Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Slowing down...

Summer is upon us.  My kiddos have three days of school remaining (yay!) and then 10 weeks of fun in the sun.

Because I still work during our summer break, I try to rearrange my schedule to allow ample time for fun and games.

What seems like my never-ending list of to-dos and need-tos has to take a back seat to my want-tos and get-tos.  Laundry isn't as important a task because school uniforms don't haunt me from every corner.  The floors get a little dirtier from the tracking in of grass and dirt that come from a day playing in the sprinkler or lobbing water balloons at beloved siblings.  The windows don't sparkle and the walls sometimes get smudged.  But I don't care!

Summer is about days spent lounging on the deck with a glass of iced tea while the kids giggle on the trampoline.  Summer is about taking a hike in a nearby nature conservatory.  Summer is about taking out our inflatable raft on a neighboring pond and fishing from the creek bank. Summer is grilled hot dogs and potato chips.  Summer is drinks on the deck and camping gear stowed in the trunk.  

Life is busy, and will continue to be hectic.  But I don't want to miss a single minute with my kiddos.  Time is fleeting but memories last forever.  Make them ones to remember!

Slow down this week.  Go ahead and make your to-do list, but also make a want-to list as well.  Then pick one or two things on your to-do list and replace them with one or two things on your want-to list.  

Take pictures, tell stories, enjoy the sunshine!

Only By His Grace,


Monday, May 20, 2013

Summer time: when the living is easy

Dear friends,

I have considered and contemplated what type of information I want to convey to you through the course of our summer.

It has occurred to me recently how short our time together is.  Especially where our children are concerned.  My daughter is 12 years old.  She is finishing her 6th grade year.  That means we have 6 more spring breaks with her, 5 more summer vacations, 5 more fall breaks, and possibly 5 or 6 more Christmas breaks until she outgrows the nest and moves on the college.

That is why, I am taking a break over the summer.  Oh, I'll still post from time to time.  If we're friends on Facebook we can still catch up - and I'll post links so you'll know when new info is being posted.

In the meantime, I am taking The Mom Challenge.  
{hit the button for the link}.

This is a one-year challenge with weekly mini-challenges to get us re-engaged with our kiddos.  It includes easy-to-accomplish tasks like "eating dinner with your children," "slowing down" and "enjoying the simple things."

I wish you a fantastic summer!  Believe me!  Fall will be here soon enough and we'll get back to organizing and cleaning, polishing and waxing.  But for now - summer is here, our time is short - enjoy your time with your kids.  They won't always be around!

Only By His Grace,

Billie  -  look for me under Billie Ross

Friday, May 10, 2013

Teaching your children good habits takes diligence...

Today's post only applies to the parents among us, of course, but it also those parents who have toddlers, small children, tweens, teens and older college-age children living at home.  

I'm having hot peppermint tea this  morning.  Do you enjoy hot tea?  It's very refreshing.

If you teach your kids where things go, and start teaching them the habit of putting them there, you will begin to see a less and less cluttered house.

This is by no means an overnight approach.  This isn't something you can "nip in the bud." This approach will call for patience, teaching, diligence, reminding and setting the example.

Remember the story I told you about our Spring Break trip?  I did a little experiment on myself to see if I could actually put all my things away when I was done with them.  This included all of my toiletries, my shoes, my sweaters or jacket, my purse, my rain gear...everything.  And I did it!  When I wanted to procrastinate and just drop my things any-old-place, I took an extra 2 minutes and put them away!

Now that I'm home, I've found that I'm trying to slip into my old habits.  Old habits die hard.  But I'm trying to retrain myself!  

My husband is out of town this week for a business conference.  My goal is to retrain myself and my children at the same time.  But I will have to do it in small un-perceivable increments.

Here's my game plan.  If you are determined to conquer the clutter taking over your house, you might want to write these down and play along.

