Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Project Simplify Hot Spot #4

Hot Spot #4 was the pantry and refrigerator. On top of that Tsh challenged us to take a good long look at what and how we eat.

For over a year, my family was on a pretty good diet of organic, natural and raw products. I cooked from scratch almost every night. I was very, very proud of this fact. Of course, it was predicated by the fact that when Little Man was about 6 weeks old, we discovered that he was not only allergic to dairy, but also to soy. As I was his sole source of food, that meant I couldn't eat dairy or soy either. Interestingly enough, it was the SOY allergy that really made us have to cut out a lot of foods. Sadly the food industry puts soy in a lot of foods where it doesn't necessarily belong. In an effort to be able to eat ANYTHING, we started shopping religiously at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and our local farmers markets.  And I had to start cooking, something I didn't really do prior to this (not that I was incapable, I just chose not to).

Then Little Man grew out of his allergy (and weaned!), Diesel's company cut him back to part time at about 75% of his hourly rate and I went back to work full time after more than year at 1/2 and 3/4 time. Oh and Diesel decided to go back to school. As we got busier, the paychecks got smaller and Little Man's diet opened up more, the pre-packaged convenience foods crept back into our lives & our pantry. I thought I was still doing pretty well about making healthy and earth-friendly choices, photographing my pantry and refrigerator was very eye opening.

I'm mortified at the amount of Hamburger Helper, Rice-A-Roni, Pop Tarts and soda that we own.

Starting with this weekend's trip to the grocers, I'm getting back on the wagon. I'm going to work very hard to make eating QUALITY foods that are good for our bodies and good for the planet fit within our budget. It will be difficult, but I think we can do it!

Oh and I've started listening to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver on my commute.

Anywho... to get to the before and after of it all... here is my pantry and fridge:

PANTRY BEFORE

PANTRY AFTER:

CABINETS BEFORE:


CABINETS AFTER:

REFRIGERATOR BEFORE:
REFRIGERATOR AFTER: (Diesel just opened it and announced "it is so bright and clean!")
Little Man will be happy to know that we're having cinnamon rolls for breakfast tomorrow, because they're on the verge of expiration!

I was happy to discover THIS little gem waiting to reward me for my hard work:

mmm... Choklad Mork!

Oh and I call this shelf in our fridge the "yes, in fact we ARE Asian" shelf :

Monday, March 28, 2011

“Happiness Doesn't Always Make Me Feel Happy.”

Square Paradox

This is one of Gretchen Rubin’s “11 Happiness Paradoxes to Contemplate As You Think About Your Happiness Project.”  As I read through her post, I started to think about the paradoxes that I am finding in my journey to organization, simplicity, frugality and happiness.
1.   Living simply is a lot of work
I’m told that it gets easier as you become more adjusted to living simply in an innate way, but the path to simplicity takes a lot of work. I have to be mindful of what I’m buying, doing, thinking, etc. I have to spend time pouring over budgets and cleaning out closets and contemplating what I truly want.  It has taken a tremendous amount of work to get where I am, but I’m realizing I’m not anywhere near where I want to be. 

2.   Getting organized makes me feel disorganized
As I tackle one project, it seems like a dozen more line up and/or are neglected. I find myself wishing for more time in the day so that I can get my NEW organizing projects done whilst not neglecting my regularly scheduled activities and chores. Sure, I can make great headway on the master bedroom closet, but at the cost of mopping my floors. I keep thinking there is going to be a magic moment where it all clicks and suddenly I am organized and run a tight ship where nothing goes neglected. Somehow I doubt this will ever be a reality, but I can hope. Until then, I need to find a way to be less disorganized as I get organized!

3.   By limiting ourselves, we’re gaining more freedom
Budget. It is a scary word, isn’t it? Conjures up all kinds of images of going without and having restrictions placed on us and general misery. While I’d love to say we do an AMAZING job of being on a budget and have found THE perfect system, I can’t. I do know that by taking a hard look at what we want to be our family’s priorities and how we want to live, we’ve been able to pare out the non-essential.  Like the organizing and simplifying, this requires constant maintenance and upkeep, but the beauty of being on a budget is that we’re able to contemplate living a life that was not a possibility a year ago. Budgeting and sticking to that budget has created freedom that I have so desperately craved and is allowing me to look forward with a great deal of hope for our future as a family.

4.   Finding contentment and joy in what I already have, but striving to improve what I have.
I have learned to enjoy and love what I have, but I want to better it. The desire to better our circumstances has not changed, but the focus has.  I’m finding that instead of focusing on trying to “keep up with the Joneses” and feeling like I could never do/be enough, that in focusing on what I want my priorities to be I’ve found peace and contentment. That isn’t to say I don’t still curse the house-to-mortgage ratio or our lack of space from time to time, I AM human afterall, but instead of channeling so much energy into trying to improve something that is not going to change, I focus on the achievable and that which brings me joy and work to improve that.  I work to improve our life as a family, not the size of our physical space. I try harder to be there in the moment with my child and to improve myself as a parent, rather than focusing on the “stuff” and toys he might want. Things like that have helped me to find the right kind of focus on improvement while being happy with what I have. Not resigned to what I have, but actually happy with it.
What are the paradoxes you’re finding in your own life?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Project Simplify Hot Spot #3: Before and After

Hot Spot #3 was tackling kid clutter. I was all done by yesterday, but didn't get a chance to post photos of Little Man's room until now.

