Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Clutter. Miriam Webster defines clutter as...

a :  a crowded or confused mass or collection

That's how clutter is defined as a noun, which is how I usually think of it. Clutter is STUFF.

But M-W first defined clutter as a chiefly dialectical intransitive verb, meaning: to run in disorder.

to run in disorder. 

I'm just going to let that verbal definition sink in.

You see, when I think of clutter, I think of the STUFF. But the stuff is there because I have been RUNNING MY LIFE IN DISORDER. For pretty much ever. Sure, I have pockets of order, spaces carved out where structure survives, but those are not the places where clutter accumulates. Clutter accumulates in the parts of my life that are run in disorder.

When I get too busy, clutter accumulates.

When I get distracted, clutter accumulates.

When I abandon a task mid-stream, clutter accumulates.

Busyness, distraction, and abandonment are signs of a disordered life, and clutter is an outward manifestation of inward habits.

I want to create habits of order.

The other day I had a lightbulb moment. I realized that ALL of my clutter was due to one of three reasons. ALL OF IT!! Here are the reasons I have clutter in my home:

  1.  We have more stuff than we need or use. 
  2. Not everything we need or use has a home. 
  3. We don't always put things back in their home when we're done with them. 
That's it! Everything in my home fits in one of these three categories, which means that I can actually go around the house to every item that is cluttering up our beautiful home and ask myself if it has a home, if we need it, or if we need to find a home for it. And suddenly, the weight of clutter feels SO. MUCH. LIGHTER. 

In writing this blog post, I figured something else out, too. When I searched for images of clutter, the pictures didn't look like my house. I feel the weight of clutter, the overwhelm of clutter, but I'm not actually living in an overly-cluttered environment. Yes, I still have too much stuff and yes, I still need to find homes for the things we need, and yes, I still need to put things away when I'm done with them. But it's not as bad as I think it is, and it's something I can deal with one item at a time. There are many problems in the world that I can't tackle, but this isn't one of them. I can do this (and so can you)!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Allowance Punch Cards (Free Download)

For a few years now, my husband and I have made a point to teach our daughter about money management and fiscal responsibility. There are several components to this, including allowance, spend/save/give money, paying for things we break, etc. Today I want to focus on allowance and a solution that is currently working well for us.

For the past few years, we have given our daughter a weekly (more or less - more on that in a bit) allowance of $5. $2 goes in the "SAVE" jar, $2 goes in the "SPEND" jar, and $1 goes in the "GIVE" jar. She can spend her SPEND money on anything she wants (within reason), and there are certain things (like Christmas gifts) that she needs to budget and save her spend money for. Her GIVE money is for giving to others in need. We've been pretty flexible on what this looks like, but are generally trying to cultivate in her an attitude of "because I have been blessed with so much, I have plenty to share with others." If she wants to put money in the offering plate at church, it comes from her give money. If she wants to buy items to fill an Operation Christmas Child shoebox, it comes from her give money. If she wants to put money in the Salvation Army bucket, it comes from her give money. Her SAVE money is for unforeseen expenses, and saving up for big items. She currently says she's saving up for college and honestly, she's got a decent amount put away. It'll at least get her a semester's worth of books at this point, though we're certainly not holding her to waiting until college to spend it on books. She has broken a few things and needed to replace them, and that replacement has come out of her save money. Mostly, we want her to get into the habit of setting money aside to give to others and to save in case of emergencies. We also want her to have the freedom and experience of learning about discretionary spending.

Here's where we get into trouble... my husband and I often forget to give her the weekly $5. Sometimes we remember. More often than not, we find ourselves trying to calculate how many weeks it has been since the last time we remembered to do allowance. And often, we remember after she's gone to bed, so we are the ones dividing the funds between the jars instead of having her do it. Also, we have expressed that the $5 isn't automatic every week, but is dependent on her following through in doing the things we ask her to do throughout the week. Unfortunately, we didn't have a good way to track that, we just hoped she routinely complied with a good attitude so we never had to deal with the consequences of crossing that invisible line and revoking allowance for the week. We didn't have a plan... until recently, that is.

Enter: The Daily 5 punchcard.

