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This week I continued working on the 30 Days to Simpler Life Project. Each day, Fairy Tale Mama at Enchanted Schoolhouse posts an activity from the book 30 Days to a Simpler Life.

The projects so far have been ones I’ve wanted to do, but haven’t made the time for…or ones that weren’t on my list of things to do, but have been good to do in an effort to de-clutter and simplify my life. I have completed Weeks 1-3 (Days 1-21), but am working on Week 4 (Days 22-28) since I was in Duluth (Minnesota) for several days during this time period.

Here are the actions for the past week…and the final two days of the project:

Day #29 – Find Out What Works – Today fill out the checklist below. Decide if you’re okay or need help in the following areas. It will help you see at a glance what works and what doesn’t in your life. Make a copy of this list and keep it in a place where you will refer to it again (your bulletin board or date book). Add additional categories as they occur to you. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 180-182)

My answers to the questions are in bold typeface to the right.

Closet

Love and wear clothes exclusively Help (would be nice to have a couple of new items for spring and summer and one dress or dress-up outfit since I don’t have one)
Closet organized OK
Accessories managed OK
Stockings/socks OK
Belts OK
Scarves OK
Shoes OK
Jewelry Help (would like to have a way to hang up my earrings, bracelets, and necklaces so I can see them)

Clothing Systems

Dry-cleaning system OK (rarely need to get anything dry-cleaned)
Laundry system Help (need a new washer and dryer since the current one is about 15 years old and on its last leg)
Out of season system Help (organizing winter coats, boots, accessories)
Recycling System OK
Linen closet Help (would like to go through blankets and pillows once more)

Kitchen

Counters cleared Help (Would like more counter space and am debating about keeping the terrariums which take up too much space; and re-locating the cacti and aloe vera plants)
Storage organized Help (still need to go through some cupboards)
Love and Use items exclusively Help (could donate some dishes and other kitchen items)
Meal Planning System OK
Grocery Shopping System Help (want to do a master grocery list that I can check off for the grocery store I go to the most)
Entertaining Menus and Setup OK (I never “entertain” or host parties on a regular basis)

Home Office

Mail Handling OK
Desktop Papers OK
Office Supplies OK
Bill-Paying System OK (but would love to have no bills to pay!)
Filing System OK
  Current (Personal and Homeschool) OK
  Important Documents Help (am working on putting all current statements for bank accounts, insurance, etc. in a 3-ring binder so it’s easy to find)
  Estate planning OK (in safe deposit box and my desk)
  Tax records Help (all are done; just need to put everything together in one spot)
  Home improvement records OK
  Insurances OK
  Archives OK
Stationery and stamps OK
Gift wrapping Help (am trying to get away from gift wrap and use fabric bags and ribbons instead; need to better organize this)
Photos Help (still removing pictures from old non-archival quality albums and putting them in boxes)
Subscriptions OK
Travel files and planning OK (though I wish I was traveling more)

Kids

Kids’ rooms
  Closet Help (still working on both of the girls’ closets – want to make a lower bar to hang Olivia’s clothes on so she can reach them; get rid of a lot of items I don’t need in Olivia’s closet; and finish cleaning Sophia’s closet which also has spare bedding, photo albums, and children’s games)
  Desk OK (helped the girls go through their desks in the fall/winter)
  Storage OK (though it would be nice if Olivia had a bit more storage in her room)
Kids’ papers and mementos OK
Babysitter information current Help (am almost done with this)

House Maintenance

Supplies organized Help (there are some areas in the home that I still want to organize)
Daily Routine Help (if more hours were added to the day I could get everything done)
Weekly Routine Help (if I can’t have more hours…maybe an extra person or two to help)
Seasonal Routine Help (would like to have the proper tools and equipment…and perhaps the extra person and time…to do seasonal jobs and upkeep)

Garage Help (the hobby shed and barn both could use more cleaning – though a major de-cluttering/purging was done in August 2010 and the first week of September 2010)

General

House sitter information current Help (I need to write instructions for the dogs, cats, and horses as well as what needs to be done with the house if I’m gone)

Recycling system for useless stuff OK (have been donating bags of items that are no longer needed and are still in good condition to the local thrift shop.  Whatever isn’t in good condition is either recycled or thrown away.)

Day #30 – Your task for today is to call three friends and ask, “What are some ways you have simplified your life?” (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 183)

I asked this question on Facebook and received the following answers:

The best thing I ever did was let go of being right. (Rod B.)

There is a documentatory that just came out.  I don’t watch Oprah, but she was on when I turned on the t.v. yesterday. She was interviewing a man who is a famous movie director (some of Jim Carey’s films, etc.).  This film is called “I AM.”  He downsized and simplified; and he tells of the happiness he has found. Quoted St. Augustine: “Take what God has given you….take what you need …the rest is for others.”  Love this because materialism is the is at the root of many of our problems today!! (Dorothy P.)

