Saturday, October 24, 2015

What Island Life Taught Me About Keeping a Tidy House: Secrets to a Tidy (Enough) House Part I

To You:

Housekeeping is a necessary part of life.  Sometimes, especially with kids, it seems like an endless array of laundry, dishes, spills, and clutter.  Counteract that with the fact that it is enjoyable to live in a space that feels organized.  It is rewarding to see the floor after a full day of toys, and it is reassuring to know that toilet is clean when you sit on it.  I believe we function and feel better when we are in an appropriately tidy space.  (For an interesting discussion on some of the possible science behind this, check out this blog with its related article.)  The constancy of necessary cleaning and the benefits of being clean may lead to a lot of time spent cleaning!

However, I am here to tell us all that housekeeping doesn't need to take over our lives.  In my home, housekeeping is important, but not a priority...meaning it is not where I want to spend the majority of my time.  I am the first to admit that there are many homes much cleaner than ours.  When you come to my house,  you may find a messy corner or a dirty floor now and then, but you will also find a woman content in her station and spending time doing what she loves (things like being with my family, exercising, reading, and continuing to learn).  As with a majority of activities in life, housekeeping becomes a balancing act.   I love a clean and tidy home and there are some tips and ideas that I have learned to help me balance a clean home with a full life.  In other words, how can we keep a clean house in minimal time?  I've broken these tips into several posts, and here is the first.

I would briefly add here that I am grateful to be able to afford a home and "stuff" and to have kids and all that comes along with them.  There are so many who would love the "problem" of how to keep a home clean.  Thus, I guess the beginning of balance (or peace about tidiness) comes from "gratitude in all things."  :)  Now on with the story...

Secret #1 to a Tidy (Enough) House and How I Really Learned It

We had the opportunity to live on a Caribbean Island for a year and a half.  Yes, it was beautiful!  Magnificent snorkeling and kind, friendly people.  I would definitely recommend a vacation.  Our life there was life though, not just a vacation.  We were on a student budget with three kids rather than a tourist budget.  When we moved to the island, we took the equivalent of five suitcases and a few carry-ons.  What would you pack in your five suitcases for a year and a half in an unknown place, realizing you were going to spend as little money as possible once you got there?  No really, what would you pack?  Here is Secret #1:

SIMPLIFY by thinking VARIETY and limiting QUANTITY.   

I realized pretty quickly that the kids didn't need quite as many clothes as they had in their closets.  (Neither did I!)  I didn't need as many pots as I had, and they definitely didn't need as many toys.  I looked through my pictures to find one of our toy basket on the island...
Yep...That's It!  The white one back there.

This was the full extent of our toy storage for a year and a half and three children.  The kids each had a few special things in their bedroom, like a stuffed animal or book.  We also had one cupboard with puzzles, games, and craft supplies.  The cupboard right behind the white toy basket held books.  Guess how quickly we could pick-up the entire house?  :) 

Having lived this way, I realized we REALLY don't need as much "stuff" in life as we either think we do or accidentally accumulate.  Kids CAN play with the same toys over and over again.  How often has a birthday gift been enjoyed and then forgotten because a new toy came along?  When that new one doesn't come along, kids often get more creative with the old toys in finding new ways to use them.  Kids can imagine and create without any toys at all.  Kids can spend more time outside–yes, having lived in both Buffalo and Chicago–even in the winter there are some outdoor opportunities!  Kids can spend more time in books and conversation.  I can wear the same dress every three weeks.  I'm not suggesting that we all give away everything and go live in a van down by the river (although some days that's tempting), but if the stuff in our lives is making life harder rather than better, it's time to cut back.  Simplify.  The old adage, "Less is more," definitely applies here.  Not only is less stuff insanely easier to keep tidy, it also, in my experience, is better for the kids and us.

For our family, the island was a unique and wonderful period of life.  We enjoyed nature, people, creativity, and especially each other to a new extent.  A wonderful side-product of that life was a home that was easy and quick to keep tidy.

You Can Do It Too...Here's How

Here are some questions and tips to help you both limit and make the most of the "stuff" in your own home.


Think variety in your home.  When tidying (aka decluttering), eliminate your least favorites when multiple things serve the same purpose.  For example...

