Archive for the ‘Project Simplify’ Category

For Project Simplify’s Hot Spot #5, participants could select a project or area in their home on which they wanted to focus their energy.  For this final challenge, I wanted to go through 3 1/2 shelves on my office bookshelf as well as two shelves in my office closet that had books and curricula that I have used or anticipated using in the future.

Before:  Books and curricula for homeschooling
on my office bookshelf.  They are not organized by subject
on these shelves which makes it challenging to find anything.
I began sorting through the books in my office closet because I had already done some grouping by subject before this school year began.  The top shelf (at my eye level) is history (from ancient civilizations to modern times). 
On the next shelf down, I began putting reading, writing, and poetry on the left side; and science and nature study on the right side. 
The lowest level had physical education, social studies, geography (world and U.S.), character education, sign language, government, art, music, handwriting/penmanship, and math.
Three shelves in my office closet that I was
starting to remove items from and
then group according to subject.

I removed all the books and curricula from the wooden bookshelf and integrated them with the resources on the closet shelving.  Now, the science shelf (for example) has books arranged alphabetically by topic (e.g., bats, birds, frogs, nature journaling).

It was a pleasant surprise to find curricula that I purchased in past years at homeschooling conferences that the girls weren’t quite ready to use yet.  This upcoming year, there are some excellent resources that I can use.

After:  Cookbooks are now on the top two shelves
(depending on the book size).  Also on the second shelf
are books with topics I need/want to reference during the upcoming year.
The third shelf is all related to reading, literature, poetry, and writing.

Conversely, I realized that even though I have the Five in a Row curriculum series, I am missing some of the children’s books that are needed to do the series.  I wrote a list of books I’ll need to purchase, and now can look for them at the used book section of the homeschooling conference.  I have not used the series, but it seems like an excellent fit with Olivia’s learning style and interests. 

Also, I am happy to have the KONOS trio of books together now so I can use them again during the upcoming year.

After – Closet shelves.  Top shelf:  All history.
Middle Shelf: All science.
Third Shelf:  Geography (world and U.S.), social studies,
character education, critical thinking, and math.
Bottom Shelf:  A variety of other subjects
in addition to art and music.

I have never taken as much time as I have this year to prepare for a homeschool conference.  Knowing what resources I have on hand will greatly reduce the amount of money that I spend at this year’s conference.  My goal is to use what I have on hand for the majority of next year’s school year; and only get the curricula needed for the level/grade that Sophia and Olivia are at with each subject.      

Not only am I more organized and know what resources I have available, but I have three grocery bags of books and curricula that I can sell at an upcoming curriculum fair in May, one bag of garbage, and one bag of recycling that are now out of my office. 

After I was done, there was an entire empty shelf on the bookshelf, so I transferred all my cookbooks from the kitchen into my office.  In this way, I gained a shelf in the kitchen where I can transfer food from another cupboard (where the dishes are) to one that is only for food.  Things are starting to come together better now which is so nice!


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The girls continued with the 52 Weeks of Giving challenge by volunteering and doing a variety of different activities. 
First, they brought the newspapers they cut for the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.  The WRC will use the newspapers that are cut to a specific size to line the cages for the orphaned and injured animals that they will start receiving in April.
Sophia and Olivia outside the Wildlife Resource Center with
two bags of cut newspapers.

The girls and one of the WRC staff inside the building.
The walls had interesting pictures of the WRC’s work
with helping animals.
On Sunday, Olivia sang in the children’s choir at church.  Sophia was not feeling well (after being sick for many days), so she was unable to sing at the service.
Olivia in the front row singing (she’s the one to the far right).

Another way the girls helped was at home when the new refrigerator was delivered.  Since the items in the refrigerator could not be unloaded until the last minute, they helped unload all the food as well as clean off the sides and front of the refrigerator that had their artwork and magnets.

Refrigerator before the girls unloaded it.

It was nice to go through each of the items on the counter and only put the food back that we would eat and that was good for us. This effort was part of Project Simplify which was a five-week project that tackled some of the more challenging areas of one’s home.

The new refrigerator in much better shape!

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Hot Spot #4 for Project Simplify’s five-week challenge was focused on the pantry and refrigerator.  Since I did some major cleaning and organizing of the cupboards for the 30 Day Vegan workshop, I chose to focus on the refrigerator for this challenge.

This challenge came at a perfect time.  I had some gift cards that I had been saving, and now could get a new appliance with them.

It was time to get rid of the 12-year old refrigerator that no longer had the bins for fruits and vegetables, the shelf propped up with a knife, and the shelves on the door held on with duct tape.  Although it was still working, it was not an energy-efficient appliance. 

