Thursday, August 4, 2016

Have you Heard of Highly Sensitive Children?

I have a child who I love so much that it constantly smacks me in the face and downright surprises me (actually, I love both my kids like that) and at the same time this kid makes me crazy and frustrated and totally unsure of how exactly to parent him. From infancy, he's been tricky. He's my fickle pickle. I've been really worried about him at times; maybe something's "wrong".

And then, this past January, I came across some info about Highly Sensitive People, or more specifically, Highly Sensitive Children (HSC). Oh! So that's why my fickle pickle cried when we sang happy birthday to him at his 2nd birthday. That's why he had (and still sometimes has) major issues with food textures. That's why he hates when something unexpected happens, or can't stand to be the tiniest bit 'dirty'.

Wow! I'm not a terrible mother; all these tantrums and outbursts are happening for a reason. My great little dude is just experiencing his environment differently than a lot of people around him. He experiences sensory input and emotions really deeply. And that's pretty cool. He notices the most amazing things that most would overlook. He has this really clever sense of humour that makes me laugh every day. His lows can be very low and explosive, but his joy is vibrant and contagious.

A close family member and a good friend, both highly sensitive awesome dudes themselves, have been helping me understand what might be going on in J's brain. How very amplified everything is for him. I definitely understand how I totally can't cope when I become overwhelmed; he just gets overwhelmed a lot more easily.

So now I'm focused on how I can help him understand and express his emotions. I'm more aware of what stimuli is going to overwhelm him and try to give him opportunities to decompress. I try (though it's still SUPER hard) not to get so embarrassed when he starts misbehaving in a grocery store because I know more is going on than a kid choosing to be a total brat.

I don't bubble wrap J. A lot of things he really enjoys end up being totally overwhelming. (We call it filling his junk drawer; like bucket filling, but with negative stuff). A friend's birthday party, the annual community parade, or camping with cousins and staying up late will undoubtedly result in a big ol' melt down. But that's ok. I see it coming now. And we empty his junk drawer together by laying in his bed, listening to music while I scratch his back. Or he plays lego or plays with home made gak.  He's learning to open up and express himself like when he told me about the different colours of his brain the other day.

I have two extraordinary kids (yes, I know I'm a wee bit biased). I'm so honoured that these little spirits chose me to be their mother. And now it's my responsibility to help them both navigate the big, scary, beautiful world and become extraordinary adults.

Have you heard of Highly Sensitive before? Maybe you, or someone you know is highly sensitive and you didn't know it's an awesome club full of cool people.

For more info, check out these links.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Less Mess in Minutes: Homework Caddy

I'm so sorry; I know it's not even August yet, but school is right around the corner, and I don't want it to sneak up on me an bite me in the butt. So I am starting to plan and organize for the new school year now.

I'm sharing a super quick and cheap homework caddy with you today. I threw it together last school year from a basket with a handle and a set of plastic cups from Dollarama. Don't get all Pinterest-y on this project (unless of course you want to). It doesn't need to be labelled and look like you sourced it from Pottery Barn. Just essentials that your kids need to do homework each night, corralled in one place.

The rest of the kids art and craft stuff is in a cupboard in the basement (which is also begging for a re-do) and that's fine for special projects or creative sessions. This is just enough stuff to get the job done.

Do you have your homework essentials ready to go? Would your kids benefit from a little caddy, or does your family do something different? I'd love to hear about it!

Ok, go back to your iced coffee or lemonade and don't think about school anymore today.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Less Mess in Minutes: Tidy First Aid

Now that the kids are getting older and more independent, they can do awesome things for themselves like get their own snack and wipe their own nose. They can also tear apart my first aide drawer and get themselves a bandaid. Ugh. This spot was already kind of falling apart, and now that it's scrape and bite season, it's gone from bad to worse.
Notice the crumpled box that got into a fight with the drawer.

Time for an organizing project. Yay!! (Hey, some people do yoga or play guitar; I organize.) I can at least give myself props for having all this stuff in one central location. BUT, I knew I could do better. I grabbed this great little tool box organizer at the Dollarama, and after I killed myself getting the darn label off last night, I was good to go.

Step One: dump everything all over your dining room table and make a huge mess.
Apparently I have enough bandaids for the next 15 years, so that's good.
Step Two:  take inventory and realize all your antibiotic ointment is long expired. Put "antibac oint" on your grocery list. (I also looked at our travel first aid kit that we take camping and realized I needed a new roll of gauze, so I put that on my list too.)

Step Three: arrange everything in your nice little organizer box so that it totally looks like you have "it" all together.
Our new ouchie kit, sans antibiotic ointment, cause I didn't get to the store yet.

Step Four: put everything away all neat and tidy and feel like you're winning, even if only for a brief moment.
The drawer houses all kinds of other things like the hydrogen peroxide spray, extra q-tips and cotton pads, and the really BIG bandaids for when you scrape-off-your-entire-knee-and-may-need-stitches.