I don’t fold socks. What a waste of time. Some evenings when I know I will be working late, I’ll throw a roast in the crock pot in the morning. Other nights, we will have cereal. Why beat myself up over not spending hours in the kitchen cooking after coming home tired. I also label my bathroom closet shelves. Toothpaste/toothbrushes, Soaps, Lotions, Medical, Cottonballs/Q-Tips, Beauty supplies, Nail polish, Extra makeup, etc… (Brenda M.)

I made a “template” of the grocery store I most often visit, listing items available in each aisle (essentially the same as the signs above each aisle) including specific things I usually buy. I made copies of this and keep it magneted to the side of my fridge so that making grocery lists is quicker and my shopping trip times have been cut in half, I can zip through the store super fast and don’t get distracted by extraneous items. It also makes using coupons easier.  (Kathrine N.)

“I have done laundry, instead of every day, three days a week. I do not like socks either [in reference to Brenda M.’s comment above].” (Annette J-G.) 

What wonderful advice!  I’m so happy that I did this via Facebook versus calling people because the responses are ones that are all things that I need to hear and apply to my life.

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This week I continued working on the 30 Days to Simpler Life project. Each day, Fairy Tale Mama at Enchanted Schoolhouse posts an activity from the book 30 Days to a Simpler Life.  

The projects so far have been ones I’ve wanted to do, but haven’t made the time for…or ones that weren’t on my list of things to do, but have been good to do in an effort to de-clutter and simplify my life. 

Some of the actions for Week #4 are ones that I need more time to do and will do them once homeschooling is done for the school year.  These are all the activities for Week #4 and what I accomplished:

Day #22 – Keep Track of Your Valuables – Today, create a Valuables Binder for art, jewelry, silverware, and collections of anything you value and worry about losing to fire and theft. Detailed instructions follow. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 143)


Here are some of the suggestions (in short) that the authors make for keeping track of your valuables:


1. List them and put the list in a binder.
2. Photograph or videotape your valuables. Date the video.
3. Include the receipts.
4. Put any appraisals or authentication documents in your binder.
5. Store your valuables binder in a safe place.

This is a project that I’m going to have to come back to at a later date.  This involves more work than one day.  I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time now.  Once I wrap up homeschooling for this school year and have a short break, that will be the time I can tackle this project.

Day #23 – Give Vanishing Gifts – Today, tackle your wrapping paper, ribbons, gift bags, and gift tags/cards. Save a few of your favorite rolls of paper, some matching ribbon, and some gift enclosure cards. Give away your extraneous wrapping supplies (give a few rolls to the kids). If you cannot bear to give away beautiful wrapping paper, store the excess out of sight. Simplicity is about using up what you have — and keeping things flowing through your life. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 147)

Over the past couple of years, I have slowly used up wrapping paper and ribbons; and I have very few bows left.  For each birthday and holiday, I’ve been making re-usable gift bags from fabric.  The first year when I make the  bags, it’s a bit labor-intensive.  However, with each subsequent year of use, it’s been a wonderful time saver.

Sophia's Birthday - Fabric Gift Bags
Fabric bags I made for Sophia’s birthday.
Her favorite colors are pink and purple.

I also have made hand-embroidered bags from wool felt and beads.  These are a bit time-consuming to make, but they will last many years.  If they take care of the bags, they will have them when they leave home and start their own families.  Perhaps they can be passed onto their children.

Embroidered Valentine's Day Bags
Hand-embroidered and beaded bags I made
for Valentine’s Day for the girls.

Day #24 – Create Hassle-Free Holidays – Make a list of the holidays you celebrate annually. Besides each entry, write down what each holiday means to you. For example, Thanksgiving may mean organizing a big potluck dinner for friends who don’t have anyplace else to go.
 
Next, make another list of holidays with columns entitled “Joyful Activities” and “Stressful Activities.” Fill in the blanks. For example, a joyful Christmas activity might be “Sending cards,” whereas a stressful activity might be “Finding perfect gifts for household help.” Once the list is made, vow to maximize joy and minimize stress. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 152)

Many of the joyful activities for the holidays centers around food and making food that ties in with the holidays. 

Hearts at an Angle
Homemade candy hearts.
St. Lucia Dinner
St. Lucia dinner.  The girls and I made St. Lucia buns and Swedish meatballs. 
The buns are ones that we have been making for many years now. 
The Swedish meatball recipe was a new one we tried in 2010.

I also find joy in helping the girls with their costumes for Halloween.  Often they want their hair done, so they have their hair up in curlers (the kind they have to wear overnight) or hot rollers; and get the final touch with the curling iron. 

The Girls in Halloween Costumes
All dressed up in 2007 for Halloween. 
Olivia was a fairy and Sophia was a princess.