If you're here for my brilliant writing, be forewarned, this is a largely photo blog. Mostly before & afters, but a few "in process" photos of our problem areas.

BEFORE:
Little Man's whole room, the panorama of mess!!


AFTER:
The panorama


Everything has a nice new label and it is all clean and ready to go!! I'm proud to say we actually have 3 empty bins (if you look at the pictures there are two blue buckets on the wardrobe that have blank labels and one white one on the changing table!).

Honestly, Little Man's room is pretty organized and I have a decent system for dealing with clothes as needed. I keep a bucket for outgrown clothes on top of his wardrobe and as I notice clothes no longer fit, I put them up in the bucket for transfer to a larger storage bin in my in-laws' attic. Little Man's toys are pretty organized and thinned out, because we just don't have the space to keep stuff that he doesn't play with.

That being said, we had three problem areas that I tackled-- the cabinet underneath Little Man's bed,  the "misc toys" bucket and his stuffed animals.

So here are my before & after photos of the problem areas:
PROBLEM SPOT #1: UNDERBED CABINET
Before: Lots of stuff crammed in there willy-nilly. It is difficult to keep from having that crammed full look as this is the only place that we can store any big toys.

In process-- as you can see, Little Man had fun playing while I was pulling everything out.
After: So neat and clean!


PROBLEM SPOT #2: MISC TOYS BUCKET
This is the bucket for anything that doesn't have its own bucket/I don't know what to do with. Basically it is home to a lot of crap!
 This bucket LOOKS so unassuming. and yet....

Look at all that JUNK!!!! But the AFTER:

Woo hoo!!! So neat and clean!

PROBLEM SPOT #3: STUFFED ANIMALS
These are the stuffed animals that Little Man plays/cuddles with on a regular basis


Here are all the stuffed animals that he has received throughout his two short years on this planet:

They lived in a big blue bin and a huge basket on his changing table. Many of them had NEVER been played with-- a few still had tags on them!! So I went through the stuffies and kept those that Little Man plays with on occasion or that are significant to him (or me... Tenderheart Bear is totally mine).

Now all his stuffies fit nicely in one blue bucket and we're adopting a one in, one out policy with this bucket!

So there you have it folks! Little Man's new and organized room! After it was all cleaned up, I asked him to take a photo of his favorite thing in his room. This is his shot (and I could've easily guessed it)

In other news, the reorganizing made room for me to bust out some old friends...

AHHH!!! Baby clothes... in 8 weeks I'll have another person to put into these little clothes!!!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Two Great Ideas for Organizing your Toddler's Stuff

Project Simplify Hot Spot #3 is up at Simple Mom. This week's challenge is tackling the kid clutter!

This is exciting for me, because I REALLY need to start getting Little Man's room ready for Maverick's impending arrival. I actually started tackling this project on Sunday, before I even knew that this week's Hot Spot would be the kid clutter.

I've been slogging away at it, with good results (got rid of a couple BIG toys and a whole bag of stuffed animals today). I'm going to post everything under a Before & After post, but I thought I'd share two things that work really well for keeping a 2 year-old organized. I wish I had thought of these, but I didn't.

The first really GREAT thing is the photo label:

It just makes sense! Little Man can't read yet, which is why the photo works so well. He is able to identify what is IN the buckets and that helps keep us a lot more organized. I've discovered that when there aren't photo labels, we end up with a HUGE mess on our hands. If he can't read the plain ol' P-Touch label on the side, he opens (and often dumps) many of the bins in search for that with which he wants to play. I can't tell you how horrifying it is to walk into his tiny room and see several overturned buckets.

As I went through and reorganized/purged his toys today, I took photos of the contents of the bins that don't currently have photo labels. I hope to have all his buckets labelled by the weekend.

I also highly recommend the Trofast storage system from Ikea, which is what is pictured above. I really can't say enough good things about it!

The second really GREAT thing is the book sling:
We used to keep Little Man's books on a shelf next to his bed. It was a great location for the first year or so of his life, when I picked all the books we were going to read at bedtime. Then he started wanting to pick, but again, that pesky lack of ability to read reared its ugly head. Since Little Man couldn't read the spines, he couldn't identify the books. He solved this problem by pulling out all the books until he found what he wanted. Fun for him, not for me.

