Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween from the Grammar Avengers!

I love doing theme costumes! The girls have done a few themes in the past couple years: Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland, but it's been a pretty long time since The Maestro and I participated, too. It was SIX years ago that we did our Wizard of Oz family theme!

The girls are totally into the sketch comedy show Studio C. They eagerly await new episodes, and they watch old episodes so many times they have them completely memorized.

One of Chloe's favorite characters is Captain Literally, so we decided to go as The Grammar Avengers this year.

The star of the show is Captain Literally, who brings balance to the universe every time the word "literally" is misused.

And then there is Captain Irony, who educates the masses on the proper use of the word "ironic."

And we can't forget the Nuclear Ninja. Don't dare mispronounce the word "nuclear," or you'll get a good punch in the stomach!

Finally, meet the Good and Well Twins, here to teach you that "good" and "well" are not interchangeable!

We hope you have a happy (and grammatically correct) Halloween! But if you DO happen to have an egregious grammatical error...we'll be there!

Here are the two sketches that feature all of our characters--there are many more featuring Captain Literally if you want to look them up.

PS We had very little time to do photos this year, so I'm not pleased with the quality of many of them. Chloe took the ones of The Maestro and me, er, Good and Well, and those were the only ones she got before the camera battery died and I didn't have time to replace it before we were running off with to the Halloween recital. But, blurry and all, we had SO MUCH FUN!

5 Lessons I Learned by Decluttering for a Month

Join the challenge! Declutter your life in 31 Days.

That's all folks.

Today is Halloween (want to see our costumes?) and the end of this 31 Day series, and I am here to give an accounting.

My Top Five Lessons Learned

1. Stuff doesn't bring you happiness.

2. Putting things away immediately saves a lot of work later.

3. Just a few minutes a day makes a huge difference.

4. Getting rid of the clutter is more freeing than I originally thought.

5. Organization is something you have to constantly keep up with.


Writing a 31 Day Series on your blog is insane. But you learn a lot from it, even if you feel like you didn't sleep for the entire month of October.

For November, I'm going to sleep more. But I am going to get to the big decluttering projects October didn't allow. Namely kids' rooms and craft storage.

I might even write about it.

What was the biggest thing you learned from decluttering this month?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

4 Ways to Stop Bringing in Clutter

Today is the penultimate day to this crazy 31 Day challenge! Wowza! I can't believe I got through it alive (almost—we'll check my vitals on November 1st just to be absolutely sure).

Now that the clutter is gone (or at least going), what are we going to do to make sure it does not come back in? That is the big question.

It's all great and good to get rid of stuff, but if you turn around and go shopping for more stuff, you're just going to find yourself drowning in clutter again. Don't let that happen! Let's embrace our new, simpler life and all of the peace that comes along with it.

This post contains affiliate links.

Part of being cluter-free is to stop bringing the clutter in the house in the first place. 4 ideas to help you nip the clutter problem in the bud. #overstuffedlife

4 Ways to Stop Bringing in Clutter 

1. Don't buy anything unless you know where you will put it

Also, don't buy anything you don't either absolutely love or absolutely need. I am trying hard to ask myself exactly what I will do with an item once I get it home. I tend to buy things I really love, but don't have a good plan for them. Those things inevitably get lost in the shuffle and contribute to the clutter problem, plus I never actually get to enjoy them. I'm trying to remember that I don't need every cute thing I see, and I am probably happier without it.

2. Try to follow the "one in, one out" rule

This is hard for me, and I rebel against it all the time, but it is solid advice. I personally don't think it has to be like item for like item. So you could buy a pair of shoes and still be allowed to keep the rest of your shoes. Instead, you could get rid of that vase in the kitchen cupboard that you have never used. This way, if you absolutely must buy something new, you can rest assured that the clutter problem will not grow because of it.

3. Downsize your gift giving

Birthdays and Christmas are big, fat, clutter-making holidays. As much fun as opening all the gifts is, I watch way too many of those gifts gather dust as the girls forget about them entirely in favor of the gifts they liked best.

