30 September 2010

Offline AGAIN!

Just when you thought I was around to stay...our new house that we're moving into tomorrow won't have internet for a month or so.  I plan to make a trip to the nearest hotspot, but it obviously won't be as regular as it is now.

Please stay tuned - I'll be back.

28 September 2010

Toys Toys Toys

We've never had that many toys around the house.  As a pediatric occupational therapist, I am schooled in the ways of using what you got.  As for my own family, we've found that creating new uses for ordinary objects increases the fun.  But kid stuff tends to multiply on its own.  I've witnessed it.  It's scary.

Of course, when we're traveling, the few things we do have must be narrowed down even more.  It's easy to limit the size of what we bring:  the boys each have a Trunki suitcase, which holds five gallons of stuff.  That sounds like a lot, but it's not when you add in comfort items like blankets and a favorite stuffed animal.  However, it's a very concrete visual for them to know that they can only bring what they can fit in their Trunki.  So that's the rule.  In general, I don't think it's my job to carry their toys.  It either fits in the Trunki or it doesn't come.

When we got to the Netherlands, all we had was what came over in these suitcases.  It quickly became apparent that we were lacking a few things.  But only a few, which is good.  Here is what we currently have:
a soccer ball (we mailed this, obviously)
colored pens and journals
2 small board games (one we mailed and one we added when we visited Legoland)
a deck of cards
hotwheels, small trinket items
small shape sorter for the toddler (we added this)

The kids have also made good use of some kitchen items, empty boxes, couch cushions, blankets, and the great outdoors.

Here is what I feel like we are missing:
a few more games - endless entertainment in our family
building blocks (legos)
train set - they often combine the train set with some lego structures
outdoor sporting equipment such as bicycles or a ride on toy for the little one
more books

An option I have used in the past is to keep more toys, but rotate through them every few months.  When we had storage in our attic, but not so much in the kids' bedroom, I kept a few toys in the play area, and the overflow went into a container upstairs.  Every so often I rotated out a couple toys and replaced them with toys from the attic.  It kept the toys fresh and their interest piqued.  They always wondered what would show up in their toy boxes.  And by the time an old toy made it back downstairs, it was new again.

What am I forgetting?  It's easy and sometimes necessary to hold onto toys for the next child or "just in case."  But that is a matter of currency - how much is the space those old toys are taking up worth to you?  Less than the worth of the toys that are taking up the space?  The answer is different for everyone, of course.  At our house, we place value on having a calm, chaos-free space for the things we have, and we always somehow manage to find something to play with.

27 September 2010

The Kitchen

My most difficult space to streamline is probably the kitchen.  I am no gourmet cook, and I don't have a ton of unitasker appliances lurking on every inch of countertop or behind cabinet doors.  But I do cook often, including baking bread (in the oven, not a bread machine), pies, and cookies.  As an occupational therapist, I think kitchen activities are an excellent way to work on motor and coordination skills, so I often include my own kids when I cook.  And of course they love love love it, and it keeps them busy, out of trouble, and away from the t.v.

I also have an addiction to containers, so it's hard to part with bowls, tupperware, and other organization-friendly items.  And finally, Pampered Chef stuff is cool.  The only reason I don't have more of it is that I hate going to the parties.  But that is another one of my quirky issues that doesn't need to be dealt with in this forum.

So, all that to say I can usually justify holding on to kitchen items.  But again, my pseudo kitchen in this temporary living space doesn't have much.  And I haven't needed much.  I posted a while back about some silicone covers we have that take the place of plastic wrap and turn most anything into a lidded storage container.  I have 4 different sizes, and I have found that I don't really need tupperware.  I make use of bowls, mugs, and even plates to store leftovers in the refrigerator, and it has been working out just fine.  With no dishwasher here, we don't want a lot of dishes piling up anyway, so we haven't needed more than the set of six plates, bowls, and cups in the cabinet.  I use one water glass throughout the day, and I immediately wash my toddler's cup when she is finished so it is ready for next time she needs it.  I make pretty simple meals, but they are complete, healthy, and tasty.

