A Day in the Life {4.24.23}

Lately I’ve been feeling in a little bit of a DIY rut – the world feels a little extra overwhelming and heavy with recent tragic headlines and I haven’t been feeling super motivated to share projects. I decided to scale back on social media and focus more on the smaller things that are within my control – things like being present with my family, taking my kids to the zoo and to drop off food at a free food pantry in our area, speaking to my senator’s staff members about legislation I think is important, etc. It felt good to make small positive differences in the world. And with all that being said, it also felt like a perfect time to document a day in our life and appreciate the everyday moments with our little family.

A few times a year, I like to take a pause from my DIY content to document a day in our life. I treat these like little journal entries – they’re a snapshot into our lives on any given day and it’s always just a perfectly imperfect, ordinary day, blurry photos and all. So here is what our day looked like this past Monday!

April 23, 2023

It was a bit of an unusual weekday morning because I usually choose to wake up before my kids to get things done (it makes such a difference in our days!) Our kids also know to wait until 7:00 am before coming out of their room. But today, I chose to sleep in and well, they did not.

So instead of lots of early morning productivity, I got some 6:40 am snuggles and a whole lot of jumping in my bed! I’ll take it πŸ™‚

We headed downstairs for breakfast. My kids alternate with cereals, waffles, toast, eggs, and today they both wanted cereal.

I made my typical breakfast of two over-easy eggs, some chicken sausage, and half an avocado. I like to sprinkle salt, cracked pepper, and nutritional yeast on top of the eggs for some extra flavor!

After breakfast the kids requested some bubbles, so we had fun chasing, popping, and ninja-chopping them.

Around 8:20, the kids asked for their tablets so I first got them totally ready to go (socks and shoes on, school bags ready) and then I enjoyed quiet time with my devotions and a snuggly dog at my feet.

I had to wake up this sweetie around 8:40 so we could leave for school – he always wakes up so happy and smiley! My strategy when we’re cutting it close is to quick change him and give him his bottle in the car seat while we head to school.

Preschool drop off line! LJ goes four days a week and Vi goes two so today was just a day for him.

Vi asked for my phone to take pictures on the way home, so this is what my van looks like on any typical day. A little dirty, grocery bags on the floor, minion stickers on the seat. This is my minivan mom life, ha!

Ollie Bear wasn’t quite finished with his bottle when we got back home so I enjoyed some snuggles while he finished.

Vi and Ollie and I spent a big chunk of the morning playing in the playroom together. She is so sweet with him and I love watching their little bond grow.

Around 10:30, Ollie went down for his nap and so I started on a load of laundry. Vi really loves anytime she can be a helper and has recently started pulling up her little stepstool to help me put the clothes in the washer.

I got a little bit of work down while Vi played independently and then she asked to play some games. Around 11:15 Ollie woke up from his nap and joined the party.

Vi has a very kind heart and is often willing to defer to whatever other people want to do, so it’s always nice to just give her some time to choose the games we play and really focus on connecting with her.

After picking LJ up from preschool we had some lunch. Today was a random mix of “let’s clean our our fridge” so it’s a smorgasbord.

And for Ollie, avocado πŸ˜‰

Around 2:00 pm Ollie went down for his second nap. Often I can just put him in his crib and he’ll fall asleep on his own but today I soaked up a few extra snuggles!

The big two enjoyed some time on their tablets and I headed to my office to get some work done for my job as a virtual assistant.

Around 3:00 pm the big two and I headed downstairs and I got a quick bike ride in while they played nearby.

After my ride LJ wanted to show my his “workshop” of Lego creations and farm equipment so we played there together for a while.

Headed upstairs to switch over the laundry with Vi and start a second load.

This little guy woke up around 4:45 pm and was all smiles!

LJ and Vi had set up a station on the staircase landing so we played there until Justin came home.

Once Justin got home we headed outside to play. Our neighbor recently loaned us a go kart for our kids and they love taking it for a (slow and cautious haha) ride!

I quick changed while Justin handled dinner for the kids because I had to head off too . . .

. . . a kindergarten parent meeting. How can we already be here!? Feeling all the feels!

I was supposed to have a girls’ night with friends after orientation but it got cancelled due to scheduling conflicts so Justin told me to just head to the basement when I got home to enjoy some time by myself and he would handle bedtime. Don’t have to tell me twice!

When I headed upstairs around 8:50 pm, all the kids were asleep and Justin had folded the laundry. This man is SUCH an incredible husband, father, partner. So thankful for him!

Finished off the day with some reading and dog snuggles. It was a great day!

To see previous Day in the Life posts, you can check out the links below:

November 16, 2018

July 9, 2019

January 14, 2020

March 26, 2020

February 13, 2021

September 13, 2021Β 

June 2, 2022

September 9, 2022

How I Decorate Slowly (and why I do it!)

It’s been five months since I shared my mood board inspiration for leveling up the living room. It’s been four months since I painted the walls white. It’s been two months since we installed the sconces . . . and nothing much has happened since. In terms of speed, this room transformation is practically glacial.

You may or may not have noticed, but I’ve slowed down on the pace of home projects around here lately. This was a choice I made very intentionally for a few reasons, and I can honestly say it’s been such a healthy decision for me and my family. Today I wanted to take a minute to just talk about why I’ve moved to a more sustainable pace and how I approach slowly transforming my home.

One big reason I’ve slowed down is: money. The vast majority of our projects up to this point have been on the smaller scale. I’ve gotten creative with finding ways to transform a space with a small budget: stenciling instead of wallpaper, upgrading thrifted furniture, painting cabinets, painting countertops, etc and we’ve done the large majority of work ourselves. Now we’re looking ahead to hiring out some bigger projects in the next year or two, so we’re quicker to save money and slower to spend on smaller projects.

Another, probably obvious, reason I’ve slowed down lately is due to time. I have three kids, so life is full! I’ve learned I can take advantage of nap time and preschool and yes, their daily allotted screen time to get things done. I can work late at night or wake up early in the morning. I’m good at finding ways to squeeze in projects but also, I don’t want to spend all my time on projects. I’m so aware of how fast these years are going and have been working really hard to strike a healthy balance of life and projects.

A great example happened this past weekend: we had a gloriously empty calendar where nothing was planned for anyone in our family. It was the perfect opportunity to update the kids’ bedroom dresser. It was also the perfect opportunity for some quality family time. We landed on a best-of-both-worlds solution: for our family, we chose a Saturday family adventure day (science museum, lunch, walking to a bakery for a special treat) and Sunday afternoon campfire (popcorn + smores!) together.

For ourselves, Justin played tennis with his friends Saturday morning while I played with the kids, then he took the kids in the evenings and Sunday morning before church so I could have time for the dresser. Saturday night we even had a movie-in-the-basement date night while I waited on the paint stripper to work its magic on the dresser. We both got time away for hobbies that energize us AND we got quality family time and couple time together. True, the dresser could’ve been completed if I buckled down and said no to all the other things, but that’s not healthy for anyone in my family. We’re ALL much happier with a slower project pace and a balance of time together and time on our own things.

The last reason I’m slowing down is hard to describe, but is a mixture of learning contentment and leaving space to figure out how this home can best serve our family. It takes time in a space to discover what it needs. Do I want a gallery wall here or one large piece of art? Do I want a console table here or something with storage? Learning to live with a blank wall or empty space in the meantime has been an exercise in contentment – I don’t truly need anything and I don’t want to buy things just to fill the house, so I’m okay with nothing until I find just what I want. Spending time in spaces helps me hone in on a vision and think through possibilities, and half the fun is in anticipating/dreaming/planning anyways. Just recently I decided that eventually, I’m going to swap the dining room and playroom. Not now, because our current setup is working in this season, but long-term, the switch will make more sense for us. It takes time to let my mind wander and think through these possibilities. In the meantime, I’m learning to be content with my house as is and let me tell you, there’s joy to be found in that contentment too.

So how have I been approaching a slower, more intentional way of working on my home? I’ve been reflecting on this quite a bit lately and here are some of the things that come to mind:

Thrift for Budget-Friendly Items

It’s no secret that I love thrifting. Buying secondhand is sustainable for the environment and easier on the wallet – a win-win in my book. I have had great luck slowly sourcing items over the years, thrifting everything from bigger items like chairs, side tables, and dressers to smaller dΓ©cor pieces like picture frames, planters, and little tchotchkes. Thrifting has allowed me to fill my home with unique items and allows me to try out different things without a big commitment. I can also hold onto items loosely – if it breaks or ends up not working in our home, it’s easier to let go of.

All that being said, thrifting is not a quick, one-click process. It took me months to find a little lamp I loved for my kitchen countertop! I try to carve out time once a week or every-other-week to pop in to a thrift store, whether I have an hour to browse or just ten minutes to glance around (if you’re not sure where to start or how to maximize a quick trip, I wrote a post about making the most of thrifting when I’m limited on time). I’ve been thrifting for items for years and over time, my home is slowly filling with items I truly love. The hunt for items that speak to me takes time and patience, but it’s so rewarding once I find a gem for our home!

Use Placeholder Items to Determine What I really Want

I bought a teal-colored accent chair for the living room in our last home and absolutely loved it there. We moved here with it and it just hasn’t translated the same way. I’ve tried it in multiple rooms and in multiple places and have come to accept it just isn’t going to be a piece I keep long-term in this home. BUT! It has been an excellent placeholder for me while I determine what I do and don’t want.

When it sat in the playroom, it helped me determine I wanted a couch instead of a chair for more seating. When it sat in my office bay window it helped affirm that space worked perfectly for a chair – and I soon thrifted my beloved yellow chair. When it sat against the stairs in our living room, it made us realize that the extra seating was nice but the placement felt odd so we’d have to find the perfect option, otherwise it’s better to have nothing there. When it sat against a small wall in our living room, it helped me determine I really needed something with a smaller profile, leading me to this $5 thrift store chair.