The challenge with finding a new refrigerator is that I have 28″ of space available.  The door leading to the kitchen is only 29″ wide and the space in the kitchen for the refrigerator is 28″ wide.  There are not many refrigerator/freezers out there that are so narrow.  It is quite limiting.  In fact, there was only one model that fit into the space. 

The morning that the refrigerator/freezer was being delivered, I took one last look at the one I used for over 12 years:

Very crowded and disorganized refrigerator.
Notice the missing bins, shelf being held up with a knife,
and the shelves being held with duct tape.
It’s time for a new refrigerator!
The freezer with absolutely no
organizational system.
The freezer shelves in the
old refrigerator/freezer.

I transferred all items from the freezer to the large freezer in the mudroom.  All the magnets, artwork, and photographs came off the sides of the refrigerator.  Some of the business magnets or ones that had seen better days immediately went into the trash.

When the delivery men arrived, I unloaded all the items from the refrigerator.  They set up the refrigerator/freezer and took the old one away. 

As I began putting items into the new refrigerator, I checked all expiration dates to make sure items were still okay to use.  Anything that hadn’t been used in awhile (on the door shelves), I threw away the contents and soaked the bottles to get the labels off. (I reuse the glass bottles to hold homemade dressings and food I buy in bulk at the co-op.  I’m trying to get away from using plastic, but it’s a slow process making that transition.)

I picked some items from the big freezer to put into the new freezer – like juices; butter (dairy free and regular); a variety of frozen vegetables; frozen fruit that the girls and I picked during the summer and froze; a couple packages of meat; and a few containers that have food that can be re-heated (e.g., stuffed peppers). 

Here’s what the refrigerator and freezer look like now:

The new refrigerator/freezer with
only the items that I’m going to use. 

It is so much easier to find things now, and only the items that I’m going to use are in the refrigerator and freezer.  It’s been a few days now since I did this, and it has been wonderful to have a fully-functional and working refrigerator/freezer. 

When I’m making 21 meals a week (breakfast, lunch, and dinner since the girls are homeschooled and we eat all our meals at home…unless we are helping my parents and they want to take us out for lunch), having an appliance that works and is in good order is nice.  It makes meal preparation so much more enjoyable!  Truly, it is simple things like this that make me happy.

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Project Simplify’s Hot Spot #3 was focused on children’s toys and clothes.  Since I’m preparing for the homeschooling conference and trying to assess what the girls have and what would be nice to supplement in terms of educational games and puzzles, I focused on the cabinet in the family room.

What did it look like before?  This:

Disorganized, messy shelf with games, puzzles,
musical instruments, and play-doh.

I removed everything from the shelves and asked the girls if they played with or used the game or puzzle I was holding.  This process resulted in a half-garbage bag filled with games and puzzles that are going to be donated to the local thrift shop. 

For a few of the games that are “too young” for the girls, I kept them aside and put them in one of my office closets just in case younger visitors or relatives come over and they want to play a game with them.  I tend to hold onto the Ravensburger games and puzzles since they meet or exceed all national and international safety testing standards. The games and puzzles are both educational and fun, and are made from high quality materials.

After the shelves were clear, I used Watkins Natural Lemon Furniture Polish with natural olive oil.

I put everything the girls played with back on the shelves, trying to place the puzzles and games that Olivia would use on the lower shelves as well as items that are used  most often.  Here’s what the shelves look now:

Board games, puzzles, and card games are on the lower shelves.
More games, musical instruments, active & “old-fashioned” games, and
needle-felted letters in a basket on the upper shelves.

The needle-felted letters are ones I made in 2008.  They were ones the girls used when they were younger to put the letters of the alphabet in order.  Now, they can use them to spell different words.  Each letter is made from hand-dyed sheep wool.  The base is a cream-color wool from sheep that I raised many years ago.  The size of each letter is 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ – a good size for small hands.

Mosaic of Needlefelted Alphabet ATCs and ACEOs - Tactile Art and Learning for Children
The needle-felted alphabet set I made.

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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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For five weeks, Project Simplify is having weekly challenges that focus on de-cluttering and simplifying one’s home.  Last week, Hot Spot #1 was the wardrobe/closet.  Having completed that challenge, I’ve been enjoying the past week of having a neatly organized wardrobe and closet.  It’s so much more peaceful (and less stressful) each time I open the closet door and pick an item I need to wear.

This week, Hot Spot #2 focused on paper clutter.  As the website said, “Whether it’s your kitchen island, your desk or home office, the junk drawer, or even your kids’ crafting station, we are going to take care of that paper that seems to grow on its own.”

This is an on-going challenge because I homeschool as well as have a small business (Harvest Moon by Hand), so paper clutter can easily pile up before I know it. 