I think my kitchen needs will continue to be scaled down when we move into our new house.  I only miss a few appliances:  
-our rice cooker- a staple in our house, which doubles as a slow cooker (my favorite is steel cut oats put in the night before with the timer set)
-a toaster, although I have toasted bread pretty easily on the stove here
-a blender, but I am switching to a stick blender that can also be used as a food processor (I puree a lot of veggies into sauces for the picky eater in the family)

I will have an oven, so I will once again use baking dishes, but I only brought a couple because the ovens here are tiny.  I am going to try baking bread on a small piece of stoneware rather than my usual pizza stone.  It should work fine, but I might have to make two small loaves at a time instead of one large loaf.  I am not sure how I will bake cookies, because cookie sheets won't fit in the oven.  Maybe I will try to use the same small stoneware pan.  

I may have to amend this in the future, as I get settled in my new kitchen.  But for now, this list looks good.

Next up:  the toys!

24 September 2010

The Office

We've done well with our office, although it is still a work in progress.  Long ago we decided we didn't need a dedicated office space, both because we didn't have the luxury of space and because a removed office space didn't match how we utilize the computers and office supplies.  

Eventually, our office evolved into a standing work station with files below.    We used a section of kitchen/breakfast nook space:  my husband had his computer on a high shelf that we installed at his standing height specifically for the computer, and I had a hacked metal box on the counter.  A hole was drilled into the side for cords, with the computer cable and power strip inside the box.  A mail center/bill paying station was given prime real estate on the counter next to my laptop.  When I needed to do a lot of work on the computer, I just moved my laptop to the kitchen table.  

Since our move, my office is a zippered pouch on the closet shelf holding two plastic envelopes, for pending items and papers to be filed, the checkbook, and a few stamps and envelopes.  A compartmentalized box holds office supplies, such as a few pens, tape, rubber bands, and scissors.  I also have my laptop with me, sitting on top of a console table.  Since this table isn't high enough to function as a standing work station, I move it to the kitchen table or couch to do work.  This has worked very well; the only thing I am missing is the file box.

So, as I've been thinking of what our new office will look like, I think it won't be much different from what it was.  We like our standing work stations, so we are toying with the idea of combining the office area with a room divider of sorts to separate the space between our living and dining rooms.  
Right now we still need our filing system, which is just a fire proof box, one file box for current files, and one box for last years files.  Every January, I shred the old files and then move the current papers to the old file box (this is excluding tax returns and other items that must be kept for longer than one year).  I have two expandable files inside the file boxes for investment paperwork.  While this system works well, we will likely go paperless in the near future.  We have our eye on an excellent scanner that can scan all size documents with a very good document feeder.  We can just place a stack of differently shaped papers in the scanner, press the button, and go.  My husband has it all planned out with external hard drives and whatnot, but we still need to actually pull the trigger.

With this plan, all I really need is about 1-2 feet of horizontal space and a shelf or drawer for files.  This can easily be done in a living/dining room area, and then the computer is easily accessible for the whole family.  The standing work station allows me to quickly search for something on the internet without having to sit and get settled.  Since I use the internet frequently for everything from a dictionary to recipe searches, I really enjoy that kind of accessibility.

I will try to post a picture of this space when it is complete, although since we haven't even moved into our house, who knows how long it will be.

So, what don't we need?  a billion pens, drawers full of old unsorted papers, huge file cabinets, a big desk, and a dedicated room for an office. 

Next up:  the dreaded kitchen

23 September 2010

The Necessities

With us living in this tiny abode, I've been thinking a lot about what we really need to live.

[As an aside, we are moving in 1 WEEK!  Things are working well for us here so far, but it doesn't feel like home because none of the stuff is ours.  I'm excited to get our couch and sleep in my bed with my pillow.  And I'm excited for the boys to not have an hour commute to school, especially because the younger one falls asleep every single day on the way home.  It kind of messes him up.]

When we packed our stuff to move over here, I went through the whole house purging.  I do this at every move, and sometimes in between.  Seeing your life boxed into so many crates does that to you, especially when you know you have to unpack all that on the other end.