Do you have toy(s) or activities that encourage: 

-Pretend grown-up play like dress-up, kitchen sets, doctor bag, or dolls?  (Think other occupations: a box, a bag, and some paper can make for a great post-office.)
-Imaginative interaction like small dinosaurs, cars, or figurines?
-Creativity like a variety of craft supplies or a building set?
-Large muscle movement like bikes, jump ropes, or sports equipment?
-Small muscle movement like blocks or legos?
-Problem solving like games or puzzles?
-Team work like games or sports equipment?
-Musical interest like CDs or instruments?
-Reading readiness or knowledge acquisition like magnetic letters, foam bath letters, and books of all kinds?

*Choosing one or two quality toys or activities from each of these areas of growth is healthy and sufficient for kids.  

One way to add variety to play without having so much stuff available to make a mess is to use some kind of toy rotation.  I do this with my baby toys.  I have a small basket of baby toys out and available and a small box in the closet.  Periodically I rotate the toys, giving a sense of newness and variety without actually adding to the amount in the basket.  You could try this with craft supplies or by having some special toys that only come out periodically say at holidays.  However, beware of keeping too much stuff in storage that doesn't get used or enjoyed!

The same idea applies to our own closets and family spaces.  

Do you have a variety of clothes you really like, rather than just a lot of clothes?  Do you really need four ladles or would two in different sizes suffice?  Got three flathead screwdrivers?  Maybe one flathead and one Phillips would get the job done.


There is a Frugal Force inside me.  Usually she's my Friend, but I am learning that sometimes in my quest to limit quantity, she can be my Foe.  This frugality encourages getting cheap things because they are cheap and keeping things because I might need them someday, even if they don't bring me joy.  How can I overcome this Frugal Foe when necessary and keep life simple?

Realize it is harder to get rid of stuff once I already have it, so try to limit the accumulation.

1.)  I love your junk, but...
             Just because something is a good deal, or even free, it does not mean you need it!  Beware of Craigslist and friendly looking garage sales that easily heap upon us cheep things we don't really need!  :)  I was thinking about this post when I drove by the above sign.  It was so perfect I turned around, pulled over, and took a picture.  Let us learn how to say, "I love your junk, but no thank you!"  I have worn hand-me-down clothes my entire life and am thankful for those who have shared with me.  However, getting things free can also mean getting too many things!  I am now comfortable only keeping those things I really like or that fill a need.  I had a friend who would giggle at my "minimalist" ways.  She would offer me a stack of books her kids had grown out of and I would look through for 1-3 that I really liked.  She always knew that we really appreciated and enjoyed the things we accepted from them.  To this day, I recognize which books and toys came from this family and am grateful for them!

2.)  Make getting new things a special occasion rather than the norm.  
            This hit home again on the island when new things came very scarcely.  Kids appreciate toys more when they've had to wait for them (i.e. for a birthday or after saving some of their own money).  The same goes for clothes or kitchen items we may want for ourselves.  If you just can't pass up that great deal, go ahead and get it now but consider putting it up in your closet until the occasion comes along to pull it out.

3.)  Try "one in, one out."  
            This is especially helpful for clothes.  If you go shopping and buy new clothes, pull out a few old ones that the new ones can replace.  If you get a new toy, find one to pass on.  If you get a new vase you love, pull out your least favorite.

Once in a while, go through and find some things to pass on to others.

Returning to the States also meant returning to our storage stuff!

1.)  Involve the kids.
           There are always other people who would appreciate a toy rotation or addition to their collection.  There are school garage sales, Salvation Army, and other worthy donation centers.  Tell the kids about the need and let them choose some things to give away.  It is a good way to help kids not be too attached to "things" rather than people and also to allow them to help others.  

2.)  A Picture is Worth a Thousand...
           ...Shelves.  If you have something that is sentimental but never used or admired, take a picture of it.  Think about all those trophies on the shelf or the kids' old art work.  Taking a picture allows the memory to live on without taking up space or cluttering closets.  Pictures can be printed and slipped into picture protectors in binders, or in today's world, digital books are easy to make and enjoy.

3.)  Find a "Half-way House" for things.
          I am very frugal and tend to keep things because "I might need this someday, and I don't want to have to spend money again to get it!"  You never know, a fourth hammer might come in handy if someone wants to help with my DIY project!  That ginormous stack of old magazines might be perfect for a future art project!  So, I use a Half-way House.  Go through and pull out things you may be okay giving away.  Without the definite "this is gone" feeling, more items end up in this stack.  Put them in a box in an out of the way place like the garage, closet, or under the bed.  Add to the box as needed.  Periodically go through the box.  Anything you haven't missed or wanted is now much easier to give away.  (Turns out a third of those magazines was sufficient after all!)  I especially use this with my own clothes.  