Since it would be too overwhelming to try to  tackle all the paper in one week given other responsibilities and medical/educational appointments this week above homeschooling and Harvest Moon by Hand, I chose to focus only on the papers that I had not filed in my home office (which seems to be the “dumping ground” for papers that need to be looked at, taken action on, or filed). 

Going through my daughters’ past artwork, school work, and crafting supplies will be addressed at another time.

So, the first step was to gather all the loose papers that were sitting in my office that needed to be filed.  I brought these to the family room so I had more space to spread everything out and organize it:

Paper Clutter: Before

Next, I labeled several grocery bags with different categories:  recycle, shred, taxes, recipes, and patterns.  The website also recommended having a “take action” box.  Instead, I used the piano bench to put items that needed immediate action.  Any item placed on the bench went to my desk so I could do what needed to be done with it.

I also had a pencil and some file folders next to me so I could create a folder for anything that needed to be filed.

So, I started with one pile and – sheet by sheet – placed it in the appropriate bag or file.

In Progress:  Bags with paper to be shredded or recycled
in front of paper that need to be put in files.

By the time I was done, I had a full bag of paper to be recycled and about three-quarters of a bag of items that needed shredding. All my receipts and paperwork for taxes is together now, so I can begin working on taxes this weekend.

In Progress: papers to be filed and
a bag filled papers and receipts for taxes.

I have quite a few patterns and recipes that I’m going to organize when I go to the homeschool conference next month. I’ll have a lot of quiet time in the evenings and early morning so I can spend some time getting that organized in a more accessible and easy-to-use manner.

Once I was done, I put all the papers and file folders into my filing system.  I have 11 file drawers in my office (they hold homeschooling resources; personal/family information and records; business records; and taxes). 

After:  Everything that needed to be filed is now filed!

In the process of filing, I pulled some folders that I could use this week for homeschooling.  In some cases, the girls will use the items that are in the files to incorporate in their nature journals, geography books, or to do and discard (e.g., math worksheets). 
This was a multi-hour project, and one that I had a hard time staying focused on doing since it isn’t my favorite activity (though I am always so happy with the results of having everything in its place and organized).  I took frequent breaks to look at an eagle that was sitting on a tree by the driveway. 

Eagle in the tree by the end of the driveway.

It sat there for four hours, and then flew off.  The eagle provided the necessary distraction and motivation to keep going through this process. 

The eagle didn’t move much during the four hours
it sat on the branch.  However, it did lift its talon once.

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I’m doing the 30 Day Vegan workshop, and each week there is a weekly check-in.  Thought I’d do this as a way to keep track of my progress during the workshop. 

Energy and Vitality
I’m tired, but I think that’s from not getting full nights of sleep and from being pulled in too many directions (caregiving, homeschooling, and parenting) as well as some stressful events that happened this week.

Chewing and Digestion
Not noticing anything different with chewing or digestion.

Ran out of hot chocolate which I miss.  The variety of salads and fresh vegetables is crowding out the need for less healthy food.

Broccoli Tomato Salad with Sunflower Seeds

Hair and Skin
I have clear skin this week which is nice.  Also started putting on Watkins night cream and Watkins Rejuvenating Foot Cream (the peppermint kind).  What a difference!  My skin is super soft now.  I think the creams combined with the fact that I’m drinking more water is making an impact. This week, I’m going to fill one of the glass pitchers with water and add some slices of limes, lemons, and oranges in the refrigerator.

Body Shape
Not noticing a difference.  However, when I cleaned out my closet, I did donate some clothes that were too big for me and were essentially shapeless pieces of fabric that were meant to hide one’s body. Figure there’s no point in keeping clothes that don’t make me feel good about myself.

Posture and Breathing
Have been having lots of problems with breathing due to asthma going into the week.  Got new tubing and a mouth piece/medicine holder for my nebulizer.  Have done several treatments and my breathing seems to be a bit better now.  I am still coughing on and off. 

My sister took my mom to the doctor yesterday, and she has pneumonia.  My dad is still coughing, and I’m going to take him to the doctor on Wednesday when I see him next.  Am hoping that I don’t have the same thing they do since I was around my dad earlier in the month when he was coughing…though I did get a pneumonia shot this fall when I got my flu shot.

Mood and Emotions
By mid-week, I was feeling good about cleaning my closet, trying new recipes, and “re-claiming” my life.

On Wednesday, I called 911 for my mom who had fallen.  Based on what my dad was describing, I thought she was dying.  Waited for 25 minutes from a call back from 911.  They got her back up and into bed. 

Good news on Wednesday was that Olivia’s opthamologist said her near-sightedness has improved slightly.  She also doesn’t have to go back to the daily patching program or eye medicine to prevent her lashes from scratching her cornea.

