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. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Shopping for School Supplies - A Solution for Chaos

It's that time of year again! The school supply lists have been posted by schools, the back-to-school sales are beginning, and summer is half-way over. If you're like me, you don't do all your back-to-school shopping in one trip because it takes too many stops at different places for new shoes, backpack, art supplies, class supplies, kleenex, new clothes, etc. You want to take advantage of the sales, but they don't all run the same week, so your shopping is spread out over a couple (or more) weeks. There is a lot to buy and a lot to keep track of, so how do you go about the back-to-school shopping without descending into chaos, especially given the inconsistent schedule of summer?

I only have one child, and I feel like the potential for chaos in back-to-school shopping is high. I have to go through last year's uniforms and see what fits or doesn't fit. I peruse the used uniforms at the school to see if I can find what I need in Eliana's size without buying new. Once that is done, I have to re-count what we have for uniforms, because I have already forgotten. I mentioned a couple posts back that Eliana does her uniform laundry every other weekend, so I need to make sure that we have uniforms for 2 weeks, including enough long sleeve shirts and cardigans to pair with short sleeve shirts to get through winter, which lasts for almost all of the school year here in Montana. I need to check to see if we have enough shoes, socks, tights, shorts for under her skirts, etc. Perhaps in your family one pair of school shoes is sufficient. Here is ADHD land, we've learned that we need a minimum of 4 pairs of school shoes to compensate for the constant revolution of lost-and-found clothing items. Shoes are always someplace other than where they're supposed to be; they get left by the front door, they get left in the car, they get left in the bedroom... While we do have a system for shoes that works well, it only works well if we recognize and compensate for the fact that sometimes frequently there is user error. We have the same policy for snow boots, hats, gloves, and snowpants. Oddly enough, Eliana doesn't tend to lose her coat, but I digress. After I assess all of the uniforms from last year, and add in any used uniforms I can get for this year, I go online to buy the rest of what we need. While I'm online I usually look around to see what I should buy for school supplies locally, or if I can find a good deal on amazon for some of the items. I order what I need from amazon and know they'll be here in 2 days. At some point, I'll go to the store(s) and buy other school supplies, but I'll probably wade through last year's school supplies first to figure out what I can re-use. There are usually at least pencil cases and rulers that don't need to be re-purchased. One of the keys to reducing clutter is not to buy more stuff than you need. Don't duplicate what you already have.

SO.... if you've followed along to this point, thank you for listening to my rambling. This is what I've found with only one child, I can only imagine what it's like with more. Here's what I discovered worked very well this year for us, and could be multiplied for additional children easily.

Basically, I printed the school supply list for Eliana's class and stapled it to the front of a handled grocery sack. I have several of these bags and I love their reusability. The bag is large enough to hold most of her school supplies, but not so large or unstructured that it's unruly. 

As I purchase items for school and put them into the bag, I cross them off the list on the front. This makes it really easy to see what I've already put in the bag without having to dig through the bag. I put supplies like pencils and glue sticks into the pencil cases to maximize space. 

This year we didn't find a backpack for Eliana until near the end of our shopping, so it helped to have the items contained instead of a pile on the counter that had to be moved repeatedly or potentially decimated by the Tasmanian Devil on one of his decluttering sprees. 

Here's a peek into the bag from the top to give a little perspective of what it looks like as the process continues. Now that we have all our back-to-school shopping done, I put the school supplies in Eliana's new backpack (ready for the first day of school) and put her 3 boxes of kleenex, PE shoes, and paint shirt in the bag, ready to be carried into school the first day. This solution minimizes the number and size of the bags she has to carry in, but gives her the independence to do it herself without needing me to carry items for her.

And now, with summer half-way over, we can sit back and enjoy the rest of vacation, knowing that we're ready for the first day of school! Happy shopping and organization to your family as well!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


As I sit here at my desk, in my classroom, after school, waiting for my daughter to do her homework and "getting work done" myself, I take in everything around me. I hear the voices in the hallway. I hear the piano lessons going on three classrooms down. I hear my daughter eating her snack. I hear her writing on the white board. I see her out of the corner of my eye. The rest of the edges of my eyes see the clutter that surronds me, a hundred broken thoughts from the day that has been. The heater is going and just shut off. The piano student just missed a note. Eliana just slurped some juice, then got another apple slice. I have stuff on the counter across the room, just within eyesight above the screen of my computer. I can't shut it all out. All of this has been going on around me, visually and auditorily since I opened up this window to write. My life is one giant wheel of distraction, and I'm not sure how to get off. Worse, I am not sure how to help my daughter, since I know what it is like to spend a life in this particular theme park.