Here's what I love about it:

1) Every week our daughter gets a punch card. It is HER RESPONSIBILITY to complete each of the 5 tasks each day, and bring the punchcard to me to punch when she has finished the tasks for the day. It doesn't require extra work on my part to remember. If she wants her allowance, she has to remember.

2) If she gets all 5 tasks done for the day, she gets a punch. If she gets 5 punches, she gets $5 at the end of the week. The parameters for earning her weekly allowance are very clear.

3) At the end of the week, it's HER RESPONSIBILITY to bring me the card with 5 punches and trade it in for $5, which she divides between the jars. Again, if she wants her allowance, she has to remember. She also gets a new punchcard when she turns in the old one.

The tasks can be switched up as needed, but she generally does the same tasks during the school year. These cards don't include the tasks she does over the weekend to get ready for the next week. On the weekends, she does laundry, picks out her clothes for the week and hangs them together in the closet, picks up her room (if she has time and/or I have the energy to keep her on task. We're still working on that one), and fills out her planner for school.

Because your tasks are bound to be different than our tasks, I've made a blank version for you to write in your own daily 5. Just right click and save to your computer, then print whatever size you need. I personally print 9 to a page and trim them to business card size. That seems to be the perfect size for us! If you want a PDF of 9, click the link below the picture. Enjoy!

Click HERE for a pdf

Saturday, January 2, 2016

I'm not OCD, I'm a teacher.

I am in the middle of my favorite chaos storm of the year, otherwise known as putting away the Christmas decorations. Last night Leif had a friend come over to play games, and as he looked around at the way I had things organized, he said, "This is a whole new level of OCD." I laughed, because all I saw were piles that had not yet made it to their final stage of organization. Then I realized he was actually looking at the labels I had on my bins. The labels that said 2017 Feliz Navidad and 2019 Red Green Gold. And he was taking pictures to show his wife. He asked why the future bins were even out, and I had an answer for him right away. That's when I began to wonder if he was on to something with his OCD comment. But he's not.

I'm not OCD. I'm a teacher.

You see, putting away decorations is almost as fun to me as putting them out each year. I decorate the Christmas tree and house on the day after Thanksgiving every year. It was the tradition in my home growing up, and it just feels right. When I returned to teaching a few years ago, I realized why we always decorated the day after Thanksgiving. You see, my mom was a teacher, too. And in the teaching world, you get two breaks for the holidays - one at Thanksgiving and the other at Christmas. If the tree, et al., doesn't go up right after Thanksgiving, it doesn't go up until Christmas break, which doesn't leave much time before the holiday. But the day after Thanksgiving is often also full of dishes and achy, tired feet that spent all day entertaining. So... I want the decorating process to be as smooth and joyful as possible, and that means planning ahead.

You know when I plan ahead for next year's joyful decorating? When I'm putting things away this year. The process isn't about putting away this year's decorations so much as it is about getting ready for next year. And the year after, and the year after... which is what our guest was commenting on.

Now, I will admit that I like to have different color schemes for decorating each year and those are planned out well in advance. I know the color schemes through 2019, which helps me when planning. And that's why those bins were out. Let me demonstrate:

2015 - Silver and Gold
2016 - Red and White and Silver
2017 - Blue and Red and Green (Feliz Navidad)
2018 - Black and Silver and Gold
2019 - Red and Green and Gold

So... this year I have a bunch of silver and gold items out that I am putting away. I won't need gold items again until 2018, so I can put them into that bin and I won't have to pull them out next year when I decorate. When I put things away, I will pull out all the bins so I can put the silver items in the 2018 bin, and the red items in the 2017 bin. I can also assess what items I will need (wrapping paper, etc.) for the following year and get those items on sale now, instead of paying full price later.

I also pick up some gift items now on sale, and wrap them up so they're ready to go and I can have gifts under the tree as soon as the tree goes up. Some might consider it OCD, but it's not compulsory, it's the set up for a smoother holiday next year, when I'm trying to do holiday stuff AND be a mom AND be a teacher. The holidays are busy. I don't want to have to try to think through all this then, so I do it now. As a result, I love putting away decorations, because it means I get to plan new, fun ideas for next year. And that is so much better than just putting things in boxes and moving on.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Planner Love

When I was in high school, I learned to use a day planner. If I remember correctly, my mom got me a nice Day Runner set up and taught me how to use it. Organization (of time, space, or other) has never come naturally to me, so I have had to depend on tools to help me keep track of everything. My planner was the tool that helped me keep my very busy academic, extracurricular, and social lives in order, all in one place. In college, it became even more important. My friends referred to my planner as my "brain" and knew I couldn't go anywhere without it. It was my schedule, assignment tracker, journal... everything.