I’m not one who enjoys huge crowds.  However, the girls had an opportunity to ride horses on the Fourth of July in a small town parade.  Since they were in the parade prep area, there were quieter places to sit which was nice.  There weren’t the crowds in that area…and the view was unobstructed.

Sophia Returning to Parade
Sophia riding in the 4th of July parade in 2010.

One of the ways we celebrate New Year’s Day is by going to a Chinese restaurant.  This tradition was started in the early 1990s in San Francisco where there seemed to be a huge number of Chinese restaurants.  It is continued to this day, and enjoyed by us all. 

The girls dressed up in their Chinese dresses in 2008.  These were purchased in China (where they were adopted from) in 2001 and 2003.  I brought back a variety of dresses in increasingly larger sizes so they could have special dresses to wear each year.

Casey, Sophia, and Olivia on 1-1
Sophia and Olivia with Casey before we headed out to a Chinese restaurant
for the annual New Year’s Day dinner.

As I looked the holidays for the year, I realized that for several of them, we don’t do anything special to celebrate them (e.g., Memorial Day, Labor Day).  It might be nice to find a free activity in the community and do that, or have a picnic or go on a short day-trip to a place that we haven’t gone before. 

For me, things that are stressful center around large crowds and public chaos – big events, parades, and even children’s services at the church where the girls sing.  Maybe I’m just getting old, but I seem to prefer quiet, peaceful gatherings…or ones that I can go to early to avoid crowds. 

At least I know what I find stressful and can try to avoid activities that I know will be too loud or where there are too many people crammed in too tight of an area.

Day #25 – Enjoy Your Photos and Mementos – Today, round up all of your photos and put them in one place. That’s all you have to do. Make a commitment to buy some photo boxes in the near future. With these boxes, you will be able to sort your photos. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 156)

I have started to remove photographs from old photo albums (the kind that are pre-archival quality) and place the photographs in achival-quality boxes. I’ve been working on and off on this project for a couple of months now since I have quite a few albums to go through.

I use to operate a children’s camp and found that I had taken a tremendous amount of photographs of the program.  Some of the photographs were sent to funders, but I kept many of them and put them in albums.  I kept some of the photos that had pictures of the girls, farm animals (sheep, chickens, horses), or were personally meaningful to me. 

As I’m going through the photographs, I’m not keeping all of them.  For some photos, I’m sending them to people (friends and family) who I think may enjoy them.  For example, if their child participated in the camp program, they might enjoy seeing a photo of their child at camp when they were much younger.
 
Day #26 – Pare Down Your Garage – A garage is not a junk bin. It’s an important base of operations, like your kitchen and home office. Today, sort your garage items into categories—tools, paint, gardening, recreational, barbecue, and so on. As you sort, ask yourself:

1. Do I use it—or think I should? If not, toss it.


2. When I want to do a project, is this item ready to use? Am I willing to keep it cleaned and repaired? If not, toss it.


3. Do I have enough space for this and is it well located? If not, toss it or move it.


After you have sorted and tossed, make a list of organizers that will streamline your garage. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 164)

I don’t have a garage, so the closest thing that’s like garage that’s here is the hobby shed and barn.

Egg Hunt - By a White Wooden Door
Outside of the hobby shed.
Back in late-August and early-September 2010, I spent a lot of time cleaning out the shed and getting rid of a lot of items that were no longer good, usuable, or had been damaged by being in a non-temperature-controlled building.

I had been storing clothing for the girls that they could grow into as well as holiday items in the hobby shed.  Unfortunately, some of the things that had been in there for multiple seasons (mostly clothing, some blankets, and pillows) now smelled like mildew which wasn’t good.  Because the smell was so strong, the items now were garbage. 

As the dumpster was slowly filling, it was a very sick feeling to see not only items that were once good that were ruined because of inadequate storage space, but I thought about the money that was wasted that I would never get back.  It was a financial loss…and not a positive impact on the environment by any stretch of the imagination.

When it gets warmer, I plan to re-visit organizing and further de-cluttering the hobby shed.  It is more than a day’s work; and more appropriate to do later in the spring or summer.  At the same time, I will clean out the barn and shed again.  After this round, things should be much better.

Day #27 – Make Landscaping Easier – A successful landscape is one that you thoroughly enjoy and is easy to maintain.  Use plants that require little maintenance.  Ask the nursery for three of the most successful plants in your region.  Make these plants the mainstay of your garden.  (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 169)

Pink Peony
Peony.

I’ve been gradually adding more perennials and wildflowers over the years.  Some have done well, while others haven’t and were a waste of money. 

Bleeding Hearts
Bleeding hearts.

The ones that seem to do the best here are hostas, ferns, siberian irises, lupines, peonies, hydrageneas, bleeding hearts, lilies, and some roses.

Lily in Garden
Lilies.