I look at my desk and am hit with a thousand thoughts all at once. "I need to enter that stack in the grade book..." "That's a good book; I should finish reading it. I should recommend it to..." "I wonder if I still need those business cards? I don't even know if that student is still tutoring." "Junior Mints... mmm.... Junior Mints... oh. It's empty." I need to return those assignments. Wait. I need to take pictures of the best ones for future reference first." "Awww.... student art!" "I should count those tests to make sure I have enough copies for tomorrow." "I should also make sure I have enough answer sheets." "I didn't have anyone sharpen pencils today. Maybe Eliana can do that when she's finished homework." "Eliana, did you finish your homework?" "I think this will make a good project for next year. I thought it would make a good project this year, but I put it away and forgot. I don't want to forget again, so I'll leave it out." "If I highlight the edge of my master copies, I can copy them and not confuse the original with the handouts." On... and on... and on... it goes.

I am making an effort this week to head home earlier than usual. Often I don't head home until 6, but I think that aiming to be home by 5 is better for Eliana and for me. I have dinner thawed in the fridge and all I have to do is bake it, so an hour should be sufficient for that. But then the ideas start flowing and I get lost in time. I have more ideas than I could possibly implement, yet see the beauty in all of them. I start implementing the best ideas first, only to realize that I am planning for the future and may or may not have completed all the work required for the now. This is my life. I lead a life of distraction.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Impact of ADHD

ADHD has had a significant impact in our home. Though neither my husband nor I have been diagnosed, we both have some pretty strong indicators that suggest we suffer from ADHD. Earlier this week, our only daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, something we have suspected for the last couple years.

Now, before you think this is all "woe is me" and pity party, I just want you to know where I'm coming from when I talk about the impact ADHD has in our home. Sometimes I assume the organizational struggles I face are typical of every mom. Then I see the lives other people lead and wonder if that's true. This is not about throwing a little pity party, but it is about recognizing the differences between living in an ADHD home and living what others think of as a "typical" life.

Also, I am not a professional, so don't take what I have to say as professional opinion. They are merely the ramblings of a woman who has struggled with her own chronic disorganization and is staring in the face of requisite consistency, hoping she can pull it off enough to give her daughter the tools she needs to succeed in life.

I have always overcomplicated things. I tend toward the "If 2 steps are good, 12 steps are better" approach and, as it turns out, 12 steps are not always better. I find the creativity necessary for my 12 step approach to be invigorating, even if I never actually finish the project. I love creativity. In fact, I have a really hard time not being creative. Also, this contributes to my chronic disorganization. The ideas flow faster than my body can keep up, leaving a wake of creative destruction in my path.

My husband, in part, copes with his ADHD by removing visual distraction from his environment. We call it the Tasmanian Devil when he goes on one of his decluttering rampages. Nothing is safe. If it's out, it will most likely be sacrificed for the good of a clean work surface. Combine his tendency to purge with my penchant for creative destruction, and you have a pretty good picture of a lot of the conflicts our marriage has weathered.

Now that our daughter has been diagnosed with ADHD, I have been re-reading some of the resources on structure and organization necessary for creating a supportive environment for those with ADHD. As I read, I feel hopeless that I can ever maintain the structure my daughter needs in her world, as long as I have this pinball machine pinging around in my brain.

As despair begins to set in, though, I begin to take mental note of the sections in these resources that I have highlighted and no longer need highlighted because I have actually implemented them. A teeny, tiny bit of hope begins to grow. A year and a half ago, these were solutions that weren't part of our daily lives. Now, they are things that we don't necessarily have to think about to maintain. So.... I am going to celebrate the little successes. The following are ways that ADHD has impacted our lives, and how we have responded, for the better.