Now, if I could just get the kids to put their bandaid wrappers away when their done...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sometimes, DO sweat the small stuff, and the big stuff will take care of itself

We've all heard it before, "Don't sweat the small stuff" but today I'm going to tell you why sometimes you should! I'm certainly not saying that we should get caught up in the trivial details of life and miss out on the bigger picture. BUT, I do realize some amazing benefits when I take some time to deal with the details.

Putting in a little time and effort to set up a system or schedule can save me from some major headaches, and it actually helps me accomplish my "big picture" goals as a side effect. Here are some examples:

Small Stuff: I have all my bills set up with automatic withdrawal and all my statements come electronically.
Big Stuff: My bills are always paid on time and this ensures a good credit rating. Less paper coming into our house means less clutter to deal with.

Small Stuff: I subscribe to a meal planning website and initially took some time to really personalize it. I make a meal plan and only shop once a week.
Big Stuff: Only visiting the store once a week helps me save a lot of money. (Have you ever run into the store for milk and ONLY came out with milk?) Having a meal plan means we're eating healthy, home made food most nights, and we're eating together at the table, which is really important to us.

Small Stuff: I create a seasonal, capsule wardrobe for myself.
Big Stuff: Again, I save a LOT of money because I'm not buying clothes willy-nilly whenever I feel like it. I save time and energy in the morning when I get dressed, and I feel good about the way I look.

Small Stuff: I have some great systems in place to deal with all the papers the kids bring into the house.
Big Stuff: I'm able to catalog keepsakes for the future, stay current with permission slips and items needing my attention, reduce clutter and stress in our home and teach the kids important organizational skills they will need as they get older.

As you can see from these examples, taking care of the small, boring details of life like what to wear and eat, and how to deal with bills and paper clutter can really help me accomplish my big goals like living in a clutter free(ish) home, saving money and eating healthy foods with my family.

Sometimes setting up these kinds of systems and routines can be overwhelming. I'd ask you to first think about your most important life goals and values, and then think about what kind of "small stuff" is hindering these goals and values most. This is probably where you should start.

  • Want to lose some weight or eat more healthy foods? Take a look at how you make meals happen in your house. 
  • Want to save money or get your finances in order? Review how you manage bills, and pinpoint leaks in your budget that could be improved.
  • Want to work on the clutter in your home so it can become a place of rest and joy? Pay attention to what kind of clutter is your biggest problem and address that first.
Working towards the "Big Stuff" is never easy, but it's always worth it! We all deserve to live a full and rewarding life, in line with our own personal values.

What small stuff is holding you back? Can you think of one detail oriented action that you could take right away that will support your goals and values?

Still stuck? Leave a comment or get in touch with me. I'd LOVE to help you sort out some of your small stuff. Helping others in this area is actually part of my bigger life goal of sharing my organizational talents!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Kids Paper Clutter

I already told you all about how I manage the paper clutter in our family and I promised to elaborate on what I do with all the kids art and keepsakes. I'm not a fan of keeping many hard copies of anything, so naturally, I turn to technology.

Throughout the school year, I pin the kids projects up on our "gallery" wall so we can all admire how terribly gifted and talented they are. (This is just a metal curtain rod with strong magnets to attach the artwork). But what do I do when the gallery is full? I take stuff down and chuck it in the recycle! But don't worry, I'm not a heartless creature, unappreciative of my children's creations.

Before this stuff hits the bin, I grab my smart phone and make a digital copy using the CamScanner app. I make one folder for each kid at the beginning of the school year and by the end of June I have a great, clutter free, digital collection of the year's projects.

Of course, to truly enjoy and archive this artwork, I need to go a step farther and get these images off my phone. I've made photo books online in the past, but I haven't been thrilled with them in terms of ease and price. So, for N's grade one book, I created my pages using Google Slides. I was able to create each page just as I wanted without worrying about fitting my images into a template that really didn't serve me well. Then I took a PDF copy of all the slides to Staples and had them printed in colour on card stock and coil bound. I LOVE how it turned out and it was pretty inexpensive too.

There are still a handful of projects each year that I do want to keep, along with yearbooks, class photos, report cards, awards, etc. For these items, N and J each have a file box with hanging folders, labelled Baby Years, Preschool, Kindergarten, and Grades 1-12. I figured I was better off to label all the folders at once and be done with it. Now when something special or important comes along, once we're done reviewing or displaying it, it has a home and it's archived for the future. These boxes are on the top shelf in N's closet, so they are super handy for me to pop down when I want to put something inside.

This may look like a lot of steps, but honestly I only spend minutes here and there capturing images and filing special keepsakes, and the photo book only took me about an hour to create. It is so worth it to not have piles hanging around my kitchen or feeling guilty about not keeping special memories for my kids to treasure in the future.

What do you do with your kids paper clutter? Do your treasure every doodle, chuck the lot of it, or employ your own clever system?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Paper Clutter!!! And how I totally kick its ass.

If you look up "paper clutter" on the internet, your search will provide you with ENDLESS systems, ideas, and inspiration for handling it. It's something that just about every household (and business) has to deal with in some way. And if you also have kids, the paper can just about bury you alive if you're not careful.

I'm going to add some of my paper clutter ideas to the endlessness, but I want you to keep my number one piece of advice in mind: KEEP IT SIMPLE OR YOU WON'T STICK WITH IT.