Day #28 – Get Physical – Make an appointment on your calendar to exercise three to four times a week for an hour, or daily for 30 minutes. This is a manageable amount of time for most people. With a simple routine, you won’t have to think about when to exercise—it’s prescheduled! (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 175)

Now that the weather is better, we can begin riding our bikes again which is fun.  Olivia is still learning how to ride a bike, so I have a modified bike hooked up to mine until she can ride on her own and keep up with Sophia and me. 

Olivia and I on the 1st Ride of the Season
Olivia and me riding our bikes.
Sophia on the 1st Bike Ride of the Season
Sophia riding her bike.

I also typed a physical education chart in which each of us can mark off when we do some form of exercise for the day.  It can be bike riding, working with the horses, taking the dogs for a walk, going on a nature walk, or playing in the backyard.  The key for us is variety and fun more so than an extreme workout.

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This week I continued working on the 30 Days to Simpler Life project. Each day, Fairy Tale Mama at Enchanted Schoolhouse posts an activity from the book 30 Days to a Simpler Life.  

The projects so far have been ones I’ve wanted to do, but haven’t made the time for…or ones that weren’t on my list of things to do, but have been good to do in an effort to de-clutter and simplify my life.  Here are the actions for the past week:

Day #15 – Today seek, sort, and organize the keys to everything in your life—cars, boats, bike locks, gates, sheds, houses, and offices. Purchase key labelers and rings and make duplicates, if needed. Finally, create a place just for keys. Install a rack or board with pegs or nails and label it so missing keys can be identified. This system works well for duplicate and seldom-used keys.

For everyday keys, we have three suggestions: 1) Put a basket by the front door for family members to deposit their keys. 2) Hang a hook inside your entry door. 3) Provide each family member with his own complete set of keys. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 93)

Having hooks for keys was something that I put inside my kitchen cupboard many years ago because I was constantly misplacing keys.  After coming through the mudroom, the kitchen is the next place people enter.  Since keys were often just tossed on the counter, it made sense to have a place to hang them when coming in from outside. 

What I didn’t do was label each key hook which is a good idea.  So, I did that this week.

Key hooks with labels

In this process, I went through all the keys in the kitchen drawer (over a dozen) and tried them on the locks on the doors.  None of the keys matched any of the locks, so I threw them away. No point in keeping them when they don’t open anything.

Day #16 – Declutter your desktop and surrounding counters. Spend at least an hour sorting and tossing. Make your work space the most efficient area in your life. Clutter is especially annoying when it is on your desk or in your office. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 100)

Normally my desk does not look like this.  In the process of cleaning over the past 15 days, I have simply dumped items onto the desk that need action in the short-term.

Desk before cleaning. 
It’s become a dumping ground during the cleaning process. 
(Again…this is not representative of what my desk normally looks like.)

My goal was not simply to clean it and put the items in a pile or file folders.  I wanted to look at each piece of paper and take some form of action on it.  At that point, the paper could then be filed or recycled.  After I was done, my desk looked like this:

My desk…after.

Day #17 – Organize your computer life.  To simplify your computer life, make three piles: pile one, manuals; pile two, floppy discs and CD-ROMs; and pile three, registration materials and bills of sales. Read on to discover how to handle these piles. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 111)

I had some boxes and computer discs on my desk which were just taking space.

Computer disks and program boxes
taking up space on my desk.

In addition to these items, I don’t have a tremendous amount of manuals and registration materials so I was able to place them all in a bin.  The floppy disks and CD-ROMs are all together now. 

Bin with computer disks and programs.

Day #18 – Go for Financial Freedom – To achieve financial freedom, first figure out what you have and then manage it well. Today, collect your documents that are associated with large assets—documents for your car, house, investments, and so on—and put them in one filing cabinet called Assets.

For your house: file your deed, purchase contract, closing papers, title policy, and insurance papers. For your investments: file confirmations, year-end statements, and tax reporting forms. For cars: file ownership papers, registration documents, and insurance papers. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 116)

Rather than follow what was recommended, I am continuing to use the system I have set-up.  All the important papers regarding the house are located in the safe deposit box at the bank (e.g., deed, purchase contract, closing papers, title policy). To me, this is the best place to keep documents that there is only one copy of and that are critically important.  For the home owners insurance policy information, I have a file in my desk.

For investments, I use to put them in my files in my desk.  However, I realized that it might be easier (if anything happened to me) to have everything in a 3-ring binder. When I did filing last month, I shredded all old paperwork and kept only the most recent statements for all investments, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc.

This binder is the second item in my desk drawer (the first item are receipts and paperwork for 2011 income taxes).  In this way, the most critical paperwork is located in an easy-to-find spot.

For the car, everything is in one file folder in my desk. 

