what to do. At first it may seem like it is more trouble than it is worth, but if you stick it out the payoff will be there, for both of you.

Children like to please us. They like to feel important and like a contributing member of the team. So above all praise, praise, praise. Tell them what a good job they did, overlook the things that weren’t done exactly how you would like them. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way.

Good luck! And the next time my head threatens to spin around on my shoulders and pea soup to come spewing out of my mouth, I am going to try to remember my own advice.

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Hi Chris,I just recently discovered your blog…love it!
I was just wondering, what kind of camera do you use? Your pictures are beautiful (so are the kids, even though they are full of arsenic and covered in deadly DEET…sheez!)

Thank you.I use a Kodak Z740. I am happy with it and the picture quality. It isn’t an expensive camera and is no Nikon D70 or Canon Rebel, but for taking pictures of the children I have no complaints. And you can hardly see the children’s phosphorescent glow or third arm that is sprouting out of their backs.

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Sometimes, people email me answers to the burning questions I have, like is there a cream to take care of wrinkles and blemishes at the same time?

Olay’s anti-blemish anti-wrinkle moisturizer I’’ve been using it daily. Not bad!

I will have to try this. Thanks!