Then my friend Summer clued me into the amazing thing which is the book sling! She posted a photo on Facebook of the one she made for her son and when I inquired as to how she made it, she directed me to the AWESOMENESS that is Penny Carnival and the tutorial for creating the book sling. I was able to crank these two slings out in a matter of an evening. I can't sew or cut a straight line to save my life, so if I can do it, so can you!

The beauty of the book sling is that Little Man can easily identify his books without having to know how to read. Other than the very first time he had access to the books, he has been very good about not pulling out all of his books.

Anywho, those are my two great things. Hope they help you! :) Stay posted for how Little Man's room comes out!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Well THAT is Disturbing!

On Sunday, when I was engaged in the great paper purge, I noticed something on an old credit card statement and I found it truly disturbing. There is a section of the statement where the credit card company tells you how long it would take you to pay off your current balance if you pay only the minimum due. It also tells you how much you will pay total if you just make the minimum payment.

The particular bill I was looking at had $1,700 on it. This is actually a fairly measely credit card balance, as American credit card debt goes, but a good sized amount for us (for the record, it is now paid off). Paying the monthly minimum of $35, it would take us 13 years to pay off our card.

THIRTEEN YEARS!!!!!!!

I gagged a little when I read that. Not only would it take 13 years, but we'd pay something to the tune of $3,500 when all was said and done.  That is a scary proposition.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Project Simplify: Hot Spot #2 Before & After

Hot Spot #2 was tackling paper clutter around the house. This project made me glad we don't have an office AND that I had recently gone through our paperwork and cleaned out our files. That being said, I still found some gems, like all of the bills and paperwork from Little Man's delivery in 2008!!!

Here are our 3 main paper catching zones:

The first is what I call "The Diesel Zone." I created this area out of frustration, because Diesel would bring in the mail and set it (and his keys, sunglasses, change, earphones, etc.) on the entertainment center, the table, the dresser, you name it. It was driving me up the wall!!!! I kept trying and trying to create systems for organizing his stuff, and NOTHING seemed to work. A few months ago I created this area for him and it seems to be working. It still gets ridiculously messy, but at least it is all in one place and there is a method to its madness. There is a place for his wallet, phone, check books, spare change and miscellaneous junk. The mail sorter is for bills/paperwork that need to be dealt with. Anything that needs to be filed goes into the basket for me to deal with later.

BEFORE:

As you can see, it is pretty messy. The top of the printer became home for a secondary basket of papers to be dealt with, some of Little Man's artwork and his R/C truck, which was put there on a timeout after it had been told not to chase the dog.  The Diesel Zone was also ridiculously dusty. Yuck!

AFTER:

The second area where paper (and other junk, as you will see) accumulates is the top of our dresser.  I'm guilty of using this area as a temporary holding zone for paperwork that I need to deal with.

BEFORE:

LOADS of paper and junk!

AFTER:
Ahhhh! There is my dresser! This was actually the easiest clean-up, because all the paper was either trash or needed to be filed. The sad thing about this is that the trash can is located on the side of the dresser and our file crates are in a cabinet directly facing the dresser. It is just sheer laziness on my part that things don't get put away!!

Last but not least are our filing crates. These babies live in the cabinet under our bed. I love that they're put away, but hate it because it is an extra step or two in getting stuff filed. In the end, our paperwork either ends up piled on the dresser or just jammed in the front of the file crate to be dealt with at a later date.

BEFORE:

Loads of paper and junk jammed in the front. The files are actually pretty organized in and of themselves, but there was a lot of unfiled paperwork and there was a LOT of outdated materials that could be gotten rid of.

AFTER:

All neat and clean, ready to be returned to the cabinet. Please note the bag of "to be recycled" stuff behind them. Plans are in the works to build a nice desk area in the dining room which will include storage space for papers and sorting bins for the mail and things that need to be dealt with or filed. The plan is to have this area built by May, but we shall see. Until then, we'll have to keep moving along with our temporary fixes!

A FEW OTHER PICTURES OF THE PROJECT IN PROCESS:

My basket o' stuff to deal with. I put on Sliding Doors (and when that started skipping, The Holiday) and went to town sorting this stuff into "To file," "To toss," "To shred," and "To deal with today" piles. I swear it is mere coincidence that Organized Simplicity is in this photo. I was reading it this morning and left it on the side table. I eventually dragged the filing crates out to the living room and went through each of the folders, but didn't take a picture of that.

My pile of stuff to shred. Pretty good size if I do say so myself!

My lovely assistant was given the task of shredding documents!

Last but not least, is something I've started to do to cut down on paper waste associated with my scrapbooking hobby. My albums always come filled with blank white pages, but I rarely use these, so I've amassed quite a stash of white paper. As I now have more white paper than I know what to do with, I've started having Little Man use the paper for art projects.


Here are a couple of his recent finger paintings. I took photos of him creating these works of art, and had planned to use these papers as the background for scrapbooking the photos, but today he informed me that the painting on the left is for his Nema (my mother) and the one on the right is for Ah-Ma (Diesel's mom), so I guess I'll just have to have him paint some new ones for me!!