Day #19 – Run Fewer Errands – Today, create a box for errands. You can use a great-looking basket, plastic tub, or shopping bag. Whatever works. Keep it by the door and fill it with film to be developed, shoes to be repaired, purchases to be returned, and papers to be taken to the copy center. On errand day, take the box in the car. When you come home, it will be empty. What a feeling! (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 123)

Since I live about 14 miles from the closest town that has the public library, grocery stores, Target, and other stores where I get household items, it is – by necessity – that I’ve grouped errands for the past 15+ years. 

In the kitchen, the washer/dryer unit is built so that there is a space for the top-loading washer to open.  I’ve placed my bag as well as items that needed to be taken for errands there.

Generally, I put items in cloth bags for each location where I need to go (e.g., one bag for books/CDs/DVDs that go to the library; one bag for books that need something photocopied).

My bag plus two bags for errands
(each bag has items that go to different locations).

The mudroom also has a bag for items that are going to be donated.  Whenever someone comes across something that is no longer needed or wanted, or no longer fits, it goes into the donation bag.  When the bag is filled, it goes to Family Pathways (the non-profit thrift shop). 

Day #20 – Be Mindful, Savor Time – Today, practice living in the present—not in fast forward or reverse. Do one mundane job with your full attention. When you pay attention in your daily life, whatever you do becomes transformed.

Step 1. Sit still for a few minutes before beginning the next activity on your To Do list. Focus on your breathing. When you feel calm, centered, and grounded, turn your attention to your task. Next, walk slowly to the site of your task.

Step 2. Now do the job slowly and deliberately. Perform this act as if it were your last.

Step 3. When mental and physical distraction arise, remind yourself to refocus. If the interruption is about something you must do later—such as calling the plumber—write it down and return to your chore. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 131)

I tried doing this a few times during the day, the first time being when I was organizing homeschooling resources.  I was going through my closet and bookshelf in my office to look at the curricula and books that I have for the girls’ education.  My goal is to go through everything before the homeschool conference this month so I know what I have on hand so that I’m purchasing only what I absolutely need for the 2011-2012 school year.

As I was dividing the curricula and books into different categories (e.g., use for next year; sell at upcoming curriculum fair; donate; books to read this year), I found it was easy to do the job slowly and deliberately because I needed to looked at each resource and make a decision. 

Since my mind was focused on the task at hand – and there was a purpose to it – I didn’t find that there were mental distractions.  I did have a few other distractions (e.g., cats exploring what I was working on, Olivia asking what I was doing and expressing interest in starting the Character First! curriculum right away).

Another task that I did that I enjoy, but is mundane in that it is repetitive and doesn’t require much mental concentration, is making window stars.  I had several orders that I needed to complete today.  Since I have made each of the stars that were ordered many times, I found it difficult to “practice living in the present.” 

I kept thinking of things that needed to be done (e.g., call about my parents’ long-term health care insurance, fill out my dad’s V.A. paperwork, do the laundry) or was interrupted with questions from the girls regarding what they were working on (e.g., “How do I reduce this fraction?” “Could you check my long division?” “I need help with the ‘short e’ page?” “What do I do on this page?”).

Spring Rainbow Star
One of the window stars I made today.

Day #21 – – Travel Light in Style – Set up a Travel Center today. Include travel lists, travel documents, travel accessories, frequent flyer information, travel destination files, and books on travel. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 136)

Travel Center:


Put your travel phone numbers (airlines, frequent flyer numbers, passport numbers, etc.) in one place.


Make permanent travel lists for what to pack, thing to do before you leave, house sitter instructions, household operations (e.g. how to run the sprinkler system, the alarm system, etc.), and medical release forms for your children for caregivers.


Put all your travel accessories (e.g. earplugs, eye shades, neck pillows, etc.) in one place.


Make travel folders for frequent flyer miles and trips (i.e. upcoming trip, trips I’ve taken, trips I’d like to take).


Create an area for travel books.

I use to travel a lot more than I do now.  To make things simple, I use one airline and have one frequent flyer number.  In this way, points accumulate on one number and result in free airline tickets quicker rather than flying multiple airlines and spreading miles across different numbers/airlines.

At this point in my life, traveling is a luxury which I wish I could do. I have no trips scheduled requiring air travel or being gone an extended period of time (more than a few days).  Thus, I didn’t want to spend much time with this activity only because there are other things that need my attention at this time. 

However, I do have a file folder filled with magazine clippings of places I would love to travel to someday.  Some of the destinations are within the state, but many are places much further away (domestic and international) that I hope to be able to visit at some point in the future. 

When I was cleaning my office closet, I found some travel books from AAA, but they were outdated and from a trip that I took many years ago.  I recycled them since they were more than a few years old, and I do not plan on returning to that location in the immediate future.

Two books that relate to education and travel.

I did find two books on the bookshelf in my office that related to travel, so these are now together on the shelf.