In the past few years, I have downsized the gifts I give at Christmas considerably. Now, each of my children only gets four gifts. (You can read more about that here: Christmas List Printable.) Giving less not only saves clutter, it also saves money and time shopping. Plus, I find that it has helped my children to be more grateful for the gifts they do receive.

4. Consider gifting experiences, instead of things

A couple of Christmases ago, I gave The Maestro a spring break trip to Chicago instead of another shirt or gadget he didn't really want or need. I surprised him with tickets to The Chicago Symphony and a hotel stay, and we had a blast together when that trip rolled around. We looked forward to it for three months and it felt like Christmas lasted a little longer.

I remember that trip with great fondness, but I have absolutely no idea what The Maestro gave me for Christmas that year. Memories last longer than stuff.

It doesn't have to be vacations, either. You can gift art classes, zoo passes, museum memberships, or a day at the beach. I even gave coupons to my girls in their stockings last year with things like "a day of no chores" or "a date with Mom and Dad" on them and they were a huge hit. And most of them have been used up this year, too!

This year, we're taking the whole family to Hawaii the week after Christmas. That is our gift. The girls have already been warned that there won't be much under the tree at all, and they are totally fine with that.

Disney is always a great experience gift for families, too. We have used Get Away Today for our Disney trips and they really do offer the best package deals for Disneyland/Southern California trips. If you choose to book with them, be sure to enter the code OVERSTUFFED at checkout for an extra $10 off your Southern California package. If you book over the phone, simply mention the code to get the deal. Book now: Get Away Today

Related post: Stop Giving Your Kids More Stuff!

I feel like I've come a long way when it comes to not bringing more clutter in. But, I could still be better! Certain things still get me, and I have to really be strong to say no to the purchase!

Here are a couple books that can help you further on your path to a clutter-free life:

It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life With Less Stuff by Peter Walsh

The Joy of Less: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life by Francine Jay

How have you stopped bringing clutter into your home?

Take the 31 Day Challenge and get rid of the clutter!

Find all of the posts in this 31 Day Challenge here: A Place for Everything: 31 Days to Less Clutter and More Peace.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Getting the Clutter Out of the House

Keep a donation box constantly going so that you can declutter quickly and easily.
The donation box in my office. I'm too tired to traipse downstairs to get a photo of the stuff in the basement. Just imagine it's about twice as much as what's here.
I have amassed an impressive collection of clutter this month. Unfortunately, a large box of it is sitting in the corner of my office, and the rest of it is sitting down in the basement. It is still in the house, taunting me.

I want to get it out as fast as possible. I know from experience that much of it has a way of creeping back into your life if you don't move it out quickly. I've already found a few things that I know were in the box hidden under Sophia's pillow.

The next step is actually getting it out of my house (and my life) for good.

But how?

Here are several possibilities:

7 ways to get rid of all the clutter in your home. You may make money, you may not, but you will get rid of it!

Give it away

I have actually saved a few things for friends. One of the things I worked on this month was the clothing storage in the basement. I have three daughters, which means I have bins and bins full of clothes for little girls. And bigger girls.

At one point, I thought we would have a fourth child, so I never got rid of Sophia's clothes when she outgrew them. Sadly, it wasn't to be, and Sophia is now 8 years old and I have too many clothes that I don't want to keep. I started actively giving away her clothes when she was 6 years old, but there were still all of those 5 and under bins sitting in the basement.

To make a long story short, I was able to give most of those 5 and under clothes away, between two of my friends who have girls that are younger than mine. It feels good to help someone out—I know I always appreciated hand-me-downs, even if I couldn't use all of them.

We also gave a few books away to friends we knew would enjoy them.