Good luck with your clean-outs and clean-ups!  Let me know how it goes!  Do you have any other tips regarding thinking Variety and limiting Quantity?  How do you Simplify in your life?  As we simplify in our homes and closets, tidiness will be a natural reward.  I hope as you are able to spend less time cleaning up, you will be able to spend more quality time doing what you love with those you love.

Love, Marielle

Stay tuned for future Secrets to a Tidy (Enough) House!

Shared at some or all of these link parties.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mountain Moving Principles to Help People Change

To You:

I remember it clearly.  The summer sun shown down on me, drying my wet hair from our recent excursion to the neighborhood pool.  I peddled my bike down the middle of our quiet street, but my mind wasn't on the pool or the bike:  it was on my upcoming seventh grade.  I always loved school.  I loved learning and felt confident in my abilities there.  I had friends.  Those weren't the problem.  As I envisioned my problem, the quintessential image is me during a break in 6th grade Social Studies class, and instead of going out with the other kids, I sit at my desk reading a book.  Maybe it was only my perception, maybe I wasn't really shy, but that day I realized that I wanted to be more outgoing; I wanted to be more comfortable in conversation.  So, I went about trying to change.

Fast forward a couple decades, and I have an incredible daughter.  I love this girl.  She is one of my dearest friends.  Much of my central purpose is helping her learn everything I am possibly able to teach her.  Some of those lessons are deep:  You are a beautiful Daughter of God with infinite worth.  Some of those lessons are shallow:  Clothes go in your drawer.  Whatever it is, whatever our age, we are all trying to learn, and real learning is changing.

Change can be hard, really hard.  It may feel like we are being asked to move a mountain.  However, the overarching truth is that we are all capable of change.  Yep, I have zero tolerance for, "That's just the way I am."  I believe we are living this life in order to change.  We are here precisely so that we can utilize our God-given ability to act and to become something better than we were yesterday.  If there is a desire to change, be it in our own lives or to help our children change, there are some principles that will help us eventually move that mountain.   Let's look at those principles with real-life applications.  The purpose of this free printable worksheet and blog post is to help you answer a question:  How can I apply these principles to effect meaningful change in my own life?

Aim to Replace, Not Just Remove

If I really asked you to move a mountain and you started at the bottom, pulling out boulders, that mountain would eventually lose balance and topple, crushing everything below it.  When we are trying to change habits, we cannot leave a void or our efforts will topple.  We need to replace the undesired habit with a good one.  Another common analogy is that we cannot remove darkness; we can only replace it with light.


  • Me:  Instead of "Don't be shy," I strove for new habits like, "Look for someone to meet." "Practice asking people about their lives."  "Be willing to sound foolish sometimes."  (I've gotten really good at that willingness!)
  • Daughter:  Instead of "Don't be messy," think "Put clothes in drawer when I take them off."  "Keep floor clean."

Select Small Rocks

If in the end we want to move a mountain, we have to start with little rocks.  Over time our muscles will be conditioned and we will be able to lift heavier and heavier boulders, but to begin we need to make it manageable.  Start with goals to change that are small.  Progress upon those goals.


  • Me:  Mountain = Be outgoing.  Small Rocks = Before a social situation, brainstorm questions you can ask people.  Do homework at home instead of during breaks.  Talk to one new person each week. 
  • Daughter:  Mountain = Be Neat and Tidy.  Small Rocks =  Clean my bedroom floor when I go to bed with a reminder from Mom.  Clean my floor when I go to bed without a reminder.  Keep my floor clean all the time.

Evaluate, Congratulate, and Reassess

Once in a while, step back and see how things are going.  Are you still working on the same mountain?  Are you making progress?  If you are a visual person, you may want to use a checklist, calendar, or a chart (like the free printable found here) to help track progress.  Congratulate success.  Reassess if things need to change.  Sometimes we realize we really don't want to make the change.  That's okay.  Just be honest with yourself.  Don't say you are going to eat healthy if you really don't want to and you really are not going to do it.  That only leads to a cycle of disappointment and feelings of inadequacy. Maybe you can make the end goal smaller or put it on hold.  Remember: today's goal is progress, not perfection.


  • Me:  This process was entirely mental for me.  I didn't have a chart, but assessed myself by how I felt about myself.  When I realized at the end of 7th grade that I had made a completely new group of friends in addition to my previous ones, I felt that my efforts were working.
  • Daughter:  We have "reminder chats" (aka lectures:) when needed.  After she did a good job cleaning up with reminders, we moved to no reminders.  I remember to give her sincere words of praise for her clean room.  Many kids appreciate stickers or smiley faces on their checklist.