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Day #8 – Streamline Your Kitchen – Take an hour to go through your pantry. Remove everything you will never never get around to eating—like that candied fruit you received as a gift, that low-sodium soup that tastes awful, and those seasoning envelopes that are five years old. Then toss items with dates that have expired. Update your pantry today. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 50)

I did this project before beginning the 30 Day Vegan Workshop in early March.  For me, it was a multi-hour project since not only did I get rid of items that wouldn’t be eaten or that had expired dates, but I transfered the healthy, remaining items into glass jars and labeled them.  To read more about the process, click HERE.

Day #9 – Organize your recipes! Make a three-ring binder for Favorite Family Recipes and another for Recipes to Try. You will need two binders, two divider sets with tabs, a three-hole punch, and a few clear vinyl sheet protector pages.

Notebook #1. Favorite Family Recipes: Gather all of your recipe cards, recipes from magazines, and your favorite dog-eared recipes in cookbooks. On 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper, photocopy recipes you use frequently. Divide them into hors d’oeuvres, salads, entrees, and desserts. Place them in your notebook. This notebook will contain all those old favorites like Mom’s Apple Crisp and Uncle Charlie’s Chili. It will not contain untried recipes.


Notebook #2. Recipes to Try: Create another binder with dividers and add a top-loading clear sheet protector to each section. Recipes collected from magazines and friends are placed inside the sheet protectors. When you have several odd sizes collected, photocopy them onto 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper, punch, and put into the notebook. After you have tried a recipe from this notebook and know it is a keeper, transfer it to your Favorite Family Recipes notebook. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 55)

I actually have a lot more recipes than what would fit into a reasonable-size binder; and I like using recipe boxes so I can keep my recipes divided by category and then in alphabetical order within the category.  That being said, I had many recipes cards and clipped recipes that I had made over the past couple months that needed to be filed:

My recipe boxes with all recipes I’ve tried
filed in alphabetical order by category.

With the recipes I want to try, I did like the idea of having a binder with top-loading protector sheets.  So, using the same categories that are in my recipe boxes, I created sections within the binder.  Then, I put top-loading sheets in each section and began filling them.

I chose not to glue them onto paper or create “pages” because once I try a recipe, it either will be placed in one of the recipe boxes for making at a future time or it will go in the recycling bin and never be made again.

Above/Before:  Recipes I want to try in a pile next to the binder,
with some recipes already put in the new filing/storage system
Below/After:  The finished binder filled with recipes I want to try.
The recipes are divided into categories and placed in sheet protectors.

Day #10 – Revise Your Living Spaces – Beware of overfurnished, overdecorated living spaces. Create feelings of comfort and serenity by living with less. Today, let go of at least ten knickknacks. There are three categories of knickknacks—meaningful, semimeaningful, and meaningless. Look for ones you have outgrown. If you can’t part with ten, or any at all, put several in a cardboard box and store them out of sight, in an Ambivalence Center. Experience your home with few visual distractions. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 64)

In the fall, I went through the home and did a rather thorough purging of any knickknacks that weren’t enhancing the living space.  There were a few that I found going through this time – ones that I had held onto for no reason in particular except that they “have always been there” – like the candleholder on the piano.  Have I ever used the candleholder on the piano?  Never.  No sense in keeping it.  Perhaps someone else could use it.

Items that are leaving the home.

Easter is next month, and each year I bring out a bin of decorations that I’ve been given, purchased, made, or kept because the girls made them.  This year, I put them in charge of decorating which they loved doing.  In the process, I saw the pieces that were important to them to have out and ones they bypassed and left in the bin. 

Some of the items (like the orange and purplse egg things with feet) they received as gifts (not from me), I received as part of different craft swaps, or we picked up at the secondhand shop.  Since they didn’t see any value in them, there is no point in holding onto them.  So…out they go.

Day #11 – Consider Minimalism- Today, create a minimalist environment in one room. In that room, remove the wall art. (You might put it under your bed temporarily.) Next, remove everything except the lamps from tabletops, dressers, and counters. Most people live in rooms that are overfurnished and overstimulating. In these spaces, we are distracted from the present moment by too many objects from the past. This task will enable you to experience one extremely simplified room. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 69)

The area I picked is the upstairs hallway which doubles as a play area for the girls.  At times, the cupboard ends up being a dropping-off place for things that need to go to various upstairs rooms or downstairs.  As I looked inside the cupboard today, I realized that many of the items could be put elsewhere, thrown, or donated.  It would make a logical place for linens or towels.

I kept the quilted wall hanging on the wall because the walls would be too austere and not something I would want for the long-term.  Having the storage chest and one item on the wall for the entire two-area hallway (I think) fits with the minimalism philosophy.