Now it sits in the bay window area of our living room and has confirmed we do want another chair there (just not this one). And with that, I think this chair is ready for its next home. I’m glad we kept it for so long, even when I knew it wasn’t meant for this house, because it helped us figure out what DID work here. Now that we’re filling up with things we love and that work for this house, it’s ready for its next life . . . at my sister’s house! I’ll be sure to visit πŸ˜‰

Shop My House

I love shopping my home to find just the right thing for a space! This is different than a placeholder, because these are all items I use, love, and want to keep in my house. I used to get stuck in a rut with thinking one item had to stay in the place where I first put it, but I realized once I held a looser grip on arrangements, it became so much fun to see the same old items in a new way! If you want to know more about how I do this, I wrote a whole post about shopping my home.

Again, this takes a little time to walk through my home and try to look at items individually and objectively. And then obviously, when I move something to a new place, I might have a blank space where that item used to be for a while. Maybe I’ll thrift a new item for that spot, maybe I’ll find something else in my home, or maybe it will be an empty place for my eyes to rest for a bit. It’s a process!

Live with Less

It’s actually pretty refreshing to have some blank space in my home. For example, my dining room is pretty bare – just a hand-me-down table and chairs and a large blank wall – but there are perks to that. It’s super easy to clean and maintain. My kids love racing around the table and there’s space to do that. We have a nice big floor area beside the table to make messy art projects. The blank slate-like nature of the room also makes it easier to dream of the future possibilities. There’s no clutter distracting my mind and I can just breathe and imagine what it could be . . . while enjoying the freedom that comes with less for now.

I realized that living with less also helped me recognize when an item really speaks to me – if I see it in the store and it feels worth giving up the blank space for, I know it’s a good one!

Enjoy the Imperfect House

I have been craving slowness in other areas of my life and lately I’ve been leaning into leaving space for that. I love to curl up with a blanket and a good book. I love the rhythmic process of baking homemade bread. I love sitting around the table playing the 15th round of Old Maid or Go Fish (my kids are in an era of loving games and it’s so much fun!) Life is happening in this home whether it’s “finished” or not, and I have been savoring the moments I step back from the projects and just enjoy living here.

We live in an era of instant gratification (Streaming services! Same day delivery! Instant downloads!) and I think this impacts home renovations too. You can turn on HGTV and watch an entire home undergo months and months of renovations in the span of 60 minutes. Before-and-after pictures on Instagram can show you a room transformation with just a simple swipe of your finger. We’re used to the process happening quickly, or at least, being shown to us quickly, but that’s not reality. Most transformations happen slowly and I have become much happier with a slower pace.

It also feels worth ending on this clarification: my chosen pace feels slow to me, but may not feel slow to you. Previously, I was going from project to project, finishing one and jumping right in to the next. I was challenging myself to complete entire rooms in a small amount of time and I was working on big projects one after another. My current pace is much slower and is more sustainable for my life and my family; it’s a balance that works for us. What that looks like will be different for every person – maybe one space a year is all you have the capacity and resources to handle and my pace seems unsustainable. Or maybe you have the capacity and resources for one room a month and my pace seems super slow. It’s true what they say: comparison is the thief of joy. I encourage you to find a pace that feels right for YOU and enjoy how that works for your life rather than dwell on anyone else’s.

Now I’m off to keep working on my kids’ dresser – slow and steady, just the way I like it. πŸ™‚

Shifting my “Resolutions” Mindset in 2023

February 20 may feel like a weird time to discuss New Year resolutions, but that’s exactly what we’re doing today. At the beginning of 2023, I chose to just share my goals for my house and not any personal goals because truthfully, I didn’t really have a clear vision for personal goals. It took almost a month for me to settle into 2023 and realize I actually DO have inspiration for goals this year and once the idea struck, motivation and excitement came right away!

My thought process was: January 1 is an arbitrary date, why do we place so much emphasis on THAT date being the start date for goals? Why can’t every month be a start date? In fact…what if I treat every month like it IS a start date?

Enter: monthly goals.

It was easy enough to start. Back in November 2022, I decided I wanted to do the Whole30 plan. I knew my nutrition needed an overhaul; I was snacking so frequently throughout my days and the food choices I was making were not nutritious. On top of that, I wasn’t feeling great. I had low energy and felt tired all the time. I wanted to reset my cravings and introduce more whole foods into my days. I also wanted to enjoy the holidays and seasonal treats, so I planned and prepared to start the Whole30 on January 1. (Side note: this planning and preparation was actually really crucial for my success. I had time to search and plan for meals, make Whole30-compliant swaps in our pantry as we ran out of items, start making some small daily changes early so it didn’t feel like such a dramatic 180 on January 1, etc. It made things much easier!)

I didn’t have any other 2023 plans, just the desire to reset my nutrition and take a step back to better health and feeling like the best version of myself. And about halfway through January, I realized I was ready to REALLY start feeling like myself again.

Let me explain a bit. I am many things in life: a woman, wife, daughter, sister, friend, co-worker, volunteer, DIYer, reader, etc. These are all important parts of who I am. But, very understandably, one role has been dominant over the past six years: mama.

Five years ago – baby LJ in February 2018

It’s been a role I’ve added and one I’ve cherished. I know the value of “AND” though. I am a mother AND I’m still Sarah. I have found such value in purpose in motherhood AND I still enjoy things outside of motherhood. I love the ways in which my life has changed AND I miss some of the old things I don’t have much time or energy for anymore. I will miss the pregnancy/infant stage of life AND I’m looking forward to getting back to my body just being mine.

Pregnant with Vi in June 2019

To elaborate a bit on that point, my body hasn’t quite felt fully my own for years now. I had been pregnant or breastfeeding since February 2017 (with the exception of only 5 months in between Vi and Ollie where I was neither). Don’t get me wrong, I’m so so grateful for all my body has gone through. From our first loss to three pregnancies to two successful breastfeeding journeys to one not-so-successful journey . . . my body has stretched to the max and sustained new life and recovered from three c-sections and breastfed and carried and rocked and held and done so many things. I’m so incredibly grateful for all of this and I do not take it for granted. But I also miss prioritizing it for ME and not just for other people.

My sweet and snuggly Ollie Bear, the caboose to our family ❀

Now that my last breastfeeding journey is done and we are finished having children, 2023 feels like the year to prioritize Sarah. I’m always going to be mama and I wouldn’t change that for anything. But I want to prioritize the “AND ___” part this year.

A date night in October 2021; that small window where I wasn’t pregnant or breastfeeding

I mapped out the year and chose one aspect of health or “getting back to myself” to focus on each month. Some are big goals, some are smaller. I wouldn’t place the same level of importance on them all (mental health > hair for example) but they’re all things that I know will compound into the overall goal of feeling more like myself. My hope is that habits will form in the month and will become routine and low-effort, so they’ll continue long after the month is over. The Whole30 is finished, but my nutrition dramatically shifted in the course of that month and now it’s not difficult to continue to implement better choices and meals. I’m hoping the same for other months!

It feels like a win-win. My kids will get a happier, healthier mama and I will feel better and more like my FULL self.

I was very careful to stick to one aspect each month. I’m still a busy mama and I just know adding too many goals at once is setting myself up for failure. I want to focus on doing ONE thing well at a time. Is it possible that New Year resolutions fail because it’s overwhelming to work on 7 things for an entire year? Maybe. It certainly feels way more manageable and possible to focus on doing one thing for one month! Here’s how I mapped out the year:

January – Nutrition

My goal for this month was to overhaul my nutrition and I’m proud to say Justin and I both successfully completed the Whole30. If you’re not familiar with the Whole30, it’s basically taking out processed foods and focusing on real, nutrient dense whole foods for 30 days. This month worked just as I wanted it to: it was a great way to tackle my cravings and kind of reset my body while learning new habits, meals, and substitutions that I can easily continue indefinitely. Justin and I have several new meals that we are keeping in our regular rotation going forward and we’ve also found some substitutions that we don’t mind making permanent (things like no sugar added bacon, ketchup, dressing, etc. that are just as delicious as their added-sugar counterparts). I have so much more energy and feel great and it’s not been hard to maintain significantly better nutrition (not perfect! Perfection was never the goal) into February.

February – Exercise

This month, I’ve been focused on incorporating more exercise into my days. With each additional child, it’s been harder and harder to prioritize time for this, but now that Ollie is sleeping through the night, I’ve been utilizing early morning hours again. I’m focusing on a mix of cardio and strength-training and am shooting for 5 days of exercise a week. I love the sense of accomplishment in getting my workout done before the kids even wake up and I can definitely notice a difference in my strength, energy levels, and overall feel of my body.

March – Hair

I have always been really low maintenance about my hair, but the past 6 years I’ve lived in messy mom buns. Nothing wrong with that, but also…maybe I can find some super quick and easy alternatives to pull my hair back? Maybe I can start actually using a product or two in my hair? Maybe I can invest in a nourishing hair mask or something to encourage regrowth from all the postpartum hair shedding? I’m never going to spend an hour on my hair each day, but I know there are easy additions I could use to put in some effort here.

April – Skin

I’ve got my first appointment with a dermatologist lined up for April. I’m also planning to focus on the specific skincare products I’m using on my skin and look at what may need to be added/removed/tweaked as my skin ages and changes. As for makeup, I used to care more about wearing it. High school, college, dating, when I was teaching everyday . . . I’ve never been one to wear much, but since the age of about 13, I have almost always at least worn something. Since staying at home all the time, that’s fallen by the wayside and while I get that it doesn’t really matter, it does feel different when I put in a bit of effort. It feels like prioritizing me just for me, does that make sense? Is it the most important thing? No. Do I want to get into an elaborate daily makeup routine? NO! But I can’t deny that hopping on a Zoom meeting for work or going into the grocery store or even just looking in the mirror as I wash my hands feels better when I have at least a quick swipe of mascara on. Even if I’m just upping my effort from “nothing” to “slightly above nothing” it will feel like a return to self of sorts.

May – Sleep

Probably goes without saying, but this month I’ll be focusing on limiting screens before bed, establishing a solid bedtime and nightly routine, maximizing our sleep environment, etc.