As an adult, I fell out of the habit of using a planner. I no longer had assignments to turn in, and life became more routine with work and life. I was home more, so I started using a magnetic calendar on the fridge, just like my mom did. After years of frustration with that system I started looking for others. I tried wall calendars, Google calendar, Cozi, blank planners, printed planners, free printables, purchased printables, custom planners... I couldn't find anything that worked well for me. So a few years ago I decided to design my own planner and I LOVE it!

As it turns out, I need a planner as much now as I did in high school and college. Between school functions, my daughter's activities, doctor appointments, social engagements, family trips, and a host of other things, I need to keep track of everything in a reliable way. And, I'm a paper person. So here's how my planner works for me:

I use a disc bound system for my planner. I love the flexibility it offers, and I love being able to change covers and discs on a whim. These discs (gold with heart cut outs) I got at Hobby Lobby this summer in the scrapbooking section. Other discs I have used I've gotten at Staples through the Martha Stewart line or the Arc line at Staples. I have several sizes in several colors, but I tend to need the largest discs for my planner, but use smaller ones for other projects. 

I make the covers for the planner myself and have quite a stash from a couple years ago when I was making custom planners for other people. This cover was made from some placemats from Ikea, if I remember correctly. The red makes me happy. :)

Inside the cover of my planner I have a bad habit of shoving papers I need to look at but haven't gotten to yet. I also keep a binder pocket with the highlighters and pens I use on my weekly calendar. 

My monthly calendar looks something like this. Each month is tabbed (I'll show you what the tabs look like in a minute.) and is where I record appointments, events, etc. as they are scheduled. I tend to write with erasable pen (I love Frixion pens!) on the monthly calendar in case things change. If there's a multi-day event (like my daughter's summer camps) I use washi tape. I keep a bookmark in this month so it's easy to find, and I keep a 4x6 journal card in each month so I can jot down memorable events as we go. These go in the scrapbook at the end of the year so we have a good idea of what happened in life! If I get around to scrapbooking pictures, great, but if not at least I have some record of things!

Between the monthly pages I have weekly plan sheets. I learned to use these in Mary Kay and have found them to be an excellent tool for me! Each Sunday evening I sit down and plan my week. I look at my husband's calendar online to see if there are any important things I should be aware of. I look at my monthly calendar, and I look at any other schedules that might impact my week. 

At the top of each day column I have a blank space for my daily to-do list. These are items that need to be done that day, but don't necessarily have a specific time associated with them. (I have a different system for my running to-do list, but I'll have to share that some other time.) 

At the bottom of each day column I have a half-hourly schedule where I put down specific things that are scheduled throughout the day. Right now it's summer, so I don't have a whole lot going on, but during the school year this keeps me from double booking myself. 

On the side of the page I have a place for notes so I can jot things down for next week if needed. 

Each monthly tab has a pocket on the back with a quote on it. The tabs are laminated so I can write on them with a dry erase, wet erase, or Sharpie marker if needed. In September I have to have some lab work done, so I have my paperwork in the September pocket, ready to go. At the beginning of each calendar month I have a page for birthdays and anniversaries. Honestly, I don't use this a whole lot, but sometimes it is nice to have at a glance. (I don't use this, because I have finally found a solution that works for me to keep up with birthday and anniversary cards! I guess I'll have to share more on that later, too.)

After the calendar section of my planner I have a household section. Like the months, this includes a laminated tab, with a pocket on the back. 

I put coupons in the pocket, because I can never think far enough ahead to remember to bring coupons with me, and these are for the kinds of places / items I come across at random. It's hard to remember to bring coupons if you're not actually planning on going to those places.

I also keep all my coffee cards, punch cards, store cards, membership cards, etc, in this section of my notebook. I have three pages of these card holders, so I always have them if I need them. I don't use them frequently, so I don't carry them in my wallet. 