Have a garage sale

No thank you. I know some people love doing this and the thought of making some good money off of your clutter is an attractive one. But I have had garage sales in my life, and I have decided it is just not worth it to me. I don't want to have to declutter and then sort, price, and set it out. I don't want to have to advertise. I don't want to have to sit there all day haggling with customers. I don't want to clean it all up when it's over. I just want to be rid of my stuff, and I don't care too much if I am able to recoup the costs. All of the work involved in a garage sale is not worth the little bit of money I would make.

I have added my items to neighborhood garage sales here and there, but I'm not going to save it all waiting for one to come around. Besides, garage sale season is done!

Sell it on eBay or elsewhere online

There's eBay, Craig's List, and even local swap/sale groups on Facebook.

But, see above about garage sales. Call me lazy, but I do not want to go through all the work of photographing and listing and dealing with bids and buyers. I just want my stuff gone. The end.

Organize a swap

Our church does this from time to time, and I have heard we will be doing one here soon, so I may save my box for that. But only if it's really soon!

The idea is that everyone brings the stuff they no longer want to the church, and people can come and take any of it that they would like. You, of course, can also take anything that you want from among the things that others brought. (But think carefully about this! Only take it if you know you love it and will use it! Don't create more clutter!)

Anything not taken by the end date (we left our last one up for two weeks), is taken to Goodwill.

Again, there is extra work involved in this, but I do like the idea of helping others out in this way. I just need to not take my kids to these things, because they always want to bring home random stuff.

Consign it

One of my favorite ways to get rid of things is to consign it. We have a great local consignment shop that takes almost anything, and will donate anything that doesn't sell after a certain period. This means that all I have to do is drop it off and they will take it from there. I only get paid for what sells, but I really don't care too much about the money. I just want the stuff out of my house!

Other consignment stores will pay you up front for the items they deem worthy to sell in their store. Still others will accept certain items, but you will not get paid until they sell. If they do not sell after a certain time period, then you are required to come pick them up.

Since I am constantly decluttering little things here and there (mostly clothing), I have a box ready for consignment every other month or so. I tend to earn about 25 dollars a box, which I can either cash out or use for store credit. I have done both.

Donate it

Sometimes the best thing is to just drive your box o' clutter over to the Goodwill or St. Vinnie's or DI and donate it. You can get a receipt for a tax write-off, which is nice, but the important thing is that you got all of that stuff out of your life.

Throw it away

Some things really are just garbage. I feel sorry for workers at Goodwill who have to go through things that are just not worth trying to sell. Be honest about your stuff, and if nobody is going to want it, just throw it out.

What's your favorite way to dispose of your clutter?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What To Do If You Suspect Your Child Has Broken a Bone

Last fall, I had not one, but two, children with broken bones.

While both of them are avid soccer players, they did not break their bones on the field--instead they did it while playing casual sports with friends. Still, soccer is difficult to play with a broken fibula (Sophia), and even with a broken thumb (Chloe).  I had some very sad little girls during the rest of soccer season last fall, that's for sure!

As a mom who is not a medical professional, it's not easy to know whether or not an injury is something serious enough to run to the ER about. We are on a high-deductible insurance plan, so I'm always weighing the options. I don't want to go pay a ton of money out of pocket just to find out that the injury was very minor. Still, the peace of mind that comes from actually knowing whether or not a bone is broken can be worth the expense. Especially if it is actually broken.

Since last fall's broken fibula and broken thumb were my 4th and 5th experiences with broken bones in my children, I had a better idea of what to do. But man, it's still tough to know! Here are a few things I have learned along the way, and while I certainly hope we don't have another broken bone, I will be even better prepared for it if we do.

What To Do If You Suspect Your Child Has Broken a Bone

1. Do not rush to the ER/Doctor's office

We are talking about suspecting broken bones here, not actually KNOWING. If you are 100% positive the bone is broken because of what you can see, then absolutely rush to the ER! Chloe's thumb was an obvious break--she got into the car, told me how she had fallen on it and then said "it doesn't really look right." I looked, and I could see that her thumb should not be able to be in that particular position if it was indeed intact. So I immediately called her doctor and was able to be seen right away at the office.