June – Mental Health

I think I’m going to keep most details about this month’s plan private, but I will say that I plan to involve both prayer and therapy. Nothing is “wrong” but I think that’s a stigma that needs to be dismantled – therapy is such a kind thing you can do for yourself and it doesn’t mean you’re at a breaking point or something is wrong with you or your life. We focus on the health that people can see (diet and exercise) but the unseen health (mental and spiritual) is just as important for your life. I may try to swap March and June, but so much of starting therapy is going to depend on availability and childcare options and I have many many more options available to me in the summer.

July – Water

This month is both for monitoring/maximizing my water intake and hydration, but also getting in the water. Swimming with my kids, actually getting IN the water instead of watching from the sideline, making memories with my family, etc.

August – Friendship

More phone calls, more snail mail, more coffee dates, just more time and effort connecting with friends near and far.

September – Wardrobe

Did I pick this month because it’s my birthday month? Maybe πŸ˜‰ But if you’ve been around since the beginning of this blog, you know I used to share my daily teaching outfits. I enjoy putting together a cute outfit! My needs have obviously changed and I don’t want or need a big wardrobe these days but I do want some new options that feel good and fit well. Instead of a bunch of trendy fast-fashion items, I care about buying fewer, more versatile pieces that are made to last and particularly want to support clothing companies that use sustainable practices and pay fair, living wages. That often translates to a higher cost for me as the consumer (understandably!) so I haven’t wanted to invest in new clothes during the constant back-and-forth cycle of pregnancy and postpartum. I’ll be 13 months postpartum at this point and I’m hoping I’ll be at a place to be able to think and buy long-term for some wardrobe staples.

October – Financial

Justin and I regularly keep track of our financial goals but I want to set aside a month to really analyze where we’re at with our spending/saving/planning goals for the year and the future. I’d like to set up better systems for goal tracking and preparing for future wants (travel, home renovations, etc) and really spend time looking at maximizing some of our investment options. It also feels like a good month to hone in a plan for holiday spending and what our goals for gifting are. I could see us also using this month as a “no spend” time to reduce extra spending in preparation for the higher-cost months of November and December. We’ll see!

November – Rest

December is crazy busy. I want to be very intentional with carving out time to rest in November to both prepare myself for the craziness and also to train myself to know that rest IS productive. I once read that “good work requires good rest” and I know that’s true. I want to get my mind and body used to having pockets of “off” time so that when December hits, I can hopefully still be able to rest and enjoy.

December – Vitamin D

I feel myself depleting as December goes on. There’s so many fun things happening, but it takes a lot of energy. Days get shorter, activities ramp up. It’s a lot! I have a vitamin D light therapy lamp that a friend gave me last year and I didn’t utilize it well this winter. I know that it would have made a big difference, so my December goal is to use it daily!

I’m feeling so motivated and energized by the thought of each of these months and I’m truly excited to work on these goals. I’m using a habit tracker to keep track of my monthly progress and it’s honestly so satisfying. If you didn’t do resolutions but are wanting to set some personal goals, March 1 is coming up and might just be the perfect time to start. πŸ˜‰

24 At-Home Date Night Ideas

For our very first Valentine’s Day back in 2012, Justin and I went ice skating and then had dinner at . . . Waffle House. He even brought a little fake flower for the table, ha! Our ideal date is casual and fun (and I love breakfast food!) so I found the whole thing to be charming and perfect. It struck just the right balance of making a special memory without trying too hard.

Flash forward 11 (!!) years and our plans for tomorrow are to go to a local breakfast joint and have brunch together (with a six-month-old tagalong!) while the big two kids are in preschool. Not much has changed and yet, SO much has changed.

We don’t really make Valentine’s Day a huge deal because we try to be intentional about dating each other all year long, although what this looks like has changed over the years. As we’ve added kids to our family, we’ve had to adjust the way that we carve out time for one another. Sometimes this looks like getting a babysitter and going out for dinner or a comedy show or something like that, but more often than not it looks like figuring out a way to have a date at home after the kids go to bed.

We’ve been working on our date-night-at-home style for several years now and as much as we love curling up on the couch and watching a movie or show, we also enjoy some variety. I’ve been collecting ideas over the years so I have a list to turn to when we want something different and I thought I’d share it today in case anyone else is looking for different at-home date night ideas. Everyone has different styles (for example: I have absolutely no interest in building a fort in my living room for a date night when I’m also the person who will have to get the room put back together afterwards, but I’m happy for people who want to do that!); these are ideas that sound fun for Justin and my personalities. Feel free to take any ideas from here and make them your own!

A couple disclaimers before the list: I really strongly recommend talking about your expectations in advance. A simple “hey, I’d really like to carve out time for a date at home this week. What night looks best for setting aside an hour or two for focused time together?” can help set the tone that this is important to you. I also recommend setting an expectation about devices – using the TV or a device as part of your date night is fine, but there are also nights where we want it to be device-free. If you want to eliminate the distraction of phones or devices, communicate that in advance! “It’s important to me that we have this time together distraction-free, so can we both commit to keeping our phones off for this hour?” Justin and I haven’t always had the same expectations for what it means to have a date at home and it has helped us so so much to talk about those expectations in advance so we’re not disappointed or frustrated by mismatched standards.

Okay, let’s get to the list!

No Advance Planning + FREE!

1. “Dream” date. I love a super low-key evening where we just dream together about something in the future. Maybe you prefer a tangible thing like creating a physical vision board, maybe it’s a shared Pinterest board, or maybe it’s just talking and bouncing off one another – however you choose to do it, it’s fun to just grab a drink and a fun snack and dream together.

2. Make a Bucket List. A spin-off of the dream date is to actually create a bucket list together. I’m a bit of a nerd and love lists, so I like to go a step farther and categorize: a bucket list for things to do as a family, a separate list for travel/adventure, yet another list for house projects and financial goals. We have a shared Google spreadsheet (told you I’m a bit of a nerd) with things we want to do and their goal timelines; we enjoy seeing progress get made and it’s fun to work toward making them happen.

3. Plan a vacation. You could probably lump this one in with the dream date, but taking it a step farther than dreaming, it’s super fun to actually sit down and plan a vacation together. Justin and I are currently planning a trip for our 10 year anniversary and it’s so exciting to just cozy up on the couch with our laptops and chat about options for flights, lodging, and things to do. We’re taking our time before making any final decisions but we’ve had several nights of talking about options – we’re just about ready to pull the trigger on some flights and then the planning date nights will really take off (no pun intended, ha!)

4. Create a Spotify playlist together. Way back when I was deep in our office renovation, I was working on things in the room and Justin was sitting just outside of it pulling up random songs from our childhood to play. I’m not even sure how it started (maybe he was looking up one song stuck in his head?) but it spiraled into several hours of back-and-forth requests and was SUCH a fun evening of unlocking memories from our youth – “remember this song?” “Oh, what about this one!” “Oh my gosh, can you believe this one is 25 years old!?” We had a blast and determined that 1997 was the greatest year of music, ha! Try creating a playlist together of favorites from childhood or college or some other formative time, or a playlist for an upcoming road trip or just to have on in the background while making dinner together.

5. Learn a dance routine. Sure, you can follow a YouTube tutorial to learn to salsa, waltz, whatever, but I’m also thinking a little more niche here. There are so many songs with specific routines that would be fun to try out – it’s a life goal of mine to learn the Thriller dance! Maybe you’re more a fan of Fancy Like or About Damn Time – there are so many songs, both new and old, out there with specific routines to try out. Which leads me to . . .

6. Try a TikTok or Instagram challenge. TikTok and Instagram are FULL of challenges to try out. Crazy lifts and couple yoga poses will either make you super impressed with your skills or crack up laughing over how terribly the move is going!

7. Take Random Buzzfeed quizzes. Buzzfeed has some hilariously niche quizzes. Which cartoon cat are you? Which Bath and Body Works candle matches your personality? Which of the 4 types of Super Bowl fans are you? What is your distinct movie genre? I mean…the possibilities are endless, super random, and entertaining.

8. Find a list of questions to ask each other. Just googling “questions to ask your spouse/partner” brings up list after list of questions to ask to get to know one another better. I’ve also used “A Year of Us” to spark unique conversations when we just want a simple way to connect.

9. Watch a comedian online. Justin and I are obsessed with Nate Bargatze and have watched all his specials. Netflix, Prime, Hulu – whatever streaming service you use, search for stand up comedy and you’ll find multiple options. Grab some snacks and prepare to laugh together.

10. Good old-fashioned game or puzzle night. We personally love a game night. I blogged about two-person games we enjoy a couple years ago, but you can also search your personal game collection or borrow a new game from a neighbor (or check out your local library – mine loans out games and puzzles!) and get your game faces on. We also love a puzzle while watching TV (maybe pair a puzzle with a stand-up comedian!) and have this puzzle board storage system to keep it away from our kids if we need multiple nights to finish it. You can also try online games and quizzes – we love Sporcle and have had nights where we team up to beat the clock or we sometimes each are on our own device and do the same quiz to see who can get finished quickest.

No Advance Planning + $

11. Candlelit dinner + takeout. A couple weeks ago, my parents had the older two kids for the night. I made dinner for Justin and I and decided on a whim to plate it on our fancy china and light some candles. It was a fun way to elevate our dinner and make it feel a little special, and I feel like it naturally made us take our time and linger longer over the meal. An even easier way to enjoy this is ordering takeout or delivery from your favorite restaurant – then break out the good plates, light some candles, and enjoy!

12. Video game + pizza night. When it was Justin’s turn to plan a date night, he got all his old Guitar Hero stuff out from storage, booted up his old xBox, and we played for hours – video games weren’t my thing growing up but it was so fun to play together! Order some pizza and try a brand new video game, something nostalgic like MarioKart, or an online game if you don’t have your own system.