1.  Be an example.  When you are finished with something, put it away.  If you're a cook, clean up as you go, put away the waffle iron when you're finished with it.  If you're a knitter, put your project in a small out of the way basket.  If you're a reader, put your book back on the shelf, in a drawer or basket, on the desk, where ever it may be that isn't cluttering up the family living space.  Be an example.

2.  Give a time frame.  Children get overwhelmed by large seemingly impossible tasks.  Set a timer for 10 - 15 minutes.  Explain that 3 people working for 10 minutes is the same as 1 person working for 30 minutes.  If everyone works together for 10 minutes, take the extra 20 and take a walk outside, play Uno, color together...whatever the child's favorite activity with you is... that should be the reward.  Children need to see how helping you with chores frees you to spend more time with them!  Give a time frame.

3. Focus on one specific at a time. If you have older children, ages 6 - 10 I'd say, give them a specific task.  Orders like "clean up the family room" is still overwhelming to them.  It's too big a space and possibly too big a task.  Break the job down into specific tasks.  "Fold up the sofa throws and store them in the basket."  "Pick up the legos/Barbies/game pieces/cards and put them back in the games closet." "Pick up anything in this room that belongs to you and take it to it's rightful place."  Tasks broken down into specifics leave no margin for interpretation or decision making for kiddos - that's the overwhelming part.  As long as you tell them exactly what to do, odds are they'll comply!  Focus on one specific at a time.

4.  Resistance is futile. More than likely you have one or more "messies" living in your house.  Maybe you're a messy.  When it comes to conquering clutter, resistance must be futile.  Some children will put up a fuss when you begin to change their messy habits.  But resistance is futile.  Never give up - never surrender.  Don't back up - don't back down. Resistance is futile. 

5.  Don't become the enemy.  One very simple way to overcome the urge to nag is with checks and balances.  You set the rules, but let your child know the outcome and consequences are his own.  
     Question: "Mom, can I go ride my bike?"   
     Answer: "Have you picked up all your things from the family room?"  
     Your child's answer is then your answer: If the child's answer is "No, I'll do it later."  Then your answer is "No.  You can ride your bike later."  If your child's answer is "Yes, I put everything away."  Then your answer is free to also be yes.  Again, let your child see that you are not the enemy.  The task is not the enemy, but completing the task is his responsibility and the desired outcome is dependent on him completing the task.  Whatever you do, Don't become the enemy.

Let's look at the importance of these five steps in review.

1. Be an example.  It is important that your family sees how important these changes are to the family, not just to you.  But you have to set the example and continue to be the example. 
2. Give a time frame.  Time limits are important, especially with children.  How often do children ask "how much longer,"  "How many more minutes,"  "When is this going to be over?"  Setting an audible or visual timer is good for children - and it will do wonders for your sanity as well by not having to answer the question "how much longer."  Be sure to reward them with an activity of their choice in the spare time you've saved/created. 
3. Focus on specific tasks.  Specifics are important because they set a boundary.  The mind thinks, "When I've picked up the blankets, I'm done."  Children see a room of un-ending tasks and they immediately feel defeated.  Focusing on three small completable tasks will help children learn that picking up is temporary, that no task is too big, and that it's better for everyone to work together.
4. Resistance is futile. Don't be discouraged by a little push-back.  Children are natural mess-makers; it's part of their job.  It helps them create, and creativity is good for them!  However, they must also learn that picking up after themselves is also part of their job.  Training and diligence are your only weapons here!  Children will push back - you must be willing to push back, too.  
5. Don't become the enemy. In my opinion, this is the most important step of all.  You do not want your children to grow up hating housework.  You want to raise responsible children.  You cannot make this new routine your latest idea. You cannot nag, yell, fuss, squabble or negotiate. Not at first, anyway.  After a few days, let them see that the things they want to do are dependent on getting their jobs done.  Everyone has consequences to their choices - let your children see that picking up is part of belonging to a family - that they do not have a personal maid - and that they are responsible for their own actions.