I felt like I did a pretty good job streamlining everything, but I wonder if I'll still feel that way when we move into our permanent space?  Or will I unpack something and wonder why in the world I felt it necessary to keep?

Our belongings were packed up at the end of July.  If we've gone this long without it, what will make it necessary once we get it back besides my desire to have stuff?

I am going to ponder this topic here on the blog category by category in an effort to truly evaluate what my family needs.  I'll try to do it all this next week, before I actually see any of it and start justifying my needs and making excuses.

First up:  The Office.

21 September 2010


Special Request:  Christmas present storage

A college friend and follower of this blog requested a post on Christmas present storage, both for your own children and others.  I've never done a special request, D, but here goes:

First of all, congratulations on having this problem!  We also buy presents early; in fact, we shop all year long, both for specific occasions and just to have on hand for the next birthday party invite.  We tend to save a lot of money when we aren't under pressure, and the gifts are better also.  I have a shelf of one closet dedicated to "in stock" presents.  I just use recycled cardboard boxes to hold the gifts, and if it is a specific present for someone I label it (usually just a post-it pinned to the gift or stuck to it's container) with the person it's for and/or the occasion.  For my own kids, I keep a separate box for each of them on the shelf.  They are really good about staying out of spaces that aren't theirs.

But Christmas is a unique challenge, because I am assuming that the gifts you have bought won't fit on just one shelf.  You can't really dedicate a space to holding large gifts one time per year, but you don't want those gifts to be strewn all over every room of your house.  Here is what I have done in the past.  I hope one of these works for you.

For my kids:  Obviously, I want these presents out of sight.  Like I said, my kids are pretty good about sticking to approved play areas, and for us, that means out of mom and dad's closets.  So, I use the floor of my closet a lot.  My floor is usually empty, so I end up just putting the presents behind my hanging clothes.  I do sometimes wrap the gifts early so that if they are accidentally discovered, the surprise won't be ruined.  I occasionally keep shoes on my closet floor, so if that is the case, I move my shoes to a temporary bin, either by the front door or just out in my bedroom.  I have also stored medium sized gifts in the linen closet.  Towels make good hiding places, and no one ever goes in there except me and my husband.  I once stored a bicycle in our guest bedroom/computer server area.  I kept the door locked, and Sam never thought to ask why.  My parents once kept a puppy at a neighbor's house, but I doubt the neighbor was too thrilled about it.

For everyone else:  I am once again making an assumption on the size of these gifts.  I imagine that the individual gifts aren't too big, but there are a lot of them.  We are always traveling during Christmas, and the gift giving usually extends over several days.  This is where I become proactive.  As the presents are bought, I separate them by destination or date of delivery.  If they are getting mailed, you can do the same thing.  Once again, I apply the labels (after all, it's only September - are you going to remember what goes where in a few months?) and find a different container for each destination/date.  Size depends on number of items it will hold, but I tend to use recycled cardboard boxes or extra rubbermaid bins.  If I have closet space, I put the storage containers in there, but who has empty closet space waiting for temporary storage?  If I don't have closet space, I rope off a little used area of a room or garage.  Just make sure it is warm and dry.  

I have been known to wrap and package up presents weeks in advance just so they are ready to go.  If I just do a couple at a time, it takes away the stress and paralyzing nature of having mountains of presents to wrap.    

If you don't have storage boxes or bins, try duffel bags or old luggage that won't be used any time soon.  Maybe you won't be needing the 3 foot tall rolling suitcase until Christmas when you travel to see family with all of your presents.  In which case, all of those gifts will already be packed.  You can roll up your socks and underwear and stuff them into the spaces between the gifts so they won't break during travel.  Who needs clothes anyway?

Good luck, D!  I haven't said anything earth shattering, but I hope something has sparked an idea in your head.  Let me know if you have any questions or if this was helpful at all or a total waste of your time.  Also, if anyone else has a specific request for a blog post, this is the part where I tell you to send it to me and I'll post about it.  If I have any ideas on the subject, of course.