Advance Planning + $

13. Drink Around the World. Pick a few different regions or countries and make a cocktail they are known for: aperol spritz (Italy), sangria (Spain), pina colada (Puerto Rico), mojito (Cuba), Singapore sling (Singapore), Mai Tai (Hawaii), White Russian (Belgium), the list goes on! It might be fun to each pick a drink or two to make for the other partner and have each other guess what country/region the drink came from.

14. Recipe Roulette. Flip through a cookbook, stop at a random page, and pick something to make together for dinner! My sister and I like to say that all experiences are either a good memory or a good story – an overlooked recipe you’ve never made before might surprise you and become a new favorite or it might become a hilarious memory of the time you made a dinner that was barely edible but so fun to attempt.

15. Create a signature drink. Justin loves experimenting with mixology – it’s fun to try different combinations and see what works and what doesn’t. I love the idea of working together to come up with a signature drink for our date nights!

16. Blind Taste Test. Pick a category (chocolate bars, chips, pop/soda, ice cream, etc) and choose a few different brands to try. Label the back of the package or bottom of the bowl and try them blindfolded to see which one is your true favorite.

17. Date Night in a Box. There are subscription companies out there who curate a date night in a box and deliver it to your doorstep – you fill out a survey and they send you a date night box catered to your preferences. We’ve never tried this so I can’t speak to it personally, but it might be a fun option if you want to be surprised!

18. Wine + Cheese Tasting. Pretty self-explanatory, but this is always a winner in my book. A little charcuterie board + glass of wine can make a night on the couch feel special and intention.

19. Escape Room in a Box. We’ve never done one of these, but we love doing escape rooms in real life and I think this would be a really fun thing to try!

20. To Hunt a Killer Murder Mystery Game. We bought this game for a date night last year and it was really fun to work together to solve the murder. The downfall is you can only play it one time, but the good news is it’s really easy to pack everything up and pass it along to a friend or sell on Marketplace so someone else can enjoy it too!

21. Advanced Lego Set. Justin was obsessed with Legos as a kid and there are so many awesome Lego sets out there now. I think it’d be fun to work together to build a really complex Lego set together someday.

22. Night in Mexico. Have tacos for dinner, make margaritas, and break out Mexican train dominos for a fun little themed date night.

23. Spa Night. This actually falls under the “no advance planning and free” category for me because I have these things on hand, but I put it here in case others don’t. We actually really enjoy getting ready for bed early, then doing face masks and hanging out in our robes while watching a movie or talking. It’s restful and relaxing and fun and yes, my husband, who loves hunting, beer, and sports, also really enjoys these nights. πŸ˜‰

24. DIY Date Night. I gotta end on this one because it’s my personal favorite! Honestly, this does not need to be intimidating – start really small! In fact, I think it’s ideal to start out with projects that can be finished in one single night since a bigger DIY project could make it seem like a chore or too much work if it spirals into multiple days. It’s supposed to be fun so pick something that actually seems fun (so maybe not the time to replace your furnace filters or clean out the gutters). We started with simple shelves for our kids, but you could start even smaller with a can of paint and an old piece of furniture or hardware you want to swap out in your kitchen or bathroom. You don’t need complex tools either – you can do a lot with your basic hammer and screwdrivers when you’re starting out. Put on some music (your curated Spotify playlist perhaps?) and enjoy figuring out something new with your partner. It’s so gratifying to build something or make something beautiful together!

Happy dating!

Five Game-Changers of Our Morning Routine

I have always been a morning person. I love a good morning routine and I love getting a jump on the day. That being said, with three kids aged five and under, you can imagine that our mornings can get a bit chaotic around here. I don’t know about you, but when my morning is rushed, stressful, and chaotic, it can easily mess up my whole day. A couple months ago, I set out to start making some changes to our morning routine to try to make things simpler, less stressful, and more enjoyable. I wanted slower, more peaceful mornings that would set us up for great days! And guess what? It worked!

Today I wanted to share the five things I’ve implemented that have been the game-changers of our mornings. Some were super easy changes to make, others took a bit of time, effort, and trial and error. I know everyone’s mornings look different due to school/work schedules and sleep preferences, but this is what has been working well for our family!

One caveat before I share: Ollie has been sleeping through the night for a few months now. I would not have been able to start making a lot of these changes back in the throes of newborn sleep deprivation – at that stage, we were just in survival mode! These were changes I made once we were all getting good, full nights of sleep.

An Early Wake-Up Time for Me

This is probably obvious, but the biggest positive change to my mornings happened once I could start waking up before my kids to get things going. Usually I shoot for anywhere from 5:45-6:15 am as a wake up time; I had to adjust to a goal bedtime of 9:30-10 pm to still get enough sleep but it was worth it! Sometimes, I try to workout but often I’m down in my office getting a jump on some work tasks (I have a part time work from home job with flexible hours so this is a great time to catch up on things). It’s so nice to be able to just hunker down and focus without the distraction and needs of kids.

That being said, there were many many days where LJ would get up, see my light downstairs, and come down. Sometimes he was downstairs before it was even 6 am! Which brings me to my next change . . .

A Digital Alarm Clock in the Kids’ Room

We have a Hatch sound machine in LJ and Vi’s room that changes colors based on the time. They were supposed to wait until the light turned green to come out of their rooms, but this just never really worked well for my early riser LJ. He would wake up and have no idea how much time was left before the light turned green – is it 5 more minutes? Is it an hour? He would get restless feeling like he had been waiting “a long time” and come out of his room before the green light. It was very frustrating for me because I often lost that important solo time early in the mornings and things generally didn’t go as smoothly when that happened.

A few weeks ago, we moved my digital alarm clock to their room and gave a very basic explanation of how to read the numbers. He is 5 and still can’t tell time BUT he is fully capable of understanding “do not come out of your room until the first number is a 7.” He understands number order so if it’s anything but a 6 or 7 first, he knows there is a lot of time left so he should try to sleep again. Even though he doesn’t fully understand time, this has at least given him a little more understanding of it and since moving the alarm clock, he has stayed in his room every day until 7 am!

Dim Lighting

LJ is out of his room at 7 am sharp and while Vi sometimes sleeps a bit longer, she is usually up by 7:15. I stop my work, we have a few minutes of morning cuddles, and then we get our morning going. I used to turn on all the main overhead lights in the kitchen at this point but now, I am very selective. I turn on the little lamp on my kitchen counter. I turn on the overhead island pendant – it’s on a dimmer and I only turn it about halfway up. I turn on the microwave light above the stove, and sometimes I turn on the light above the sink. Choosing a few smaller lights creates a warm, cozy ambiance and feels like the perfect transition between night and day. It’s like dawn in the kitchen and I love how it allows us to keep a slow feel to our morning.

Protein-Packed, Filling Breakfasts

We used to be an exclusively cereal-eating family, but last year I started making some changes. My kids would eat a bowl of cereal at 7 am and be hungry for a snack by 9 am – to combat this, I started trying to incorporate more filling breakfasts. The kids will still do a bowl of cereal maybe 3x a week, usually with a side of fruit, but other days we’re doing things like protein-packed waffles, sausage, oatmeal, eggs and toast, etc. The snack requests have gone WAY down and as a bonus, we linger a bit more over breakfast and can chat together.

For me personally, I have completely stopped eating cereal for breakfast. Once the kids have their breakfast made, I will make mine. My new go-to is two over-easy eggs topped with salt, cracked pepper, and nutritional yeast, homemade hash browns (Justin makes a huge batch at once and it will last us for days), and half of an avocado. Sometimes I’ll add in a couple pieces of air-fryed bacon or chicken sausage for extra protein. It is delicious and keeps me full until lunchtime. It’s so nice to fuel myself with a solid breakfast and it feels like a treat – usually the kids are done and out of the kitchen by the time I’m sitting down to eat so I have 10 minutes of peace to savor every bite. It feels so good to prioritize myself in this way.

No Screens Until XYZ

I am now very firm with my boundary of no screens until 8 am. The kids both have Amazon Fire Tablets programmed in a way that they can’t even access anything until 8 am (highly recommend!) and the TV is an absolute no. Don’t get me wrong, they bickered, they whined, and they protested, but I have held this boundary and they adjusted. They had gotten used to the anything-goes newborn haze so it took some time to form new habits, but they now know 8 means 8 and rarely even mention screens before that. Sometimes they get so busy playing that it’s well after 8 am before they even realize it!

This boundary gives us from 7 am – 8 am to get ready. The kids eat breakfast and play in the playroom/draw/entertain themselves while I eat mine. They may have screen time starting at 8 am, but they also MUST first be fully dressed, including glasses, all clothing, and socks and shoes. It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and. It must be both 8 am AND they must be fully ready to walk out the door. This has made a huge difference; we are no longer scrambling to find glasses or get shoes on as we run out the door! The kids can enjoy screen time until it’s time to leave, which allows me to have 30-45 minutes (we leave between 8:30-8:45) to get myself changed, get Ollie up, changed, and fed, and get their preschool bags ready. Then when it’s time to head out the door, everyone has everything they need and we can calmly just get in the van.

Of course, there are days where we get out of whack and are still scrambling to get out the door on time, but those are honestly few and far between (and usually, the culprit is that I didn’t do one of these listed things!) Implementing these changes has gone so far in making our mornings feel peaceful and enjoyable and I truly savor this time. Not matter how crazy and hectic the day ends up being, at least our mornings started out right.

The End of my Breastfeeding Journey

On January 15, one very significant era of my life ended: Ollie was given his last bottle of breastmilk.

I breastfed LJ for 13 months and Vi for 22 months. Neither one of them ever needed formula and they rarely had bottles since I didn’t really pump unless I was away from them. I talked about this previously, but Ollie’s needs ended up being much different. I won’t go into all the specifics, but as a newborn, he wasn’t transferring breastmilk directly very well, and after working with a lactation consultant for several weeks, I made the call to move to formula + pumped milk. Ollie was 10 weeks old. My supply has been decreasing ever since and I made peace with that, but it finally dwindled down to nothing this week. I’ve spent 40 months (over three years!!) of my life providing breastmilk for my children and now, that chapter is over.