After the household section, I have a section for notes. I really just have paper in this section, but I take sermon notes, jot down notes at the doctor's office, write random thoughts, etc, and then later scan them into Evernote as I work to #TameThePaperDragon. Then I throw the paper note away. :)

I have a laminated envelope I keep in the back of my planner. Originally I thought I would use it for cash, a la Dave Ramsey. As it turns out, I don't really use cash. And when I do, it's in my wallet. And we don't do Dave Ramsey and don't have any debt, so I don't see us going that route in the future. So... I put my checkbook in that pocket. I don't need to write checks very often, but when I do it's nice to have my checkbook accessible (instead of lost in the bottom of my giant purse somewhere). 

I also have a pocket in the back of my planner where I can put paperwork I'm in the middle of filling out, or papers I need to read over. This is a nicer solution than stuffing the papers inside the cover. 

Speaking of my giant purse, one of my requirements for a planner is that it fit in my purse. Now, my purse is big. BUT it is not so big that an 8.5x11 planner will fit in it. This planner fits right in the center section of my purse organizer (which actually works for me!) along with whatever book I'm currently reading and my iPad (not shown). 

So... that's my planner. I call it the Metamorphosis Life Planner, because it helps me plan my life and it changes as I need it to. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Taming the Paper Dragon

The Paper Dragon
It's summer again, which means I have surfaced from my school-year tunnel vision and realized just how much the paper dragon has laid waste to my domain. And by paper dragon, I don't mean fanciful origami. I mean the paper clutter that lurks in every corner, threatening to overwhelm me with each glance. It looks like this:

and this... 

and this...

and this... 

and THIS!

Fortunately for me, I've discovered Evernote. At first, Evernote was just a fun distraction, one of the many free productivity apps I have played with in the attempt to feel like using productivity apps is the same as actually being productive. HINT: It's not. But as it turns out, Evernote is the first app I've ever used that has actually given me hope that a moderately paperless society could be in my future. And when I say that, you should understand the weight that my statement carries. Let me put it this way:


And Evernote makes me feel like I could part with the paper. At least a lot of it. So, that's saying something. Also, I like and use Evernote enough  that I opted to pay for the premium service. And I don't think that has EVER happened with an app before. So... I might love Evernote more than I love paper. It's a tight call. 

Processing Paper
I started using Evernote for to do lists, and quickly moved on to using it for journaling (pictures and comments from events, notes about the day, etc.), as a way to track my progress on my summer goals, as a place to store ideas that I want to implement next year, AND as a place to record information that I have written down. I can either summarize notes and type them in (if I'm feeling summative) OR just take a picture of the notes and put it in Evernote to reference later. Then? I GET TO THROW THE PAPER NOTES AWAY!! Wheeeee! I've done this with meeting notes, thoughts I jotted down, sketches I've made for ideas I've had, notes from doctor appointments, all sorts of things! And because I put the notes in virtual notebooks, but then can tag them for cross reference, finding them again is pretty easy, no matter how many random thoughts and notes I enter.

Skipping the Paper
Last month I went to a conference, and I started taking notes in the handy-dandy notebook the kind conference people provided. At some point during the sessions, I switched over to my iPad and started taking notes in Evernote. For the majority of the conference, I skipped the paper altogether. What made it so brilliant was not that I could type notes in. I can do that on just about any app. What was fantastic is that I could take notes, periodically take pictures as needed and insert them into my notes, and audio record the session at the same time. I CAN'T do that with paper. At the end of the day I took pictures of the few pages of notes I took by hand, and inserted them into the appropriate digital note. DONE! 

Evernote doesn't pay me; in fact, I paid them. 
I am not one of those fancy pants bloggers who is fortunate as to get compensation for endorsing products, or compensation for anything, really. I am, however, someone who has been thoroughly excited to find a solution for my own paper clutter. Some pieces of paper are important. The nice government people won't accept an Evernote version of my passport if I want to travel. But there is an awful lot of paper that I have in my house that simply doesn't have to be in paper form. The information is important; the textile delivery system is not. As I spend time this summer re-systematizing (as is my estival habit) I am excited to create leaner filing systems. I am excited to have less clutter in my life. And I'm excited to be able to access the information when I want it, not just when I'm near that particular piece of paper. Even better is that it works across all three platforms I use (android phone, iPad, and Windows computer) and automatically syncs so I don't have to put any thought into retrieval when I want the information. 