I am not a child-expert.  However, I am determined to get part of my life back.  I cannot tell you how many hours I spend each week just picking up clutter. Now that I've experimented on myself, I know that it isn't going to kill anyone, and that everyone will save time in the long run by doing their part!  

How do you maintain clutter in your own home - where children abide?

Only By His Grace,


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

All clutter is procrastination...

Wow!  What a title!  What a brave statement.  Encouraging if you think about it. "All clutter is procrastination." Once you know what's holding you back, you can move forward with a solution. Do you think of yourself as a procrastinator? 

This morning I'm having my usual morning coffee.  In a few I'll have some juice with breakfast.  What's your favorite morning drink?

Ask yourself, "Am I a procrastinator?"  At first glance you might not see yourself as such, but if you live with clutter, the answer may be a surprising, "yes."

Think about it: clutter.  What is clutter?  Clutter is a magazine that wasn't put in the recycle bin or reading basket.  Clutter is a few stray coffee cups sitting on the end table.  Clutter is a still clean shirt draped over the bedpost.  Clutter is a pair of shoes beside the back door.  Clutter is art supplies strewn all over the dining table.

All of these things individually aren't a big deal.  They take very little time. 

  • Picking up a magazine: 5 seconds.  
  • Putting stray dishes in the dishwasher: 1 minute.  
  • Hanging up a shirt: 1 minute.  
  • Putting away shoes: 1 minute.  
  • Picking up art supplies: 5 minutes
However, when you procrastinate, all of these tasks completed at one time would take you about 10 minutes.  It really isn't a matter of saving yourself time, but more a matter of saving your sanity. 

Here's a quick project that should get you on the right path.  
Pick up 5 things, and find places for them.  These should be things that you use - but that you can't seem to find a place for.  Find one. - find a place for these items. If you don't know exactly where to put them, designate a spot.  Go ahead.  Make the decision right now.  Find a designated area for these 5 things and put them away. What's holding you back?  

Now, determine to do this for 5 more things tomorrow.  Then five more things the day after that.  

Once you've determined where to put things, there's no reason not to!  You're never too busy, too far behind, too tired or too stressed NOT to put away 5 things every day!  You can see from the list above, you may only be talking about 10 minutes.  Every one has 10 minutes!

Retrain your brain!  Stop procrastinating.  It only causes you stress!

When you get home, put your shoes away.  When you take off a shirt you only wore for an hour, hang it up.  When you bring in the mail, sort it.  When you're finished with your snack, put your dishes away.

We just got back from Spring Break with our kiddos.  We stayed in an average sized motel room.  I did a little experiment with myself.  When I was done with my hygiene supplies (ie toothbrush, hairbrush, flat iron, makeup) I took an extra minute and put them all back in my bag.  Honestly, it took me one extra minute to maintain my space.  I wasn't stressed each morning to find my toothpaste.  I wasn't hunting and pecking through all the counter clutter to find MY hairbrush.  I knew where they were.

Want to know the surprising part?  My family followed suit without me mentioning it.  My husband put his things back in his shave kit.  My kids put their things back in their bags... it was astonishing!

Today, pick up those five things... then five more tomorrow.  Stop procrastinating these little tasks and see how much less clutter you have.  Go ahead.  Put yourself to the challenge.  

You can do it!

Only By His Grace,


Monday, May 6, 2013

Principles and Guidelines...

People are always looking for best-practices.  I like best practices. I like knowing that A + B = C. I like knowing that when I clean my house it's going to be clean.  I like knowing that working hard breeds results.

Today I'm having a good old fashioned glass of ice water.  What are you sipping?

I am a habitual multi-tasker.  Is there a MTA? (Multi Taskers Anonymous).  When I'm folding laundry I'm thinking ahead to mopping the floors.  When I'm making the bed, I'm thinking of cleaning the bathroom.

Here are some principles I'm working on now to clear my thinking and enjoy the process. 