Almost exactly four years ago, I was writing about my breastfeeding journey with LJ coming to an end. Ollie will be my last baby, and this is the definitive end of my breastfeeding era, so it only felt right to similarly process the end of this journey. Today, I’m sharing my experience with Ollie – from breastfeeding, to combination feeding, to moving to all formula. Honestly, I’m not sure anyone else is interested in reading about this, but for me it was therapeutic to process the end of this era in writing (and I know I’ll appreciate being able to look back on this in years to come) so here we go!

Things I wasn’t expecting

Not to state the obvious, but I wasn’t expecting this to be our journey at all. I had no major issues breastfeeding my first two babies and expected this time to be no different. My milk came in in full force while I was still in the hospital. I used my Haaka in the beginning and quickly amassed extra milk (I’ve always had a great supply). I thought it was going to be smooth sailing again. Then his two-week appointment came and I learned that he was still six ounces under birth weight. I was blindsided. We started doing weighted feeds and I started pumping, only to be shocked again to realize my initally-amazing supply had already adjusted to his lowered demands. That was honestly the most discouraging part for me: had I just known to pump from the beginning, my supply would have stayed up. Instead, I had to work on boosting my supply and building it back up while still breastfeeding AND pumping AND supplementing with formula. It was pretty stressful and I couldn’t keep it up very long, but I do wonder about how things would’ve been different had my supply stayed high from the start.

This experience kind of popped my newborn bubble a little sooner than I wanted. I absolutely LOVED the first two weeks of his life – snuggling just the two of us in the recliner in my bedroom, sun streaming gently through the windows, skin to skin contact, just soaking up the sweetness of his newborn-ness. It was an amazing experience and I will cherish it. After learning about his transfer issues, some of the joy got sucked out of my experience – I felt sad and guilty for not realizing he wasn’t gaining weight, and I was anxious about how to correct our course. I will say, I could feel that the joy was getting sucked out and did NOT want that to be what I remembered, so I worked hard to keep noticing and appreciating the sweet newborn moments too. I’m so glad I didn’t spiral and allow stress and anxiety to make me miss out on everything, but it still put a damper on things.

Things I’m SO glad I did

I’m so glad I worked with a lactation consultant. She was wonderful and supportive and encouraging and empowering. Working with her and doing regular weighted feeds gave me actual data on how he was doing, which in turn helped me make rational decisions about what to do. Thanks to her help, I feel like I did everything in my power to make breastfeeding work, which made it easier for me to let go of when it didn’t. I did what I could, it wasn’t what was working for him, and I feel no shame or lingering guilt over that. [Side note: I felt nothing but complete support from my entire circle. My pediatrician, my husband, my family, my friends – everyone was so supportive and I never felt one single ounce of judgement or shame from anyone about my decision. While I felt confident enough in what I was choosing, it certainly helped that I didn’t have people casting doubts or judgement over my choices and I appreciate that so much.]

I’m so glad I reflected on my experience with LJ and Vi. I think being a third-time mama made me a little calmer about the whole thing – once I got over the initial shock/disappointment/guilt, I could see that I wasn’t doing anything differently this time around. I wasn’t doing anything wrong or failing him or anything like that, he just had different needs than my first two kids, and it really helped to keep that perspective.

I’m so glad I knew my limits. I technically could have done more to try to make breastfeeding work, but it would’ve come at a cost. I have two other children, two dogs, a house to take care of, a husband to be in relationship with, and life I want to enjoy. I wasn’t going to be able to pump around the clock or power pump or completely change my diet or do more than I was already doing without it affecting other areas of my life. I was at the limit for what I could handle with all the things on my plate, and I’m glad I could recognize that and prioritize my own mental health and family life too.

I’m so glad I invested in a new pump. I’ll be honest – I’ve always thought pumping was a drag. But exclusively pumping? I had no idea how much of a drag it could actually be. While I loved my Spectra pump for the occasional pump here or there or when traveling, for day-to-day use, it was cumbersome and inconvenient. We invested in the Elvie pump and it made my life so much easier. I just tucked it in my bra (no need to change to a pumping bra like with the Spectra) and went about my day. Even though I ultimately only used it for about 3.5 months, I’m glad I got it. I’m absolutely positive I wouldn’t have lasted this long with the Spectra, so I’m glad I got to extend the time I provided breastmilk.

Things that were challenging

Did I mention pumping is a drag? Ha! While I’m still so thankful I used the Elvie, I never truly enjoyed pumping.

All. The. Dishes. Between pump parts and bottles, pumping creates a lot of extra work and it often felt like I was living in a groundhog day of constant dishes. I’m so glad someone gave me the advice to keep pump parts in the fridge in between pumps to at least eliminate some dishes during the day, but it still is a lot of work.

Using formula requires a lot more mental energy than breastfeeding did. Before leaving the house, we have to make sure we have filtered water, a container of formula, a clean bottle, etc. It’s not always easy to measure out formula and make bottles depending on where we are. It’s just – again – more work than whipping out a nursing cover and feeding him whenever and wherever he needs with no other supplies.

I never fully appreciated how breastmilk is free (I mean, there is an unpaid labor + mental load cost, but you know what I mean) until I had to start buying formula. To say I had sticker shock is an understatement, especially as time went on and I provided less and less breastmilk and we went through formula quicker.

Things I’ve enjoyed

With LJ and Vi, I was basically the sole provider of food. With the exception of a few bottles here and there, I was involved in every. single. feed. Now, Justin and I share the load equally. We can each give bottles, we can each prepare the diaper bag, we can each wash the dishes. It’s the most involved he’s been with feeding at this stage, which has been really sweet to see, and it’s nice that I can have some breaks. The kids even occasionally help give a bottle – melt my heart! It’s also been easier for grandparents to be involved and babysit.

With breastfeeding, I often had to leave to find comfortable surroundings, especially if we were away from home. This often meant leaving the table, leaving the group, leaving the conversations, and missing out on whatever was going on in order to comfortably breastfeed somewhere else. There were times it felt isolating. With bottles, I can feed wherever and don’t have to miss out on anything, which has been really great.

I’ve still enjoyed feeding and snuggles. I still get to bond with this baby. Formula and bottles hasn’t changed that.

I’m proud of the fact that I did what I could for Ollie for five months, and I’m proud of myself for recognizing that it’s time to close this door and move to exclusive formula. I’ve been breastfeeding or pregnant for the better part of SIX YEARS now and it will never cease to amaze me what bodies can do. Leaving this chapter behind is bittersweet, but I think it was always going to be that way. I leave it behind with tears in my eyes, but they aren’t tears of guilt or sorrow. They are tears of gratitude – it’s been a joyful, challenging, sweet, empowering, exhausting, and ultimately beautiful journey and I’m so extremely grateful for it. They all took different approaches to feeding, but I have three happy, healthy, thriving children and that is all that truly matters to me.

A Day in the . . . Thrift Store!

I’ve done several “day in the life” posts in the past that have covered an ordinary day in our house, but today’s post is a look at a completely different area of my life. I enjoy decorating our house (probably pretty obvious by now, ha!) and one of my favorite places to look for things is a thrift store.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of things in my home from places like Target too, but there is something I just love about hunting through a thrift store. You have to sometimes sort through a lot of stuff to find a gem, but I have found some seriously awesome, unique, good quality items when thrifting. It’s also a sustainable and relatively inexpensive way to shop – better for the planet and your wallet! I’ve come to have my favorite thrift stores where I often find good scores and those are now the ones I stop in most frequently. I particularly like the one in my parents’ hometown, so when I was visiting last week I stopped in to browse around. I thought it would be fun to take you along with me to see the types of things I considered, including what I passed on and what I ultimately bought. So today we have – a day in the life of Sarah at a thrift store! 😊

Planter: Passed

I’m always on the hunt for containers to hold my growing plant collection, but I’m pretty particular with what I pick up these days. It has to be a definite YES, not just a “yeah okay, this will work” – this planter was cute, but not quite a strong enough yes for me, so I passed it up.

Fabric: Bought

I really enjoyed wrapping Christmas presents in fabric this year and want to continue doing that in the future. I was able to save many of the fabric scraps I used but my niece also kept several pieces to use in her sewing lessons (I love that!) I found a plaid print that would be perfect for Christmas presents!

I also snagged this sweet floral print for $1 – it would be a fun option for wrapping gifts but I’m also thinking it would make for a cute throw pillow cover.

Fabric Ribbon: Bought

I also snagged a couple rolls of fabric that had been made into ribbon. Such an easy way to elevate a gift and I love that it gives new life to fabric scraps!

Wrapping Paper: Bought

While wrapping in fabric is cute and sustainable, there are still situations where I know I’ll want traditional paper. I dug through the gift wrap section and snagged two new rolls for $1 each – one fun sprinkle print and one plain brown paper. I like that these are both gender-neutral and can be used for a variety of events!

Books: Some Passed, Some Bought

It can take a lot of time to sort through books, but when I take the time to do it, I usually find at least one book to take home! On this trip I found three I’ve been wanting to read: The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth, Someone We Know by Shari Lapena, and The Bodyguard by Katherine Center. Sometimes I’ll also choose books that I’ve never heard of but seem intriguing and occasionally I’ll find a book I’ve already read and loved and buy to add to my collection.

On this day, the only book I found that I’ve read before was The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle and since that isn’t a huge favorite of mine, I decided to pass.

Baskets: Passed

Baskets are another category I always check out – I love using them for functional decor! There were many baskets available, and one I considered, but ultimately none that I needed or had an immediate place for.

Copper Mug: Passed

This little mug was so cute, but I don’t think I’d use it much and since it’s not part of a set, it would likely just sit on my shelf.

Green Vintage Glass Bowl: Passed

I’m becoming pretty particular with tchotchkes because I don’t want a bunch of clutter, but I’m always looking through the decor sections for fun and unique pieces. While I loved the look of this green glass bowl, I couldn’t really think of a place to put it or a use for it so I decided to just appreciate it for a few moments and then move on.