However, a lot of bone injuries aren't the type of fractures that are obvious to see without an X-ray. Sophia's fibula, Bria's foot, and the two times Chloe had previously broken her wrist, were all buckle/greenstick type fractures. They hurt a lot, but it wasn't obvious to me whether the bone was broken or not, so I didn't rush to have them seen--instead I waited it out a little while.

2. Observe your child for a while

You know your child best. My Chloe has an incredibly high pain tolerance, so if she is complaining of being in pain at all, I know that it must be killing her. In fact, I have generally taken her in earlier than her sisters simply because of this fact. My other two don't have such high pain tolerance levels--which is fine--but I know that I am looking for an entirely different reaction from them when it comes to injuries.

IMG_4145 Chloe Halloween web

You can also observe the injury itself. My friend Hilary, who is a nurse, has a great list on her blog to help parents to determine whether or not the bone might be broken. By checking for things like swelling and where it actually hurts, you will be much better informed when and if you do end up in a doctor's office.

3. Go with your gut

We parents are constantly second-guessing ourselves, and we just need to stop with the guilt. Like I said before, sometimes the peace of mind in knowing that it isn't broken is worth the trip to the ER. Still, be in tune with your intuition. When Sophia broke her fibula, my husband really didn't think it would turn out to be a big deal. But I had that niggling in the back of my head going on. And when I was still feeling weird about it after we had iced it, observed it for a couple hours, and given her pain relievers, I decided to take her in.


When Bria broke her foot at the age of three, I waited a long time (days) to take her in. I felt terribly guilty, but she's fine. Don't worry! I have a friend who is a doctor and another one who is a nurse, and both of them have waited several days before finally taking their kids in--only to find out that it was actually broken! If it can happen to a doctor or a nurse, it can certainly happen to any mom. We are all doing the best we can!

4. Accept the fact that your kids are likely to break a bone at some point

Obviously not every kid will, but if you are prepared for it before it ever happens, you'll deal with it much better. It's important to make sure your child knows how to play it safe during sports, on the playground, and just in general life. Still, accidents happen, and many of them result in broken bones.

IMG_6861First Day 2013 web

I promise I'm not trying to be flip. I've personally never broken a bone in my life, and neither has my husband. Yet somehow we've already had five broken bones between our three daughters. I would have never thunk. But now, I wouldn't be surprised if it happens again, and I am ready!

5. Have supplemental insurance for these types of accidents

With our high deductible plan, I wish we would have had some supplemental insurance like AFLAC. I actually had AFLAC for all of my pregnancies, and when Chloe was in the NICU, it saved our hides, financially speaking. AFLAC doesn't pay the medical providers--they pay you directly. So when you are dealing with an illness or injury and some of the costs that come along with that like missed work hours or uncovered medical costs, AFLAC makes those things easier to face.

Did you know that AFLAC has a policy just for accidents? What a great policy to have on hand when you've got active kids, because accidents can and will happen. Believe me, I've lived it!

Decluttering the Kitchen Cupboards

You guys, I have another sick child. I have resigned myself to the fact that my big projects aren't going to get done this month—especially since there are only a few days left, and one of those days is Halloween.

However, I'm sticking to my 15 minutes a day rule, and I was able to get through the worst cupboard in the entire kitchen. For me, that is my Tupperware/miscellaneous container cupboard. Oh my gosh, it drives me nuts and it is impossible to keep it organized for long.

It's not really overflowing, it's just a mess. Also, since I have a galley kitchen, I had to use my phone for these photos since my camera lens wouldn't be wide enough. I apologize for the less-than-stellar photos. (Not that the ones I've been showing on these posts have been more-than-stellar or anything.)

Here is a closer-up of the mess:

Kitchen cupboards collect clutter. Stay on top of it by keeping them organized and getting rid of the things you don't use. Or the tupperware that doesn't have matching lids anymore!