  •  Each of us do our own laundry, on a schedule that works best for us. Eliana does a load each weekend, alternating between school uniforms and regular clothing. Leif does his laundry approximately twice a month, whenever his laundry basket is full. I do my laundry once a month, usually the first weekend a month. 
  •  Eliana has a very regular bedtime, beginning with Melatonin at 7:30, followed by brushing her teeth, pajamas, potty, and ending with reading in bed by 8. We try to keep this as consistent as possible. 
  • I returned to work this year, which has been HUGE, especially when it comes to maintaining a regular schedule for myself and my family. 
  • I pick out my clothes for the week on Sunday so I don't have to think about what to wear each day. This allows me the maximum amount of sleep (important, since I also have RA) and still allows me to look my best at work each day. 
  • On uniform laundry weeks, we put together 2 weeks worth of Eliana's uniforms, so she doesn't ever have to think about what to wear. Each uniform set is in a canvas bin in her closet, so she just has to grab a bin and put her clothes on. 
  • We make Eliana's lunches for the week on Sunday so that she doesn't have to think about food each morning, just grab a lunch from the fridge and head out the door. Also, making all her lunches at once allows us to think through the nutrition and make sure she has food pyramid appropriate lunches each day, which helps balance her blood sugar.
  • Each day after school, Eliana comes to my classroom and has a snack, then completes her homework while I prep for the next day's classes. 
  • My friend Amy comes over every Sunday evening and we plan our weeks. My weekly plan usually involves entering lesson plans for the week, and hers includes planning the homeschool week for her children. I would probably not be consistent in starting my week this way without a buddy to keep me accountable, plus it gives us both productive social time in an otherwise social-sparse weekly schedule. 
  • I purge Eliana's clothes regularly, removing items that don't fit or are no longer worn. These items get donated or handed down to other kids as soon as possible (though, I admit, is not always as soon as I'd like). 
  • I have a bin in my closet that allows me to easily purge my own items quickly and easily. Once the bin is full, I donate those items. This works well for jewelry, shoes, clothes, etc. Anything that I see and think, "I don't wear that any more" or "that is too cumbersome to figure out how to wear well" or "that doesn't fit me right" goes in the bin. If I change my mind, I usually have a little time before the bin is full to remove the item, but often once it's in the bin, it stays. 
  • I keep cleaning supplies where I need them. That means that every bathroom has toilet cleaner and a toilet brush and cleaning wipes in it, so when the sudden urge to clean the toilet strikes, I can do it quickly instead of getting distracted as I go to the other room to get the supplies. This sort of distraction totally happens to me on a regular, daily basis. 
  • We have a system for incoming mail. I get the mail, pull out the few items I want or that are for me, and the rest goes in a bin for my husband to deal with. When he is ready to deal with the mail, pay bills, etc, he knows exactly where to find them and has his own system for dealing with them. Because his problem is not clutter, this designated mail spot works well for us. Because my problem is clutter, this designated mail spot keeps important things from being thrown out as "clutter" that got left on the counter. 
  • We take our shoes off when we enter the house, so we store ALL our shoes in the entryway. We have different storage solutions for each person, but all the shoes get put away here. My daughter has canvas bins that she stuffs her shoes in, underneath a bench in the entryway. My shoes are on a shoe holder inside one of the hall closets, and my husband keeps his shoes in cubbies. While we occasionally have shoes on the floor in this hall, it is usually contained to one or two pairs (usually mine or our daughter's, my husband is pretty good about putting his away - again with reducing visual clutter), it's simple enough to pick them up when the time comes. 
  • Our daughter doesn't have playdates on school days. Transitions are difficult for her, so interrupting her regular daily routine rarely goes well. This was a hard thing at first, when her neighborhood friends wanted to play with her and we had to say no. Now that I am back at school with her, it is less of a problem, and she gets to play with friends at the school while I finish up work in the afternoons. 
  • We try to make Saturday Eliana's chore day so that she has Sunday as a free day. Once she is done with her chores, she is free on Saturday to play with friends, etc. Typically, this means she has to clean her room, do her load of laundry, and put away dishes before she can do other things. We're not the most consistent on this, but we're getting there. :)
  • Friday night is family movie night. Eliana LOVES this tradition and looks forward to it. So do we. 
While these are not all the solutions we've implemented as a result of our different ADHD tendencies and coping mechanisms, they are enough to give me hope that it will be okay. Things are better than they were two years ago. We are more consistent than we were two years ago. We have more routines, more solutions, and more peace in our home. It's not easy, but it's getting better. And that's enough to chase the despair from my soul and give me renewed energy for the day ahead.