Pink Vintage Glass Stemmed Dish: Bought

My heart stopped when I spotted this piece. It’s so pretty and unique! It’s the most expensive thing I bought on this trip ($8) but felt 100% worth it. I love the vintage glass charm mixed with the sweet pink color and will enjoy pulling this out to elevate a table spread for holidays, evenings with friends, or anytime I just want a little something extra. I also love the idea of having a some sort of “fancy” party with Vi and her friends in the future – maybe a little tea party or princess luncheon or something like that! I picture 6 or 7 year old girls in dress up dresses having cute little snacks on sweet little china pieces and just feeling fancy and fun. This would be the perfect type of thing to have set out on the table holding pretzels or candy or another fun treat!

Vintage China: Passed

In this hypothetical future party for Vi, these type of china dishes are exactly what I picture using – I don’t need a whole set, just a few plates to make it feel special. I was very tempted by this set of 5 plate for $3, but ultimately passed because a) Vi may not actually be interested in having this kind of party in a few years, b) it’s a long time to store plates that may or may not get used, and c) there are ALWAYS vintage china pieces for sale in thrift stores. If this party happens someday, we’ll be able to find something similar (wheras I will likely not be able to find something similar to the pink glass container!)

Frame: Bought

Similarly to baskets and planters, I’m always on the hunt for frames! I choose based on size and style but don’t worry about color since I often spray paint them. On this particular trip I snagged a small 5×7 frame for 50 cents that I plan to spray paint and use to expand a gallery wall.

Rugs: Passed

I really loved these rugs made from fabric scraps! A group of volunteers makes these for the thrift store using scraps from donations they receive and I think it’s such a brilliant, sustainable way to give new life to old demin and other fabric. I was tempted by the yellow and white striped one, but don’t have a place for it right now. In the future, if I need a rug for a doormat, I’ll look here first.

Furniture: Passed

I don’t have a need for any furniture right now, but I was surprisingly tempted by these two pieces. I’m actually super into the colors used and the floral pattern. They’re not a set but the individual pieces work so well together and I found myself wishing I had a spot for them. It was fun to be inspired!

Washable Paint: Bought

My kids do not need any more toys, but I saw this box of (new!) washable paint in the kids’ section and couldn’t pass it up. My kids love using these paints for art projects so I was thrilled to get another box for when our current supply runs out.

And that was my trip! I spent a total of $28.42 which felt like a pretty good deal to me. Hopefully this inspired you to give secondhand shopping a try – you might just be surprised by what you can find!

Ten Simple, Inexpensive Ways to Freshen Up Your Home

All my Christmas decorations are down and my house feels ready for a fresh start – all I want to do is clean, purge, organize, and just freshen things up around here! What I do not want to do is spend a lot of money.

The Christmas season is so fun, but it can get expensive. Gifts, food, travel, experiences, holiday cards . . . it all adds up and January feels like a time I not only want to reset my home, but reset my budget. I’ve been thinking about ways to give my house a little refresh without spending money (or at least spending very little) and I came up with ten things to do. These things are either free or low-cost and I thought I’d share them today in case you’re also looking for easy, inexpensive ways to give your home a little refresh.

These ten things are what I’m doing now to refresh my home for the new year, but they can all be done at any time throughout the year!

Add in Seasonal Greenery

Faux seasonal greenery can be purchased from a variety of stores and there are items out there for lots of different budgets, but the most budget-friendly option is: head outside! This is obviously a bit easier in the summer, when there are abundant types of tree, bush, or flowering plants to collect from, but it’s still possible in the fall and winter. For example, you can snip a few branches from an evergreen tree or winter berry tree or collect pinecones to display in a bowl. If you plan ahead a bit, you can dry some flowers or leaves to use too. I dried hydrangeas from our yard last year and they looked great all winter long! I’m currently loving the look of dried fern stems in our bedroom and also kept an unlit, potted evergreen tree on display instead of packing it up with the rest of my holiday decor (when you subtract lights and ornaments, it feels wintery instead of Christmas-y!)

Clean Out Your Fridge

Since we were going to Virginia for a week over Christmas, I purposely tried to get our fridge stash super low so food wouldn’t just spoil when we were gone (although it wasn’t as empty as that first picture – I had already started taking things out to wipe down!) This ended up being a great time to just clear out all the remaining items and give every shelf and drawer a good wipe down. Pull everything out of your fridge, wipe down all shelves, drawers and items (whyyyyy does my ketchup bottle always get so sticky and gross?) and check dates before you put things back in. It’s so satisfying to open my fridge now and know it’s clean and nothing is expired. Also, I know I’m not the only one who gets on a health kick for the new year . . . here’s hoping my fridge still contains this many vegetables in August, ha!

Change Up Your Textiles

Swapping out bedding is such an easy way to freshen up the whole feel of your room. I love cotton and linen in the spring and summer, but once temperatures drop, I’m a flannel girl. I usually choose simple, graphic patterns so they’re easy to mix and match in different seasons and spaces. Adding wool or knit blankets to beds or couches in the winter feels so cozy too – I expect to use this vintage pink-and-cream checked wool blanket all over my house this winter! If you don’t have extra sheets on hand to swap out and don’t want to buy a whole new set, you can separately purchase pillowcases that coordinate with your existing bedding for a fresh, mix-and-match feel.

And speaking of textiles . . .

Launder Infrequent Items

You likely wash your sheets regularly, but what about your duvet cover, quilt, or comforter? What about throw pillow covers or the blanket that hangs out on the couch? Maybe it’s just me, but I recently realized there are a lot of textiles in my home that rarely get cleaned! The last time I did laundry, I was pulling things out of my hamper, which has a cloth liner. I noticed that the bottom of the liner was looking super dingy and realized I hadn’t washed it in . . . ever? I tossed it in with the load of laundry and it looks so fresh and clean now! It’s a little thing that makes a big difference. My goal this week is to go through our house and wash all the textiles I can find – all bedding, removable throw pillow covers, blankets, hot pads, oven mitts, small accent rugs, etc. – to give everything a fresh start.

Clean Out a Drawer or Cabinet

It can feel daunting to declutter, so keep it small and manageable and start with just one drawer or cabinet. Take everything out, wipe it down, and only put back in what you need (bonus points if you can add some method of organization to keep it this way and even more bonus points if you can donate any item still in good condition so someone else can use it!) It’s amazing to me how empowering it can feel to get a small space in order – it will make your house feel more streamlined, functional, and fresh! It also just might motivate you to tackle another drawer, cabinet, closet, or room. πŸ™‚

Test all your Writing Utensils

How frustrating is it to be searching for a writing utensil to jot something down quickly, only to find a broken pencil tip or pen with dried out ink? This is a great time to go through your house with a little notepad and sharpener and test every writing utensil. Sharpen dulled pencils and toss pens that don’t work anymore. It’s an easy task that will eliminate the inconvenience of reaching for something that doesn’t work, and it can also help you corral pens and pencils that have made their way to random spots around your house, making it feel so fresh and organized.

Rearrange!

When your eyes are used to seeing the same thing in the same spot everyday, it’s easy to not even really notice it anymore. You know when you take the same drive every day and then one day you suddenly realize “whoa, I’ve never noticed that house/barn/unusual thing before!” It’s been there, but you’ve just driven by the same thing day after day and haven’t really registered it. The same is true in your house. We get used to a certain arrangement and we stop really even noticing what we have. One of my favorite free ways to freshen up my home is to shop my own stuff and rearrange – it creates a fresh feel but also a renewed appreciation for what I already had! This can be as big as rearranging furniture, either within the room or moving something to a different room, or as small as just moving a piece of artwork or a plant from one spot to another. Try not to get stuck on things “but this is the blanket I’ve always kept on this chair in my living room” – it might look fantastic on your bed too! Trust me, even if you’ve had the artwork/decor/piece of furniture for years, it can feel fresh and new just by moving to a new location in your home.

Incorporate Seasonal Art

I love original art and will always encourage supporting and purchasing from artists if and when you can, but it’s also nice to find inexpensive ways to add quality art to your home. I’ve recently been introduced to an extremely cost-effective way to add some art to your home: the public domain!

Did you know there are millions of pieces of artwork in the public domain? Generally speaking, art becomes public domain 70 years after the death of the artist; what this means is the artwork becomes free of copyright restrictions. Museums like the Met and Smithsonian release it into the public domain and it’s free for you to use and reproduce without permission (I would include the caveat that it’s still important to credit the original artist every time!) The plus side of using public domain artwork over a digital download from a print shop is that it is completely free to download the image, but in exchange, you are giving up the curation that print shops provide. It’s daunting to sift through millions of images! I was thrilled to discover that A Home is Announced has a free curated public domain shop – she has taken the time to curate some beautiful public domain work that you can sift through and download what you like. It’s a great place to start when first exploring public domain art!

I searched through her shop and found five different pieces of artwork that felt like “winter” to me. I downloaded them (for free!) and had them printed at my local FedEx print shop on a matte cardstock for less than $2.50 per print. I put them in various frames I’ve thrifted over the years (anywhere from $1-$3 typically) and voila! Beautiful seasonal artwork for about $5 a piece, and it will be easy to swap out a different print in the frame if I want a change in another season.

Wipe down switch plates, door handles, and wall scuffs

Okay this isn’t an exciting one, but it can make a big difference! These high-contact surfaces get dingy over time and it often happens so gradually that we don’t notice it. Walk around with a multipurpose cleaner and cloth for the knobs and switches and a Magic Eraser for the wall scuffs and see what a big difference it can make!

Swap out scents

This one might be obvious, but changing up the scents in your home is a simple way to make your home feel fresh. Whether you use a candle or diffuser – scent is powerful and can make a big difference!

It might seem like these are all little things that won’t make much difference, but I’m a firm believer that refreshing the way your home feels can affect the way you and your family feel, and that is no small thing! I’ve already done a few things on this list over the past few days, and I will be checking off the remining items in the coming week or so. My home already feels so much better for me and my family, and I hope these ideas do the same for you and yours.