I truly hate this cupboard. It's used often, since I send my girls to school with a lunch every day, and I prefer to use the container instead of buying plastic baggies all the time. But every time I'm making lunches, I get frustrated because I can never find containers and lids that match without pulling 25 things out of the cupboard.

I even have a bin that's just for lids, but if you look closely, you'll see it doesn't matter that much.

Using a bin for just tupperware lids is a great idea, but keep it from gathering things that don't belong.

It's way too small, for starters. Which is probably why a bunch of lids are haphazardly thrown into the cupboard. It also contains a few things that shouldn't be there. I spy a canning lid and some containers.

So that wasn't working for me.

And neither was the rest of the cupboard.

I pulled everything out first and made a few decisions. See that bronze canister in the cupboard (hidden now by the words I put on top of it)? I love it, but my counter space is at a premium and I don't know where to display it. For now, I put it in my "I'm deciding" pile. Maybe I'll think of a better home for it, but if I don't, it's time to just let it go.

There were a few other things in the dark recesses of that cupboard that I simply never use. So those also went into the donate/get rid of it pile.

After I sorted through and kept what I wanted to, I started making sure that everything had matching lids. To my absolute surprise, every single container had a matching lid. You could have fooled me with how long it takes to find one every day!

I did still get rid of a couple containers and their lids because they were warped or didn't stay on properly. Useless. Don't keep useless things.

I sent Bria upstairs to fetch me a couple bigger fabric bins. I knew there were a few unused ones in the storage closet.

One of them I filled with a few things that I use, but not often and pushed it to the very back of the cupboard. The other I filled with lids and labeled it, in the hopes that people besides me will actually put the lids away there.

These adorable ice cream dishes were stuffed way in the back and always rolling around being annoying. I moved them over to the hutch where I had made room for them when I decluttered all the games. I am much happier having them over there.

Finally, I just organized what was left as best as I could. Plastic/Tupperware containers are not super easy to organize. I realize that I will need to re-organize this cupboard often in order to keep it working properly.

But I am much happier with how it looks right now! Aren't you?

I organized and decluttered another of my cupboards back in January. That one is heavily labeled, and I am pleased to say that it is almost as organized as it was when I first finished it, and I haven't had to redo it yet.

You can find that post here: Organize the Catch-all Cupboard.

Which kitchen cupboard will you start on?

Monday, October 27, 2014

How to Make Cheesecloth Ghosts for Halloween

When I was little, my mom and I made these cheesecloth ghosts at Halloween. Several years ago I saw some cheesecloth for 5 cents at a thrift store, so I picked it up thinking the girls and I could make these ghosts.

Well. We never actually did.

Five years later, during my decluttering rampage this month, I came across the cheesecloth. Since I'm making myself get rid of any project/project supplies that I haven't actually completed I decided it was time to make the darn ghosts already.

Make these adorable ghosts for Halloween using items you most likely already have around the house

How to Make Cheesecloth Halloween Ghosts

Supplies needed:

Heavy liquid starch
Random objects around the house to serve as a form for your ghosts
Plastic cutting board or other plastic surface
Battery powered LED tealights (optional)

You need to find starch that is not in an aerosol spray bottle, because that won't work. I used this Purex brand because it is super concentrated and perfect for this particular project. I also tried to use some lighter starch I had, and the results were not so good. The heavier the starch, the better.

1. Get your form ready

I used a bottle, a small apple, and a wire hanger. I bent the hanger to serve as the arms and taped it to the bottle with packing tape. Then I set the apple on top. (At first I tried to use my dog's little tennis ball, but she had her eye on that thing and I knew she would figure out a way to get it and destroy my ghost in the process, so an apple was my next choice.)

2. Starch your cheesecloth

I filled a small bowl with the heavy starch and soaked the cheesecloth in it.

3. Drape the cloth on the form

Once the cheesecloth is sufficiently soaked through with  starch, you can start draping it over the form. Make sure the surface you are working with is protected somehow—I just used a plastic cutting board that was easily washed. I'm not sure what the starch would do to wood surfaces, but I definitely don't recommend using newspaper or anything like that.