20 September 2010


My husband likes to tease me.  Not all the time, but he does tease me (in fun) about my desire for order.  I know I have some *quirks* that might border on the obsessive, but I am usually able to defend my position by pointing out the dish that sits in the sink for an entire afternoon unwashed, or the junk drawer.

But my biggest piece of incriminating evidence is when my toddler girl likes to play with the broom and dustpan.  Or place items neatly on the shelf.  Or wipe the table and chairs.  

But all toddlers like to do that stuff!  Right?  Right?  Maybe.

That, however, is no match for the latest indictment.  My 7 year old son wanted to earn some "commission" money (another post for another day), so he chose to organize the toy shelves in the living room.  Then, when the toddler pulled some stuff down, he said, "Uuugh!  She had better put that away herself!  I just cleaned it!"

For some reason my husband thinks he takes after me.

17 September 2010

Follow Me

If you read this blog regularly, click on the follow button on the top.  It helps to have an idea of who visits the site.

Also, always feel free to make comments.  Just click "comment" at the bottom of whatever post you want to comment on, or if the post a comment box is open, start typing.  It's nice to hear others' ideas for making their lives less chaotic.

16 September 2010

One Job Wonders

To follow up the multitaskers, I have found that some things function better when dedicated to a single purpose.

A prime example would be my beloved packing cubes.  I think I may have mentioned them before once or twice or twelve times.  I love to use them when packing because it keeps everyone's clothes separate and contained, making for more orderly packing and unpacking.  Not to mention it's much easier to hand a boy a packing cube and say get dressed than to have him hunt through the entire suitcase.

I had the thought that those cubes would come in handy for storing other items here in our temporary house, and so I put toys in one, books in another, etc.  But then it came time to head to England for a couple days, and I had to empty them all to use them for packing.

And so now they are stored inside the suitcase, waiting for our next adventure.

Other things I keep stored for one purpose?  Things I only have 1 of and use often.  Mostly storage containers of various types.  For the most part, if a kitchen container is empty, it will get filled again, so it is pointless to use it for something else.  I learned that lesson when my boys hijack containers for their play.  Also, the rubbermaid liner I use for my daughter's placemats.  Whenever I repurpose it for something, I seem to lose it and never have it when I need it.  So she gets three mats that stay with her dishes.

Most of these lessons I've learned through trial and error, and it takes good evaluation skills of what our family needs.  Our home is a balance between less clutter (chaos) and more convenience (peace and efficiency); one is often sacrificed for the other.

What does your scale have on each end?

13 September 2010



Since we've begun living in a 500-600 square foot temporary home (and with 99% of our belongings with the movers), we've had to get creative on using items for multiple purposes.  Here are just a few examples of what can be done when you don't have a choice:

kitchen utensils = toys
bathtub = washing machine
radiator = dryer
stovetop = counter (tray fit over the gas burners - don't worry, not when it's hot!)
upper cabinets = bulletin board
bucket = laundry basket for wet clothes (to transport to our radiator dryer)
large tupperware bowl = baby doll bed
stroller = grocery cart (but I feel like a homeless person when I use it this way)
extra bed = linen storage
suitcases = storage boxes
juice glass = toothbrush holder
tabletop stereo/speakers = computer desk
kitchen towels = dolly blankets
top of utility cabinet = laundry hamper
housekeeper's cleaning supply cabinet = shoe storage
carry-on suitcases = toy boxes
piled up mattresses (had to dismantle one bed to make room for a baby crib) = changing table

The list grows every day.  Interesting how desperation sparks ingenuity, isn't it?

10 September 2010


Special Spaces

I like everything put away.  All the time.  

But my family doesn't always share my view.  Not that I live with a bunch of slobs.  In fact, they are all very good at following my *ahem* requests to keep everything neat and tidy.

But sometimes, I have to let them have their space.  Sometimes the kids need to play with more than one toy at a time.  Or sometimes, just sometimes, something more important comes up that requires my husband to leave his messenger bag on the floor.

So, I've learned to compromise and deal.  My husband gets a corner of the bedroom that is not visible from the door.  And my kids get the space under their loft beds.  I hung a curtain from the beds so that the area underneath is blocked off.