Choose Meaningful Incentives

Sometimes seeing the mountain move is all the incentive we need.  This may be the case if the motivation to change is deep or if the natural negative results are quickly and clearly evident.  However, other times the mountain's movement is so small or the way so difficult that an imposed motivation is helpful.  This may happen if we are trying to change because we know we should rather than because we really want to.  Maybe we know our children need to change even if they don't want to at all.  (That pretty much sums up parenting of some children. :)  In this case, we need to understand what kind of "imposed" incentives are most helpful.

Consequences are results of our actions.  They are both good and bad.  Imposed incentives or consequences that are directly connected to the habit we are trying to change, teach us and our children the true nature of life's consequences.  That true nature is that all actions have consequences: we get to choose our actions, but cannot change the consequences, we can only deal with them.  Choose consequences that are connected to the habit or area of desired change.

Additionally, follow-through is paramount to any successful incentive.  Do not say a consequence either good or bad if you are not prepared to follow-through.  Lack of follow-through in imposed consequences teaches us and our children the opposite lesson of natural consequences (that we can pick and choose the consequences we'll face from our actions), and eventually we will all have to deal with the fall out from that misconception.

For example, if 3-year-old Timmy is refusing to leave the playground, do not threaten him with, "Well, we will just leave without you then!"  Um, really?  You both know you will never leave your young, innocent, beautiful child in a big, public place alone to be ravaged by the scary strangers we hear about in the late night news.  Why say it then?  Choose consequences for which you are both willing and able to follow-through.

In the playground case, the incentive our family has chosen is, "However long it takes you to obey is how long you will miss out on playing the next time we come."  Then look at the watch and follow through.  It only takes one or two times of the child sitting out while everyone else plays for him to remember to leave when asked.  Another option we have used is to ask the kids to leave about five minutes before we really need to go.  If there is no arguing or asking for more, then we praise them and extend the time.


  • Me: All I needed was to feel better about it!  No ulterior incentive needed.
  • Daughter: "All the clothes you put away, you get to keep!"  This child loves clothes!  After bedtime, I collect everything left on the floor and keep it for two weeks.  I am always sure to check-in the next morning.  Depending on the mood:  "I am so excited that I got a new pair of jeans last night!" with a teasing tickle.  OR "What a bummer you won't get to wear that new pair of jeans for a couple weeks," with an understanding hug. OR "Your bedroom was perfectly clean last night.  Great job!"

Keep Eyes on the Peak

I'd like to draw another mountain parallel.  I had the opportunity to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro several years ago.  It was a thrilling and beautiful experience for my sister and me.  Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest free-standing mountain in the world with an elevation of over 19,000 feet at it's highest, Uhuru Peak.  The climb was 6 days long through an incredible array of climates.  One day we were in the rainforest, the next the desert.  Glaciers cap the mountain.

Each day we strategically increased our elevation and then descended part way to allow our bodies to acclimate to the altitude.  I remember descending one night into camp and seeing the peak that had been hidden from view all day.  Even with this judicious planning, I had a pretty intense headache and nausea one day.  Finally on the way to dinner, I lost it.  I have never been more grateful to vomit: it was sudden relief.  However, one member of our group got extreme altitude sickness and didn't feel better until our final descent.  If we had attempted to hike straight up the mountain, each of us could have been afflicted with headaches, dizziness, confusion, no energy, difficulty breathing, and in severe cases, death.  The gradual increase and decrease of elevation on a steady path forward is what allowed us to summit that great mountain.

Perhaps this life-saving ascending-descending pattern parallels the way we can look at our ability to change.  Uhuru Peak is our goal of how we want to change or what we want to become.  We make a plan shooting for the peak and work hard to get there.  At times, we may feel that we are descending though.  Maybe after working so hard for it, we don't get that new job.  Maybe we forget and yell at the kids again.  Maybe the way forward seems harder than ever.  At these times, we would do well to be kind with ourselves.  We are still on the way; we can still see that beautiful peak looming in the distance.  This may just be the path to get there.  Do not expect yourself to be able to ascend 19,000 feet overnight.  Do not get discouraged and turn around if partial descent occurs.  Keep eyes on the peak and keep progressing.