I doubt I will ever be able to function in a truly paperless world. My paper dragon will never be slain. However, I am in the process of taming the paper dragon, which I find an admirable and attainable goal. As I make progress, I'm using the hashtag #TamingThePaperDragon. Feel free to join me on the adventure!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

12 Days of Christmas Clutter

With just a few days to Christmas I am watching the gifts pile up under the tree, thinking about the clutter I already have in my home. While I worked on simplifying over the last year, and made plenty of progress in simplifying my life, I still have clutter that sneaks in and threatens to become my undoing. I have closets that are no longer organized, because they house clutter. I have rooms that got cleaned out for a garage sale this summer, but never got put back together. I have a daughter who has more toys than she plays with and I, myself, have more clothes than I wear. So this holiday season, I am going to deal with some of the clutter before Christmas! We make a point each year to go through Eliana's toys and get rid of what she doesn't play with any longer, but this year we're going to make a bigger effort towards progress. Here's what I'm challenging myself to do and I encourage you to join in with me!

12 Days of Christmas Clutter Challenge:

From now until Christmas, get rid of 12 things each day that you no longer love or use. They can be anything from clothes that don't fit to toys that your children no longer play with to decorations you no longer want to put up over the holidays or organizational items that never really worked for you. You will find that 12 items aren't hard to come by each day, especially if you have a clutter problem. By the time Christmas comes around, you'll have gotten rid of 144 items and will feel so much better!

Feel free to comment if you're joining in the 12 Days of Christmas Clutter Challenge. I'd love to hear how it's going for you! For now, though, I'm going to say goodbye and go find 12 items I don't need in my house any longer!

Here's to a happy clutter-free Christmas!!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The 5 S's

A few years ago, my mom suggested to me 5 things that Eliana needs from me in order to function well. I've had them written in various places around the house as reminders, mostly on mirrors and message boards I see often. As I was thinking over the 5 S's again tonight, I decided to make a printable to put in our front hallway. It looks something like this:

I love the 5 S's because they really, really DO make a difference for Eliana. They make a difference for me, too. I provided a general description / reminder for each of the S's on the poster, but there's more thought behind each one.

1. Schedule - a daily (and weekly) schedule is important for Eliana! The predictability of a regular schedule means that we're not faced with the unknown too often. Here are some of the elements that make up her daily and weekly schedule.

  • DAILY:
    • MORNING:
      • Wake up around 7
      • Take a shower
      • Get dressed
      • Drink coffee / protein shake
      • Eat breakfast
      • Put lunch in backpack
      • Leave for school about 8:45
      • Come to Mom's classroom at 3:30
      • Eat a snack
      • Do homework
    • EVENING:
      • Dinner at 6
      • Check homework with Daddy
      • Take Melatonin at 7:30
      • Bedtime Routine
        • Take vitamins
        • Brush teeth
        • Put on PJs
        • Go potty
        • Get in bed
    • MONDAY:
      • Mom usually has teachers' meeting, so Eliana has a list of things to do in the classroom after she is done with her homework. This list of things gets written on the board so she can check off each item and hold herself accountable for getting everything done by the time Mom comes back from the meeting. Eliana gets to do something fun (like watch a video) when she is finished with the list. 
    • TUESDAY:
      • Eliana has an appointment every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at 4:30, so she gets her homework done between 3:45 and 4:15 so we can leave and be at the appointment on time. 
      • We are at the school all afternoon on Wednesdays, and Eliana often gets to play with some friends at the school after she is done with her homework. At 5:45 we leave for Awana.
      • Awana is on Wednesday evenings from 6-8pm. 
      • Eliana has piano lessons at 3:45
      • We leave immediately after piano at 4:15 to go to her Tuesday / Thursday appointment. She often does not have homework on Thursdays, but if she does it gets done after the appointment between 5:30 and 6 before dinner. 
    • FRIDAY:
      • Friday is family movie night. This is a tradition we try to keep and Eliana loves it. 
      • Saturday is pretty unstructured right now. I have noticed that Eliana struggles with the lack of structure and does better when given time limits for playing with friends, or jobs to do around that house that keep her doing something. 
    • SUNDAY:
      • We have church at 10:45, followed by lunch (often out). Sunday afternoon Eliana usually spends playing with her dolls, having a good bit of solitary time. She needs it. 
2. Structure - Even on days, like weekends and holidays, that don't follow the regular schedule above, Eliana has structure. She has routines for the morning and routines for the evening. The activities we ask her to do have set routines (like laundry or emptying the dishwasher). There are still boundaries and consequences that have to be observed in order to maintain the structure that is so necessary for Eliana! While schedule involves specific activities and specific times, structure is the framework on which a day is built. Schedule is about time. Structure is about order. No matter what time Eliana wakes up, she still has the same structure to her morning routine. The same is true of her bedtime routine, no matter what time she actually begins it. 