Day #12 – Simplify Your Mind – Several years ago, we realized that the most cluttered area of our lives was our mind. We saw a direct link between a calm mind and a simple life. Today, you will do a task that teaches you how to clear your mind. First, you’ll need a pen and a piece of paper. Second, think of someone whose behavior makes you grumpy or angry. Anyone. It can be your spouse,child, parent, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor, a company, or the government. Third, fill in the blank in this sentence,

“___________(name of person) should/shouldn’t _________(write down the offensive behavior).” Be petty. The pettier you are, the better this task works. The task continues later. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 74)

Rather than doing this exercise, I wanted to continue with removing things from the home that were no longer needed or wanted.  As this article said about clutter, “Physical clutter in one’s home, office, desktop, basement, garage or cabinets can be more of a mental burden than you might imagine. The physical clutter and disorganization can be a mirror of inner clutter and disorganization instead of that free feeling of simplicity and organization.”

So, I tackled another area of the home.  This time it was several shelves and the floor in one of my office closets.  Here’s a picture of the area I worked on:

Papers and books (four years worth of items)
on three shelves.

The first step was removing all the items from the shelves and floor, and then placing it in grocery bags.  I brought it to the family room so I would have a larger area to work in. 

Bags to sort through.

As I went through the multiple bags of papers, I realized I must have kept almost every evaluation and progress report from the girls’ preschool and special education programs; a variety of artwork and homeschool work they did; magazine clippings that I wanted to reference in the future; children’s books; and items for scrapbooking which I never did or plan to do. 

I ended up recycling 8 grocery bags of paper, and throwing away one bag of non-recyclable items.  This is what I recycled:

The recycling container is almost filled!

I kept one grocery bag that is about three-quarters full.  I will work on filing it within the next week so that everything is placed where it should go.  The nice thing:  I have three open shelves now in the closet!  It’s wonderful!!

Day #13 – Edit Your Projects – Today, examine all of the projects you have not completed. To locate them, look into files, inside drawers, in closets, and under the bed. As they surface, make a list of things you promised yourself, or others, to do. Divide the list into Big Projects and Small Projects. See how many you can come up with in 30 minutes.

Then ask yourself, “Which projects can be jettisoned? Which are a burden? Which ones are totally unrealistic? Which ones am I willing to start today? Finally, drop one project from your life and box up all its paraphernalia. You know what we are talking about — paint sets, knitting needles, unread magazines, and plans for building a dome-shaped doghouse. Finally, place the supplies to be recycled in the trunk of your car. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 81)

I am going to focus on the bag of patterns that I put together while I was doing filing a couple of weeks ago.  Some of the patterns were copies from books while others are actual pattern books.  Since this a more time-consuming project and I need some quiet, uninterrupted time to do this, I am going to take this to the homeschool conference next month when I have three evenings with no responsibilities. 

Day #14 – Combat Information Overload – Go around your house with a shopping bag and fill it with outdated magazines, catalogues, newsletters, newspapers, brochures, and books. Put the magazines and books in the trunk of your car to be taken to the library or your health club. Put the rest in your recycle bin. Finally, make a pile of newsletters and clipped magazine articles that you intend to read immediately. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 86)

Inspired to keep cleaning one of my office closets, I cleaned three more shelves today.  I recycled all old brochures, catalogs, and educational information (e.g., activities for children in early education through 1st grade – which is younger than both my daughters). 

Grouped remaining items (e.g., notebooks all together, file folders together, envelopes together).  This gives me a good idea also about what items I need or do not need as I prepare for the homeschool conference in a couple of weeks.

Here’s the bag filled with items I’m going to recycle:

Another bag out of the home!
What a sense of accomplishment this week!  It’s so nice to have some of these major projects that I’ve been wanting to do, but simply have not had (or made) the time to do them.  Already, having the recipes organized has been better – I was able to find a recipe I needed quickly…and found several ones I could try this week using ingredients I have on hand. 

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Day 1: Today, gather up a bagful of things you no longer love and use. First, find a shopping bag, trash bag, or cardboard box. Next, fill it with giveaways or throwaways from around your house. Gather unwanted stuff from anywhere in your home or garage. Look under sinks, in closets, into drawers, and under the bed. No space is off limits.

Finally, put the stuff into your car’s trunk to be recycled. This task could take 5 minutes to an hour, depending on how decisive you are. Fill as many bags as you can in one hour. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, page 11)

I focused on the cupboard under one of the sinks in the bathroom as well as the top of the bathroom counter for this challenge. 

Above/After:  Cupboard under the bathroom sink after I organized it.
Below/Before:  Piles of products and items I didn’t use. 

There were no items to donate with this challege.  The half of a garbage bag was filled with garbage.