I've tried lots of systems over time and I usually change things up as our life changes. Here's what's working really well for us right now as parents of two school-aged kids and small business owners; I hope you can take something away and maybe add it to your system!
  1. This bears repeating: KEEP IT SIMPLE OR YOU WON'T STICK WITH IT!
  2. STEM THE FLOW. I've worked at getting almost all of our bills and statements paperless. I get a little email each month, and as long as the total looks right, I don't review the bill any further. I have all our bills, except my two personal credit cards, set up with auto-withdrawal so I don't even have to remember to pay the bills on certain days. We also have a sign on our mail box so we don't receive the local papers or flyers.
  3. EVERYTHING HAS AN IMMEDIATE HOME. When I touch a piece of paper, I deal with it immediately, or it has an official holding place and then I only have to touch it once more. No piles allowed.
    • The few paper things that I do need to file and keep go into an accordion file as soon as I check the mail. This file is right in my dining room and gives me no excuse not to put it away right now. Envelopes are recycled and nothing remains. 
    • I also have a second accordion file for permanent records such as birth certificates, passports, SIN cards, etc. In an emergency, I can grab my two files, and I would have everything I would really need to get on with our lives.
    • Business things that get mailed to the house go right into a "mail box" at the back entrance, which I check and empty every day before I head into work.
My little command centre at the back entrance
    • Kids stuff goes directly from their backpacks into their "mail boxes" on the side of the fridge. I can then go through their agendas each night and sign permission slips immediately, recycle junk papers, and pin up artwork. I'm going to tell you in a future post all about what I do with artwork and keepsakes long term!
Kids mail boxes on the side of our fridge
    • I also like to use my CamScanner App to keep a digital copy of any papers that I may want to refer to in the near future (like field trip details) and then I can recycle the hard copy right away. 
    • I have an organizer on the inside of my pantry door where I like to keep school calendars and temporary papers like the order form for an upcoming fundraiser. BUT, this organizer is not a dumping place and I don't let it build up.

As you can see, nothing here is complicated or colour coded or complex. Everything is stored close together right in the kitchen/dining room/back entrance areas so there's no excuse not to put things where they belong. The key for me is doing it RIGHT NOW and not allowing myself to create piles and it's so streamlined that I don't even have to think "what should I do with this?"

Does every paper have a home in your home? How could you streamline your paper clutter system and make your life a little easier? Let me know if you want any more ideas to help with your unique situation! I'd be so happy to brainstorm with you!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How I Organize my Menu Planning and Grocery Shopping - UPDATE

My original menu planning post is my most popular by far, and it's getting pretty outdated, so I thought it was time for an update! The basics are still the same, with some new improvements.

As I've mentioned before, I don't particularly love to cook and grocery shopping is easily my least favourite chore of all. But, we must eat. And it's probably better that we eat some healthy-ish stuff and don't spend all our money in restaurants. So, the only solution that gets us there is menu planning.

However, I've found wonderfully lazy, easy ways to get this whole food gathering / cooking thing done every week. Here for you today, is my plan of attack.

First, and most important for me, is a dedicated shopping day. This day is set in STONE. Maybe you're ok with popping into the store several times a week, but I'd hugely prefer to get-in-get-out in one hour a week. This school year J and I go Tuesday morning after Hubby takes N to school.

Next is my menu planning tool. I used to do this all on paper, but then I discovered Plan to Eat. This is a subscription based menu planning/recipe organizing/shopping list tool that I can use on my computer and tablet at home, and bring with me to the store on my smart phone. It's basically genius.

I'm not going to go into a bunch of detail of how this tool works, because they do a great job of it here. Check out this video for an overview.

I also like to have a kind of "theme" for each day to help narrow down my recipe selections. I loosely follow this schedule:

Monday - Pasta
Tuesday - Breakfast for Dinner
Wednesday - Ethnic (Mexican, Indian, Asian inspired flavours)
Thursday - Easy Slow Cooker (a.k.a can be thrown together in about 15 minutes)
Friday - Pizza or something insanely easy cause Mama don't wanna cook
Saturday - Leftovers, take-out, etc.
Sunday - Soup/Stew/Casserole

Lastly, Plan to Eat MAKES MY GROCERY LIST FOR ME from the recipes on my planner. Holy crap I love this site. I've customized my shopping list categories so that my list is organized for how I walk through the store. Super efficient.

I also use my reusable bins and bags and cooler bags to group my groceries into categories so it's easier to unpack when I get home. Dry goods together, produce together with bread on top, cold things together in cooler bags, and non-food items together. That way, when I get home, I can just unpack the cold stuff and leave the rest for when I get home later from work.

Yeah, I looked cool taking pictures of my shopping cart.
I realize this process is not for everyone, and there is a small fee involved. I buy my one-year subscription on Black Friday when it's half off and then it works out to less than $2/month. SO worth it. I save so much time and frustration and we eat better as a result. (You can try Plan to Eat for free for a one month trial if you're interested.)

I hope something from this post has given you a little idea or tip on how to make menu planning work for your family. What's your best menu planning advice?