A Summit-Reaching Truth

We cannot move mountains, or climb them, on our own.  We had an amazing team of local guides and porters on our way up Kilimanjaro.  In fact, the fourth day hiking we came across a dropped and splattered watermelon on the path...someone, in order to feed us, had been carrying a watermelon for four days!  Our friend who suffered pretty severe altitude sickness believes she would not have made it without the guide who diligently stayed with her and assisted her along the way.

In my own efforts to make mountainous changes throughout life, my parents, siblings, closest friends, and husband have been powerful influences for good.  I hope I am the same for my daughter and other kids.

As we we strive to grow and change, we ought to surround ourselves with people who will help us.  These people are uplifting and understanding.  We can turn to them for accountability, encouragement, or an example to follow.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has helped millions overcome addiction.  One of the most basic tenets of AA is that one must come "to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."  It is also my experience that if we include God, our Greater Power, in our efforts to change, our ability to change will increase and that change will be more lasting.

I hope these principles encourage and aid you in the ways you desire to change.  I stand as one willing to be your porter...I will help you carry that watermelon!  Or listen to your challenges, or encourage you, or celebrate your successes.  Thank you to those who are mine!

Love, Marielle
PS-  I am really proud of the positive changes my daughter is making!  Her floor has been clean every night for over three weeks!  When I told her what I was blogging about today and showed her the messy picture I took when she was at school just over a month ago, she laughed and said, "You've got to post that!"  She's proud of her own progress too.  Now we just have to get little brother in on the "no reminder" plan!

Monday, October 5, 2015

15 Fun Fall Activities for Kids

To You:

The wind is blowing, the leaves are changing color, the kids are asking for their warmer coats, and I am loving it!  Fall officially arrived this week.  We have been busy doing and planning some fun activities as I relish in the awesomeness that is Fall.  I thought I'd share some of our favorite ideas, printables, and links to make the most of the season.

  1. Pine Cone Bird Feeder
    1. Find a pine cone.  Smother it with peanut butter.  Cover with nuts/seeds/dried fruit/etc.  Hang on a branch to make a backyard bird feeder.
  2. Leaf Rubbing
    • Collect leaves of various shapes and sizes.  Place a leaf under a piece of paper.  Use the side of an unwrapped crayon to rub over the area where the leaf is hidden.  Watch the leaf image magically appear.
  3. Celebrate Squirrels!
    • Click Here for a day's worth of ideas to celebrate these little critters.  Includes a free Squirrel Puppet Printable.
  4. Paint
    • What does fall look like to you?
  5. Leaf Pile Extravaganza
    • Gather leaves.  Play in leaves.  Throw leaves.  It's pretty much the quintessential Autumn activity.
  6. Make a Scarf or Hat
    • Get ready to bundle up!  Children can easily learn to "knit" with a round loom.  If you are a beginner knitter or want to learn, This is my favorite helper.  Consider making one to donate to a Service Member.
  7. Bake
    • Pull out the canned pumpkin my friends!  It is time for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies!  And the kids thought they didn't like pumpkin!  Experiment with the fun squashes found at the grocery store.  Dig into all that comfort food.
  8. Wind Dance with Ribbons or Scarves
    • Try Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2.  You can feel the wind swirling, a storm coming, rain falling, gentle breezes, etc.  Kids LOVE moving to any music while twirling a ribbon or scarf.  Look here for ideas on making and using a windwand.
  9. Make a Gratitude Tree
    • Paint a tree trunk and cut out leaves of various colors.  Every Sunday until Thanksgiving, each family member writes something he or she is grateful for on a leaf and glues it to the tree.  We don't have to wait for turkey to be thankful!
  10. Autumn Scavenger Hunt
    • Go in the backyard, to a park, or on a nature walk.  Use this Printable attached to a paper sack to collect the items.
  11. Playground!
    • It won't be too long until sub-freezing temperatures and heavy snow prohibit extended playground time.  Enjoy it while it lasts!
  12. Provide a Meal
    • As the temperatures drop, it is a good time to discuss those who will do without this season.  Find a food bank or shelter and donate.
  13. Make a Family Tree
    • With all this talk of trees, make a family tree.  Tell the kids stories about you and their grandparents when they were young.  Here is the tree we used.
  14. Apple Day
    • Pick apples, bake with apples, sing about apples, color pictures of apples...
  15. Make a Scarecrow
    • Check out these paper mache scarecrow heads! :)  This is our current project.  Check back later for a picture of our finished scarecrows!

I hope these ideas help you and your little ones enjoy time together in this beautiful world!

Love, Marielle

Shared at A Little Bird Told Me.