Day 2: Today, dejunk one drawer. If you are like most people, messy drawers abound in your kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. Do the three steps of sorting, recycling, and dealing with ambivalence that are outlined below in “The Mechanics of Simplifying.” These simple steps will help you simplify and organize every area of your life. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 15)

Helped the girls clean their underwear/sock drawers.  We took out all clothing they no longer wore or had an excessive amount of.  Anything in good shape was donated to Family Pathways (1/2 of a trash bag).  Once this step was done, I showed them how to group their clothing by type and fold it.  The drawers looked so much better. 

It was interesting because a couple of days after helping the girls with one drawer, I went into their room and noticed that Sophia had organized all of her drawers.  Olivia is continuing to clean and organize her room. 

Day 3: Create a checklist of questions that will help you decide what to buy and what to forgo. At the very top of the list, write down your major life goals in sound bites.  For example, you might write “get fit”, “travel more”, or “study wildflowers.”  Put your list in your wallet so you can consult it when you go shopping.  When it comes time to purchase something, determine whether your goals and the purchase are harmonious.

My major life goals: 
– raise two daughters who are compassionate, educated, and who want to make a difference in the world;
– be of service to others (people and animals) in need;
– travel (see each of the 50 states and visit all the continents);
– make some sort of impact or difference in the world;
– continue learning about, appreciating, and helping wildlife/nature; and
– continue making and creating crafts/art on as frequent basis as possible (daily, if possible), and share those skills or knowledge with others who are interested.

These are the goals that come to mind at this point in my life.  Of course, I may modify them as I get older and my life changes. 

There were several suggested questions in the book to ask before making a purchase:

Will it enhance my goals?
Will it create more work?
Do I need it?
Is it truly a bargain?
Do I think it will make my life easier?
Do I want it because it’s trendy?
Will it bring my family together or tear us apart?
Do I want it because it will make me feel better?
Will I have trouble getting rid of it in the future?


Day 4: Today is a great day to edit your sheets and pillowcases. First, take all of your sheets out of your linen closet and put them in three piles: the Recycle Pile, the Ambivalent Pile, and the Love and Use Pile. Second, put the Recyclables in your car’s trunk. Third, put the Ambivalent Pile into a lidded box or a bag in another closet so you can practice living without these linens. Finally, return the sheets and pillowcases you use to the linen closet. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 27)

When I cleaned the girls’ closet earlier during the fall, I went through all the sheets and pillowcases.  I ended up donating a couple bags worth of bedding.  At this point, there is one set of sheets/pillowcases for the king bed; one set for the queen bed; and 4 sets for the two twin beds.  There isn’t much excess here, so I hesitate to further donate any sheets or pillowcases.  I think having at least one spare set for each of the girls’ beds is a good idea. 

Day 5: Organize your closet.

Cleaned my closet and wardrobe. In the process, I donated four bags of clothing and threw away one bag of clothes that were not suitable for re-sale. After eliminating these items, I folded and organized items in each clothing bin and thoroughly cleaned the closet. Lots of extra room which is nice.

Before (above): Clothes in bins.
After (below): Fewer clothes that are folded and organized.

Day 6:  “Freeze your wardrobe”, says Allison, an artist living in Boston. At first, we thought she was suggesting we put our clothes in cold storage. A shuddering thought! But she meant, “Don’t buy any new clothes for a specified time period—freeze your wardrobe in its current state (and continue to cull out the clothes you rarely wear). When you feel compelled to buy something new, write it down on a list.” (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 44)

Hanging clothes in my wardrobe after Day 5.
Folded clothes are in the bins (see above). 

 
I like this idea because – despite having a very limited wardrobe – it makes me take a closer look at what I truly need versus what I simply want.  With the transition from winter to spring/summer, my wardrobe becomes even more limited because I don’t wear many of the long-sleeve sweaters and sweatshirts (see picture above).  Ideally, this spring/summer a few new items can be added based on what is missing at this point. 
 
Day 7: Clear your bathroom counter of everything. Then add no more than three items. Good choices are a water glass, a soap dish, and a scented candle.

Next, declutter your bathroom cabinets and drawers. Toss any product in a jar, tube, or bottle that you have not used for six months. Include prescription and over-the-counter drugs, dried up hand cream, and perfume bottles that are so old the insides are dark brown. Bathrooms need not be a haven for half-used, nearly empty, never-to-be-opened containers. (30 Days to a Simpler Life, p. 45)

I still have some work on the linen closet which has the majority of prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines.  I will do this another time when I’m feeling well (I’ve been sick for over half the week).  This is what I was able to accomplish this morning with the bathroom counter:

Before:  There were ten items and
a platter filled with a variety of things on the counter.
After:  The “simpler” version of the bathroom counter with
a soap/lotion holder, platter from Brazil, and
soap dish with a new bar of soap.

If you’d like to do the 30 Day to a Simpler Life challenge, head over to Enchanted Schoolhouse.  The daily challenges are presented each day with inspiring pictures of Fairy Tale Mama’s own journey through the 30 days of tasks.

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