Our Transition from 2 to 3 Kids

We’ve been a family of five for four months now and it’s hard to even remember back to life before Ollie. Our life, house, and hearts are fuller and happier than ever! As we’re now out of the newborn haze and settling into more of a routine, I thought it’d be a good time to check in and talk about our transition from two to three children. Today I’m sharing an honest look at how things have been going, and I included some questions I was asked on Instagram last week when I brought up this transition. Full disclosure, it’s a LONG post – maybe the longest I’ve ever had? – so grab a warm drink and a cozy blanket and settle on in. πŸ™‚

How have the big kids adjusted to having another baby in the house?

They have both been beyond-my-wildest-dreams wonderful with a baby! I was bracing myself for jealously, tantrums, and regressions, particularly with Vi. She has always been my shadow and a big mama’s girl and I worried that a baby taking my attention would cause her to revert back to more babyish behavior, but thankfully that never happened. For both big kids, meeting their baby brother was literally love at first sight.

They were both smitten with their little brother and wanted to hold him all the time at first. We had to constantly remind them not to get in his face, only kiss his hands or his feet, give him some space – they were just smothering him with their love! It was very sweet to see how purely they bonded from the start.

I kind of expected the novelty to wear off and apathy (or a delayed jealousy) to set in eventually, but it hasn’t happened yet. They are patient and understanding when I need to be focusing my attention on him. They’re not as obsessed with holding him these days, but they still greet him every morning, kiss him good night, want to see him, be near him, watch him, and sing to him (melt. my. heart!)

Now that he’s more interactive, they like giving him baby toys to see if he’ll grasp them and they love trying to make him smile and laugh by doing silly things in front of him. I’m incredibly grateful that this part of the transition has been smooth sailing.

What has been harder than expected? What has been easier?

Justin and I obviously anticipated being outnumbered, but we didn’t really think about how being outnumbered translates to very little downtime. Previously, we were pros at the divide-and-conquer method: we’d each take a child and address their needs or just spend time with them one-on-one. We could also give each other breaks since one of us could take both kids to do something and the other would have time to themselves. Nowadays, the divide and conquer still happens but there’s not usually an “off” parent. A big example of this is bedtime; we previously took turns doing bedtime. Since LJ and Vi share a room, only one of us was needed for brushing teeth, reading books, and tucking in, so the other would get the night off. Now, we’re both doing bedtime every night – one of us has Ollie and the other has the big two.

When we do get “off” time to ourselves, we can feel kind of guilty or have a hard time truly enjoying the time because we know the other one has all three at once. Justin went hunting for a few days this fall; it’s a passion of his that I wanted him to enjoy AND it was really hard for me to be the “on” parent to three kids for all those extra hours. Justin gives me time to myself to read a book or go get a pedicure with a friend; he knows I need the mental break and is happy to give it to me AND it’s hard for him to take on all three after a long, exhausting day at work. We both truly want to give the other one the space and time we each need to recharge AND it’s just hard to take on extra hours with three kids. I will say, it’s getting a little easier with time so hopefully this is an area that keeps improving for us!

As for easier than expected, it’s been surprising to me to see how much I enjoy what I now call “me+three” outings. Starting when Ollie was five weeks old, I often take all three kids somewhere on Fridays – a playground or the zoo for example – and we have a little adventure. Somehow, these excursions have been way easier than I expected, and I think it’s for two reasons. One, I PREPARE. I take lots of snacks, full water bottles, and choose family-friendly locations where my kids can run and jump and get energy out (the grocery store is still decidedly NOT a fun place to take all three kids by myself). I choose times of day when we’re not yet tired and cranky and I go without a time limit – if we stay 30 minutes, it’s a win. If we stay 3 hours, it’s a win. It other words, it’s high-prep, but low pressure.

The second reason it’s easier than expected is because honestly, I have grown a lot as a mom over the past five years. I’m more confident and calm in most situations and am willing and able to just roll with most things these days. I also feel like I set myself up to say YES in these excursions and actually enjoy taking along a little picnic or staying at the stingray exhibit for 20 minutes. I’m proud of the growth I’ve seen in myself as a mom!

How is everyone’s sleep going?

It’s always a little hard to say this when you know other people are having rough times with sleep, but Ollie has been my absolute best sleeper. He was sleeping long stretches of 3-4 hours at just a week old and was fairly consistently sleeping through the night before he turned a month old. I did nothing significantly different with him, it’s just how he’s been. I realize we’re incredibly lucky and as I remember the first weeks with baby Vi cluster feeding round the clock every 60-90 minutes, I do not take that for granted.

Knowing he’s my last baby, I kept him in the bassinet in our room a little longer than I did with the other two, but at 10 weeks we moved him over to the crib in his nursery and the transition was smooth. If he does wake up, it’s usually just because he wants his pacifier popped back in although we do occasionally have to get up and feed him sometime between 3-5 am. For the most part, he sleeps from about 7 pm – 8 am. Hallelujah.

Now naps are a different story. With my first two kids, I could count on 3 regular naps that lasted over an hour each but Ollie mostly just cat naps. Fifteen minutes here, 20 minutes there, sometimes a randomly long hour nap, but nothing is regular. Part of that is we’re on the move a lot more and not home to put him down consistently so I think he’s never really had the chance to settle into a daytime sleep schedule. Luckily, he’s very adaptable and will take good naps in the car seat as we drive around or when pushed in the stroller so I count that as a win.

I also can’t talk about sleep without mentioning the older two and…woof. They’ve started having some nightmares and as the way lighter sleeper of the two of us, Justin is getting up with one or both of them nearly every night (and usually multiple times a night). I’m really hoping this improves soon!

Logistically, how do you travel? How is your vehicle arranged?

We have a van and we put the two big kids in the back seat and the infant car seat directly behind the driver. We collapsed the bucket seat on the passenger side down into the floor which is SO helpful for the kids getting in and out of the van and for me crawling in to help them get buckled. We actually have a road trip planned to Virginia in a couple weeks, which will be our first significant trip with all three so I’ll have to report back with how long travel goes!

Are you breastfeeding? How do you juggle the time commitment of feeding with the demands of other kids?

Our feeding journey has been a bit of a roller coaster actually. I breastfed my first two kids without issue (LJ for 13 months, Vi for 22 months) and expected to do the same this time. My milk came in right away and I had a great supply. I was confident and went along on my merry way.

I actually loved the first few weeks with a newborn at home. There was always another adult around so I would savor the time just him and me alone upstairs rocking and nursing and cuddling. Some of my sweetest memories!

At his two week check-up, we realized that something wasn’t right. He was still six ounces under birth weight. I was given the instructions to start pumping and supplementing with more milk to help him gain weight. I started working with a lactation consultant doing weighted feeds and we realized he was only transferring about an ounce total per feed AND my body had already adjusted to this lack of demand: my supply had gone way down. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it was extremely frustrating to know that my supply had come in strong initially and had I just known to pump a bit from the beginning, I could’ve kept it up to where it needed to be. Instead, I was trying to breastfeed AND them pump AND work to try and build up my supply with extra hydration, lactation cookies, supplement drinks, etc.

I quickly went through the small stash of breastmilk I had accumulated as well as a stash a friend with an oversupply generously shared. I researched formulas and chose one to use in addition to breastmilk. At one point, I was breastfeeding, pumping, feeding him what I pumped, and giving formula to make up any deficit. It was exhausting and a little defeating because the truth is, Ollie just didn’t do well with breastfeeding. I worked with a lactation consultant for about eight weeks and gave it my best, but when things were only marginally improved (and the improvement had plateaued) by ten weeks, I made the decision to give up nursing. Everyone – my family, my lactation consultant, our pediatrician – was so supportive of this and I appreciate that not one person ever made me feel even slightly guilty about this. I was confident in my decision, but it did really help that there weren’t negative opinions being thrown at me.

Honestly, I thought this would be harder for me but I think because I had two good experiences breastfeeding my other babies, I know this isn’t something I did wrong. It’s just one of those things that didn’t work out for him and I was truly at peace giving it up at 10 weeks. I still continue to pump 2-3 times a day just to give him a bit of breastmilk but the majority of his nourishment now comes from formula.

As far as how I handle the time commitment of feeding with other kids around, it’s the same as it was when I was breastfeeding. They’re there! They like sitting right next to me as I feed him and now that there’s a bottle involved, they even sometimes want to help. I utilize screen time when necessary but they’ve pretty much adjusted to knowing when mommy is feeding they just need to wait. It is also really different having a 5 and 3 year old this time around – they can actually be (sort of) patient and wait if I’m feeding him. They can also bring me things I might need as I’m feeding him, like a burp cloth or diaper, or fulfill their own simple needs, like getting a glass of water or snack.

Having never really used bottles before, I had no idea what a time commitment it is to pump, wash pump parts, wash bottles, make sure you’re stocked on formula, make sure you have supplies for leaving the house . . . whew! It’s a whole different beast. When we moved to exclusive pumping + formula, I invested in the Elvie pump which is a game changer – it’s so SO nice for being able to pump and multitask with the other kids. I keep my pump parts in the fridge throughout the day so I don’t have to wash them each time and we have enough bottles to get us through at least half a day before needing to wash any. It makes a difference!

I’m not sure how long I’ll keep trying to pump or at what point I’ll move to 100% formula but for now I’m content with where we’ve landed.

Which was the most challenging transition: 0-to-1, 1-to-2, or 2-to-3?

Hands down, Justin and I agree that going from one child to two children was the most challenging transition for us. LJ and Vi are only 21 months apart and it sometimes felt like we had two babies – we had two in cribs, two in diapers, two non-verbal (LJ had some speech delays that started to resolve after he turned two). LJ had very few independent skills and still required close supervision in everything; the mental energy and physical demands of two-under-two felt like a lot, all the time. Needs were extra high and sleep was extra low. Obviously, any time you add another person to your family there are going to be unique challenges, but for us, that transition was the hardest.

How did you know you wanted to try for a third child?