1. When you clean, just clean. Try not to plan or think about the next task.  Try to concentrate on what you're doing right now. 

2. Try doing your work with gratitude and compassion.  Try to be grateful for what you have even if it has to be cleaned, decluttered, or organized...again.  Be thankful for the people you have in your life - even when they create messes.

Here are the guidelines I use to check myself - and to keep myself in check.

1. Clean as you go.  Whatever your task, take five minutes to clean up after yourself.  This guideline includes craft projects, morning hygiene routines, meal prep and outdoor home updates.  

2. Start where you are.  If you're overwhelmed by all you need to declutter, start where you are.  One drawer, one hanger, one closet, one basket.  Donate them, discard them, repurpose them, recycle them.  Now you've gotten started.  Do it again, tomorrow.

3. Keep your work surfaces clear.  On your desk try to allow for no more than your computer or laptop, a photo of your family or pet, and an in-box or basket.  

4. Just start!  Give it just 10 minutes, or 15 minutes.  Do it every day.  Don't judge yourself against professional organizers and housekeepers.  Do what you can do in the time you have.

What principles work for you?  Drop a line in the comments.

Only By His Grace,


Friday, May 3, 2013

When to ignore the experts...

"Everyone's a comedian." Do you ever hear that phrase?  That's how I feel about organizing gurus.  Everyone's an expert.  Truth is, not every tip works for every person.  Sometimes you have to know what works for you and when to ignore the rules.
This morning I'm drinking my beloved coffee with fat free french vanilla creamer.  Ahhhh.
Being organized helps in so many areas of your home and work life.  Most people find things more easily and quickly when organized.  They worry less when things are uncluttered, and find their days less stressful then when they are disorganized.
Have you ever heard these rules?  
  •      A place for everything and everything in it's place.  
  •      Label your containers. 
  •      Store like items together. 

These rules work efficiently for most of us.  I admit, they are the life and death of my daily life. If things aren't where I can find them when I need them, well.... it's not pretty!
That doesn't mean if all the organizing rules don't work for you, you should give up your dreams of being organized, uncluttered and streamlined.  What it does mean is that you should look at things a little differently and consider whether or not a specific organizing advice works for YOU. Don't be afraid to think outside the organizing box.

The rules are too rigid! I get this a lot from my kiddos.  Although I love my son's legos to be wonderfully organized in separate containers according to color, he prefers them all dumped in one giant basket. 
   Question: Is this rule too rigid for him to maintain?  Is this rule frustrating him so much he can't commit to it.  
   Answer: Yes!  So what's important to me?  Is it that all the legos look pretty in their color coordinated containers or that my eight year old has the motivation to put them away when he's done?
If the principle you're attempting is too rigid, you will not only become frustrated, you will also refrain from using it and will not be able to control the mess. Feelings of failure will set in and eventually all motivation will be lost.  You'll be back at square one.

Try this instead: Adjust the rule so the core value remains the same, but tweak it so it suits your personality or lifestyle.  For instance, my family drops their shoes, bags and backpacks right inside the back door.  I hate it, I've tried to change it, I've fought and fussed and fumed.  No change.  It's just what we do. 
Instead of making my family miserable, we adjust our expectation. We, obviously, meaning me :)  We changed our attitude.  Now we have two choices. 
Choice one: drop everything the minute we walk in the door until the dog is let out, we've used the facilities, we had that cool drink of water, or that five minute sit-down-and-rest.  THEN we grab our things and put them away.  
Choice two: use a large basket inside the back door.  Drop everything in the basket the moment we walk in and sift through it when we need whatever we deposited there.

This is too hard! I hear this from my kiddos, too.  I think clothes closets should me kept organized and maintained - expertly! Children don't share that excitement.  I'm working on it, though. For them, the idea of "organize your closet" is too hard.  It's too big a task.
Try this instead: Keep it simple.  Try to narrow the process to three easy steps.  
1) put shoes in their cubbies, basket, rack, etc.
 2) hang up all clean clothes according to purpose (i.e. school uniforms together, other clothes together). 
3) deposit all loose toys into their rightful containers. Again, like items together (i.e. all action figures together, all Barbie clothes together, all stuffed animals together, all spy gear together.)