3. Supervision - Eliana is an extremely self-sufficient child, so I often forget that she needs almost constant supervision. Now, this isn't the helicopter-mom hovering kind of supervision, this is the "be in a place where I can observe her, give her reminders, converse with her and keep her on track" kind of supervision. This often looks like her working at the table to do her homework while I am making dinner. (Or, if we are at school, she's in a desk while I am at my desk working.) I'm close enough for her to ask questions, close enough to notice when she is off task and remind her to focus, but not hovering. I'm getting my own stuff done, too. Supervision looks like me talking through the steps of a task after Eliana has told me she's finished with it. "Did you do your laundry?" "Yes." "What clothes did you put in the washing machine?" "My uniforms." "Did you put soap in the washer?" "Yes." "Did you turn the washing machine on?" "Yes." - Often we will get through almost all the steps and discover a "No." answer, and then she has the opportunity to go finish the job. 

Supervision is a frustration saver. I have noticed that when I am not adequately supervising Eliana, I get frustrated because she did what she naturally does: makes messes and leaves tasks undone. As it turns out, these are the exact same things I naturally do, too. But when she doesn't follow through on what I asked her to do, she is creating habits of disobedience through distraction, and I don't want her to create those habits! So she can either get in trouble for not obeying, or I can do MY job and make sure that she is adequately supervised and not allowing her distraction to turn into disobedience. 

4. Solitude - Now that I've talked about the need for almost constant supervision, let me point out that Eliana needs times of solitude. I am technically still supervising her, but am not in the same room. Usually, these are the times she is upstairs playing with her dolls, or spending time quietly reading in her room. I can hear her playing, and am aware of where she is and what she's doing, and I can tell what's going on. But I am supervising from afar. Sometimes she needs solitary time to just process emotions. I used to have to enforce time in her room because she was having a meltdown. Now when she feels herself getting frustrated, she'll go to her room by herself to deal with her emotions. Often there is crying and wailing involved. I just let her emote, unless she is talking negatively about herself in the process, which sometimes happens. I will step in and stop that, but if she's just trying to figure things out, I let her. Sometimes she just needs to play and be a kid. Solitary time is good for that, too, especially since she doesn't have siblings and solitary play is what she has done her whole life. After a while, she will come down and be ready to spend time with the family again. Solitude is good for her. 

5. Security - I believe that all children need security, but I know that my own child does. She needs to feel loved. She needs to have boundaries. She needs to spend time with her parents as a family. She needs to know that she is safe. She needs to know that she can talk to us. She needs to know that we won't ask her to do more than she can handle. She needs to be comforted when she is sad. She needs to be reassured when she is scared. She needs to know that home is a safe place and her parents will protect her. She needs to feel secure. Part of what provides that security for her is following these guidelines. When I follow them, there is more peace in our home, which translates as security to her. It's one of the ways I can communicate love to her. 

As a mom, I kind of feel like there's a 6th S I need in order to provide the things listed above. I need to SLOW DOWN. When I am too busy, I don't follow the S's well. I feel like I don't have enough time to get everything done, and I try to pack too much in, and then I rush. I mess with the schedule. I rush the structure and try to skip steps. I am short tempered and strip away at her security. I need to take it SLOW in order to provide her what she needs from me. There are times when I feel like I don't have time to parent well, but the truth of it is that this is what God gave me time for. I need to use the time He gave me to accomplish the job He gave me in raising the daughter He gave me. Children are not a hobby that we do if we have time; they are what God gave us time for. 

If you find that the 5 S's will help you, I've created two printable versions for you. Click the link below each picture to download.