4. Make the ghost sturdy enough to stand on its own

Make sure you create enough pooling of the fabric at the bottom, so that the ghost will have a sturdy base on which to stand when it is finished and off of the form.

5. Let dry

I found that the main part of the ghost was usually dry in a day, but the bottom took two days, maybe a bit longer (I made my two ghosts a few days apart from each other).

6. Remove from form

Once the ghost is dry, carefully remove it from the form. You will find you have to peel it off in some places. This is normal and fine, just be careful while doing it.

7. Display!

I like my ghosts without any sort of eyes, but I have seen people add googly eyes or make eyes with a Sharpie.

At night, I put a battery-powered LED tealight under each ghost for a super spooky effect.

I think they turned out so great, and I am kicking myself that I didn't do it five years ago!

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Six Reasons to Declutter Your Life

I've learned a lot in the past 27 days. And since this past weekend was way too crazy to actually declutter anything really earth-shattering, I'm going to share with you some of the things I've learned.

Now, I knew all of these things to be true on some level. But when you've let things get out of control with the clutter, it isn't so easy to remember them. As I've come closer and closer to my minimalistic ideal, I have relearned these principles as I've seen them put into action.

And the only thing I did was to just get rid of stuff!

Looking for reasons to declutter? Here are six really good ones. #overstuffedlife

1. Do Less Housework

My main floor is where I've focused the majority of my decluttering efforts this month. I have noticed that is much easier to keep clean—even after throwing a big Halloween party on Friday night! What a concept, huh? Having less stuff means you have less stuff to keep clean, organized, and put away.

I've actually managed to keep up on things like dishes (not so much laundry) this last couple weeks while still working and taking care of sick children. It's amazing.

2. Find Stuff More Easily

Having less stuff and keeping the stuff you do have orderly means you always know where to find things. You spend a lot less time looking all over the place for the things you need because you actually know where they are.

Not only that, but in the process of decluttering I promise you that you will find many items you thought you had lost. Some of them aren't worth keeping because you forgot about them completely and have managed to live your life just fine without them, but some of them are certainly a relief to find.

3. Save Money

Not only do you not have to run out and buy new things all the time, but you're going to be a lot more careful about the things you do bring into your home. For goodness' sake, you've just spent a month getting rid of all the crap, surely you'll think twice about bringing more in, right?

I've also found that being organized in one area of my life usually begins to leak into the rest of my life. Because my home isn't cluttering everything up, I'm able to find the time to save money in other ways: by keeping up with budgeting, clipping coupons for grocery shopping, planning way ahead for things like Christmas and birthdays, and simply paying bills and turning in library books on time so I avoid late fees.

4. Take Better Care of the Things You Have

I asked The Maestro what he thought the most positive byproduct of all the decluttering we have done this month was, and he said he cares more. When the house isn't always a cluttered up mess, he has more motivation to pick up something on the floor than he does when things are a not so clean already.

I find this to be true as well. Not only do you care more about keeping the house cleaner and items in their proper places, you care more about the items themselves. If my kids only have a few toys, they are more likely to take care of those toys than they would be if they had so many they can't keep things straight (and we have been in that position before, believe me!).

5. Focus on What Matters Most

When you aren't busy managing stuff and cleaning up messes you are more free to do the things that are most important to you. Whether that be spending more quality time with your family, working on a hobby that you love, or achieving other goals that are important to you, you will have more time to do those things with less clutter in your life.

6. Feel More Peace

That has been the entire point of this project for me. I'm sick of the anxiety. Even though I have been a little anxiety-riddled this month because I am decluttering via my blog for everyone to read and see my messes and because I have self-imposed deadlines, I have still felt much more peace than I have in the recent past.

And that's totally worth showing everyone the insides of my junk drawers. Besides, you ain't seen nothing yet—just wait until you see my kids' rooms.