Parts of the whole: Each of these steps is very helpful, but you may not be able to keep or maintain every step consistently.  
Try this instead: focus on the things you know you can do easily and routinely.  Then gradually add, or swap other techniques as necessary.

Remember, your home is your safe place.  You want it to be organized and clutter free, but not if keeping it that way causes you additional stress.  
My tips for you:
Don't give up.  Don't give in. 
You can create the home you always wanted.  
Don't get bogged down in all the rules!  Find one that works for you, stick to it, tweak it, rework it until you're the expert!

Only By His Grace,


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Are you making memories or curating collections?...

Nearly two months ago now, I lost my father.  In the weeks that followed, my sisters and step mother and I went through Daddy's things.  There were shirts and ball caps, tools and golf balls, OH the golf balls :)  But we found out an amazing thing about our dad.

I'm enjoying a glass of orange juice this morning... what are you sipping?

We found out that my dad kept everything.  No, he wasn't a hoarder.  He wasn't a pack rat.  He wasn't a stock piler.  Not of things, at least, but of memories.  We found album after album of photos.  We found negatives, prints, digital copies, all cataloging trips and vacations and special moments with his daughters.  

We found cards - in fact, I think we found every card we ever gave him.  I found arts and crafts I'd made him in Vacation Bible School from 30+ years ago, still in the sandwich bag wrapper, still with the note penned by an excited 8 year old gift bearer. 

My dad didn't keep things because he wanted things.  He kept memories, and the things that sparked memories.  

I recently read what another blogger wrote.  This is what Jules had to say, "My friend’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her mom heard the news and took to her bed. She stopped eating and drinking, and about 10 days later she passed away. Two weeks after that, my friend’s father died. June of 2011 was a nightmare. Going through her parents’ belongings was unbelievably disturbing. I remember standing in front of her mother’s vanity table and looking at the makeup, perfume, daily vitamin. It was all so normal! I felt like that character in a movie that stumbles into a city where everyone has suddenly left. I looked at her makeup and thought that if someone were to go through my makeup drawer, they would wonder why a girl who never wears makeup has two different green eyeshadows and 12 lip glosses in various shades of plum.

I decided right then that if anyone were to go through my possessions, they would touch each one without wondering what the heck I was thinking. “Oh, look! She loved these shoes.” “Do you remember how long it took her to find this perfume tray?” “She bought the fox lamp because her oldest son’s favorite movie was Fantastic Mr. Fox. It reminded her of him.”

My goal is for everything in our home to have a memory, and if not a memory, at least a purpose. (Sometimes a lemon reamer is just a lemon reamer.) I have no desire to be a minimalist, but it goes part and parcel with creating an intentional home. It’s hard to consider yourself thoughtful when you have a drawer full of old t-shirts!"

What Jules had to say was very emotionally charged for me, especially in the days that followed Daddy's passing.  

I'm not a hoarder, I don't think.  I'm not a minimalist, either, although the thought is appealing to me.  I don't live in a small home, but I want the things that are here with me to have meaning, to have purpose.

I don't want to have 20 pair of socks just because they were on sale.  I want them to be my running socks or my boot socks.  Most days you'll find me in stilettos, sandals, ballet flats or boots.  I don't need 20 pair of socks!

Like Jules, if someone were to go through my things tomorrow, or next week, next year or twenty years from now, I would want them to say about me, "She loved her shoes," "She made scratch biscuits with that old soup can," "She loved Enfuselle skin care," and "the painting above her mantle reminded her family of the hike through the Aspen groves."

My life is not a show.  My home should not be staged or produced. I want my family to know that I love them because I love on them, not because my home looks as if I do.

Only By His Grace,


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