The rule is that their space can look however they want, but the rest of the floor must remain clear.  For their part, they know that once things get out of hand to the point of creeping out of their space, they must put things away.

It works well because it allows them to have a sense of control, but I am still able to breathe.  

07 September 2010

The Art Gallery

School has just started for us here in the Netherlands, so it is the time of year where excitement runs high.  So high, in fact, that my kids are overjoyed to bring home every single piece of artwork and have it proudly displayed on any vertical surface that can be found.

I am happy to comply with this request; I think it makes our house feel happier and cozier when we can see a child's view of the world.  But then there is always the question of what to do with said artwork when its viewing life has come to an end?  Saving it is compulsory here, at least for a while.  So each child has a special box where the best pieces are kept.

But by the end of one school year, the box is overflowing onto the closet shelf.  And, at least while my kids are in their young elementary years, I know the cycle will start again the following September.  So what to do?  I've tried sorting, purging, and then sorting again.  But still the artwork continues to multiply.  

I would love to save it all, but in the end I have to only keep the best of the best.  In order to preserve the stuff labeled "on the bubble", I created a digital file for each child.  The few masterpieces from each year are kept in their original format.  I even framed a couple spectacular works that I wanted to fully preserve.  But then the other items that didn't quite make the cut were clearly labeled and photographed.  I was sure to include the name of the artist, the date (or at least the year), and a short description of the work.  I grouped some smaller items into one photograph, and created a special art file grouped chronologically.  These photos are included in slide shows that we periodically display on our television or computer screens.

It would be nice to save all the artwork that passes through my front door, but controlling the paper helps to control the chaos.  And with this digital format, we have managed to preserve the memories surrounding the actual art.  And we still have room for more.

04 September 2010

The Case For Space

We are currently living in a small cottage while we search for a house.  It is at a campground/resort area called a Bungalow Park.  Most people come here on weekends and holidays, so folks often assume we are vacationing indefinitely.  We hear, "Prettige vakantie" (enjoy your vacation) almost every day from someone.  But in a country where it will likely take 2 months to procure a rental house, this was a much better and more economical option than a hotel.  There are very strict fire laws in Europe, making it impossible for the 5 of us to stay in one hotel room.  Not to mention the fact that bungalow parks are cheap!  We'll definitely use them in the future for our own holidays.

But for now, this is our home.  When we first moved in, we chose a 5 person bungalow because, well, there are 5 of us in the family.  But we soon discovered that a 5 person is merely a 4 person with another bed crammed into the 2nd bedroom and a 5th dining chair at the end of the 4 person table.  Add to that the baby crib we had to stuff into our room, and we had a 5th bed taking up space and a crib right next to mom and dad which the baby took full advantage of in the middle of the night (think standing, screaming, and reaching for mommy's arm).  As boxes we mailed started arriving, we realized that this option was not going to work for the long-ish term.

So when our initial reservation was up, we moved to a 6 person bungalow.  And it has made an enormous difference.  There are 3 bedrooms, which means the baby doesn't have to sleep in our room(!), and the kids rooms are upstairs in a dormer area.  Built in gates at the top and bottom of the stairs take care of the safety issue, and the toilet room is separate from the bathroom, which has 2 sinks.

Which finally brings me to my point.  This new place still only has a dorm room sized fridge, no oven, and only a foot or so of walking path between beds and walls, but it feels like a castle.  Yes, there are times when more space is needed (see above).


And do we always need more of it?  Or do we need to first evaluate the space we have and make better decisions regarding what is very important to us?  Hmmm.  Moving often makes me very careful about what we keep and what things can move on to someone else.  I know right now I am in a special situation, but the principles can apply.

This post is long, I know.  I'm making up for lost time!  If the topic is remotely interesting to you, then I have a book to recommend.  It's called The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka.  She proposes that people need 1/3 less space than they think they need.  That doesn't mean that everyone should live in a tiny house, just that space needs should be carefully considered and planned intelligently.  It makes you think about all the cookie cutter spaces we have today and if those spaces really fit individual needs.

Think about it.