On Thursday, Sophia and I went to the optometrist.  I found out I have the beginning stages of macular degeneration (the dry kind) and Sophia can only see 20″ in front of her face.  A major growth spurt radically changed her vision within the past year.  The optometrist said that her eyes most likely will get worse throughout the remainder of her growing years. 

Sophia’s vision is correctable by glasses which is good.  For me, thankfully, this type of macular degeneration progresses slowly so I will have time to getting use to a gradual decrease of vision loss until only the peripheral vision is left.

So my mood and emotions this week…up and down…at best.  Stressful…to say the least.

Relating to Others
I’m friendly to people at appointments and in public (that’s the same as usual, though).  I did a bit of catching up with emails and correspondence. 

Enjoyed spending time with Sophia and Olivia – homeschooling and doing errands; and seeing them play together.  They were playing “dress up” and creating different costumes for one another.  This is one that Sophia put together for Olivia to wear:

As for going out some place with friends and having fun…I don’t remember the last time I did that.  That’s something that I’d like to do.  Maybe once the weather gets warmer it will be easier to get together with friends.  I hope so.  Some days can feel rather isolating and overwhelming in ways.

Most Nourishing Food
For breakfast, the most nourishing food I ate this week was an English muffin with super chunky honey peanut butter.  Also made a smoothie another day that had three types of fruit, dairy-free yogurt, and orange juice.  Very good! 

Pasta Salad with Mandarin Oranges,
Toasted Sesame Seeds, and Peanuts

For lunch, I made a pasta salad with mandarin oranges, toasted sesame seeds, and peanuts.  The homemade dressing for the salad was delicious and adds a lot of flavor to the salad the longer it is refrigerated. 

For dinner, the girls and I made homemade pizza – including the crust.  Mine had pizza sauce with Italian seasoning that I added, mushrooms (without salt), sun-dried tomatoes, green peppers, and onions.  We may do another pizza dinner soon.

Special Person I Appreciate and Why
My dad is the special person I appreciate.  Although he has Alzheimer’s Disease, he handles his losses with grace.  He tries to the best of his ability.  His love for nature, birds, writing, reading, and spirituality are all important things in my own life.  His influence – and impact – are reflected daily in me.

Dad by Lake Superior
Dad in Grand Marais on a
Trip We Took in September 2010

Biggest Challenge
Lack of time to get everything done that I would like to do.  It seems like there are so many things on my “to do” list, but not enough time in the day.  I do the most important – and critical – things and hope to eventually get to the things that are either equally important and/or things I simply would love to do.

Greatest Accomplishment
Cleaning my closet as part of the Project Simplify challenge was a huge mood-lifter!  It was definitely a way to take care of and focus on myself.  More about the project and what I did is HERE.

Most Fun I Had
On Wednesday, Sophia, Olivia, and I went to Goodwill and River Market Co-op.  I found several beautiful 100% cashmere sweaters at Goodwill that I can use in crafting.  I’ve already felted them and am thinking about what to create from them.  At the co-op, the girls picked out some snack food they wanted and I got the ingredients for making some natural bath and homecare products.

I Got Clear That I Really Want To
Start eating healthy again and continue to simplify my home/life.  It seems like I’m in a reactionary state right now – especially given so many factors I can’t control.  I need to find some areas that I can control (in a healthy way).

Other Thoughts
I re-focused the goal of the 30-Day Vegan workshop to 30-Day Vegetarian/Vegan workshop because that’s a more realistic and long-term goal for me.  I’ve already had to make some major long-term modifications to the way I cook given Sophia’s dairy allergy.  Having a blend of vegetarian and vegan meals each week is attainable and something that the girls and I have easily transitioned to this week.  It’s nice to see how excited they are about eating some of the new healthy recipes and food. 

I had a bouquet of flowers that I divided up into different smaller vases this week.  We’ve been putting them around the house in different spots which has been nice.  Having fresh flowers – the colors and scent – has been such an uplifting thing to look at.
Next Week I Plan To

During the upcoming week, I want to try more recipes and use the menu for the week that I planned on Saturday.  I’m also going to tackle another area for Project Simplify.  Also plan to do the 30 Days to Simplify Your Life that is HERE.
Also want to get my taxes to my accountant; get recommended vitamins and prescription sunglasses for macular degeneration; and start growing some vegetable and herb seeds indoors.  I’d like to have a larger vegetable, fruit, and herb garden this year so we can eat more produce this summer as well as can/preserve it for winter use.

Most important: take time to create something new.  This past week, I made two new window stars that are hanging in my bedroom. Every time I look up and see the pretty colors…and then look over to the base with the pink and lavender flowers…it helps brighten my mood.

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