I’m happy to share but I do want to first acknowledge: I know not everyone is able to time the gap between children or choose how many children they have. I have experienced pregnancy loss myself, and I always want to be sensitive to those who may be struggling with loss, infertility, or any other complicated factor in their parenthood journey. If you’re in a tough spot with this, I see you and am sending you a big virtual hug.

Justin and I always knew we wanted multiple kids, although when we got married he wanted three and I wanted four. After LJ, we were on the same page with wanting more and were ready at the same time – and along came Vi. At that point, our feelings for future children had shifted. As mentioned earlier, the transition from 1-2 children was SO incredibly tough on us. We originally thought we’d want all our kids close together in age but after Vi we knew we couldn’t do an < 2 year gap again. We tabled the discussion for more children until she turned one year old. At that point, Justin was really content with two and didn’t want to try for a third but I still really wanted to go for a third. We prayed, we talked, we went back and forth, back and forth, for another full year. We could each see the other’s point of view and understand the pros and cons each way, which actually made it more difficult I think. It was our ultimate analysis paralysis! In hindsight, I really wish we had seen a therapist – I think counseling would have absolutely helped us talk through our feelings/worries/hopes/dreams/etc and we would have saved ourselves a lot of cyclical discussions that went nowhere. Even though we didn’t do it, counseling is my #1 tip if you’re struggling to be on the same page with your partner on this.

We both agreed we did not want more than a 3 year gap between Vi and any younger sibling (nothing against bigger gaps, and I know it is amazing in some families – it’s just not what we wanted for ours for various reasons). As that date approached, we actually both came to the decision NOT to have a third. We were at peace with just two and decided not to try for more, final decision. A month or two went by and I just felt a nagging on my heart that would not quit. It’s like once I was truly telling myself we were done and it wasn’t going to happen, my heart kept nudging me to try. I went back to Justin and essentially say “hey, I know we agreed to be done but my heart just will not let this go and I really and truly feel like we need to at least try.” We talked, prayed again, and ultimately (finally!!) got on the same page.

We decided to try for a third, but only in a very specific, and pretty small, window. Essentially, we decided to try to the point where there would be a 3-year age gap and stop at that point. We both felt complete peace with this and truly believed that whatever happened was going to be the right decision for our family. We prayed quite a bit, and low and behold, we got pregnant. It was surprising to us that it actually happened but we both immediately felt like this baby was meant to be. After all that back and forth, in one moment it all just clicked into place.

We can both wholeheartedly say now that we cannot imagine our family without Ollie. This transition has had its ups and downs but we’re adjusting to life as a family of five and we wouldn’t have it ANY other way.

I am so so so so so incredibly and endlessly grateful for this family of mine.

A Toy Purge Experiment

Our playroom has gone through a few changes lately!

The playroom was the very first room we tackled in this house and since the initial update we’ve slowly been making other changes like swapping out the light fixture, adding chunky window trim, and building the play kitchen and dress up clothes rack. Two big projects remain: flooring and trim. My hope had been to first replace the carpet with a hardwood and then update the baseboards and trim with painted, chunkier versions; however, when Justin and I recently decided to delay the flooring project, I decided I didn’t want to wait any longer to at least make the trim more cohesive with the space. While I didn’t replace it, I did paint the existing trim and that made a big difference!

I also planned to add a big, soft rug to the room once we put down hardwood but now I figured, why wait? When I saw this rug debut in the recent CLJ x Loloi launch I instantly knew I wanted it for the playroom. It’s perfect – and SO soft!

The other big change lately has been a pretty significant reduction of toys, and today I want to give a deeper dive into what I call “The Toy Purge Experiment.” Because truly, the room can be beautiful but that means nothing if it’s not actually functioning well – and for our family, it doesn’t function well when it’s too full of toys. After all, it’s a PLAYroom, not a TOYroom. Let me explain!

The Toy Purge Experiment

Last month, I read the book Simplicity Parenting (you can read my full review here) and it made a huge impact on me. The author, Kim John Payne, advocates for simplifying life in four major areas, one of which is the child’s environment. The biggest suggestion with simplifying environment was addressing toys, and I found myself very aligned with his perspective. It’s not just that I don’t like clutter and don’t want my entire house overrun with toys, but it’s also that the author and I both believe that kids actually need less in order to play more.

Over the years, I have talked openly and often about my desire to not let toys get out of control in our home. I’ve written blog posts like Finding Balance with Toys, Non-Toy Gift Ideas, Intentionally Gifting Toys with a Greater Purpose, Keeping the Playroom Manageable, How We Minimize Birthday Gifts, and Meaningful Gifting.

AND YET.

It’s been nearly five years of parenting, and toys have accumulated. Of course they have! Birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, random gifts received from friends and loved ones, plus something I didn’t expect: all the trinkets that come with being in preschool. Seriously, I was not prepared for all the little things that come home with my children – prize box toys and small items in treat bags and novelty knickknacks in Valentine’s cards. And don’t even get me started on fast food kids’ meal toys or promotional toys from businesses and sports teams (whyyyyy are those necessary!?)

I know that our efforts over the years definitely helped keep things manageable, but things have slowly been spiraling. It happens! I’m honestly not mad about it either – I’m not trying to deprive my kids of the fun of a holiday treat bag or the joy of receiving gifts from people who love them. That being said, many of those toys don’t have a long rate of return. The prize box slinky gets bent out of shape. The cheap plastic holiday trinket gets broken. The cool racetrack toy is fun the first few times but it only does one thing so interest is quickly lost. These toys don’t actually produce play or spark meaningful joy anymore, but they contribute to the clutter and overwhelm of the playroom. These pictures may make it seem like the playroom was “fun” but what was actally happening was things were getting dumped out . . . and then were quickly abandoned or worse, not even really played with at all.

As Kim John Payne stated, “nothing in the middle of a heap can be truly valued.” It was time to remove the heap to let the valued toys be easily seen. Plus, the heaps were starting to spill out of the playroom and into all other areas of the house, and this mama does not thrive in that utter chaos!

Step One: The Purge

I’ve purged our playroom at various times throughout the years, but inspired by the book, I decided to go bigger than usual and see what happened. On a weekend where my kids were with their grandparents, I went through and analyzed every single toy in the playroom.

Anything that was broken or no longer worked well was an easy decision to get rid of. It was also pretty easy to remove the “young” toys that LJ and Vi have outgrown, though I saved a few for when Ollie gets older. I also removed anything we had duplicates of, even if it was something that is liked. Vi had five tutus in her dress up collection. She loves tutus! But she doesn’t need five options. Similarly, LJ still plays with matchbox cars on occasion, but he doesn’t need 15 of them. We don’t need seven puzzles that are pretty similar to one another or ten sensory balls. I also had to come to terms with the fact that some toys I got that I really liked weren’t actually toys that my kids played with. So out they went.

Step Two: Donate

The toys all got donated – my sister works for a school for young children with disabilities and she was thrilled to receive toys and puzzles to take to her classroom. It made me happy (in a way that probably shows that I grew up watching Toy Story) to see these things get to move on and find new life with other kids who will love and use them. Dress up clothes, which were mostly duplicates or things Vi has outgrown, were donated to a thrift store so another little girl can hopefully enjoy them.

The exceptions were what I call “the just-in-case favorites.” I decided to make some bold choices and remove some toys that were still considered “favorites.” For example, Vi is obsessed with Frozen and loves Elsa. But she had three Elsa dolls and that felt so excessive to me. I decided to remove one even though she still regularly played with it. (To be completely honest, I removed the one that I personally found to be the most annoying because it sings the same song over and over!) I also removed a few things that did still get played with, but that didn’t encourage much creativity or imagination (i.e. fixed toys). Rather than donate them, I kept these “favorite” items in a cabinet just in case this came back to bite me and a child was distraught over a missing toy. I didn’t want to get rid of something they really and truly valued. But guess what? It’s been almost six weeks since the purge and there has not been ONE. SINGLE. REQUEST. for these toys. Not even one comment about the missing Elsa! I’ll admit I’m shocked, but maybe I shouldn’t be.

Step Three: Let the Open-Ended PLAY begin!

My kids did not make a single comment about the playroom feeling empty. They haven’t said one word about any of the missing toys, favorites or not, but what they have done is PLAY. In fact, they’ve “re-discovered” some toys that they hadn’t played with much lately! I specifically chose to keep things like Lincoln Logs, Magnatiles, and Legos. These toys inspire building, creating, and imagination and it’s been so fun to see my kids focus in more on those things.

I also kept a wide variety of items to mix and match play in the dress up collection and play kitchen area – my kids invent play scenarios with these things daily! In our house, fewer open-ended toys will always trump a multitude of fixed toys that only do one or two things.

I truly feel like they’re playing more frequently because they’re not overwhelmed by choices. When there’s fewer options in front of them, it’s easier to see toys and select something that seems fun. In our experience, it hasn’t led to boredom; they are still playing and coming up with new things to do every day. And as a bonus: the playroom stays contained much more easily and is quicker to clean up. A win-win-win for this mama!

Step Four: Plan for the Future/Maintain

Things feel great for us right now, but more is coming. LJ’s birthday is in about a month, and Christmas comes a month after that. I’m trying to be intentional about what we ask for, but also, I’m not going to be super controlling over this. My kids have a say in what they ask for, and toys are a big part of that (I wouldn’t have it any other way!) So I may steer them towards choices of open-ended toys, but ultimately, I’m sure they’ll get a variety. That’s okay! I plan to do a mini purge right before Christmas and maybe I’ll try to involve them in that one. Now that I’ve seen that they really don’t miss the toys that aren’t there, I know I’ll be able to do smaller edits of the room over time to help keep things manageable.

While it can seem like you’re depriving your kids if you don’t allow for tons of toys, I really and truly believe giving the gift of play actually comes from having fewer, more intentional, choices. If you’re wanting to try this but not sure if you can commit, start with the things you KNOW your kids never play with. Keep them in a cabinet and see if the absence is noticed. Give yourself a length of time (one month, six weeks, three months, etc) and if your child hasn’t requested it by then, you can feel good about donating it. I also know people who never have all their toys out at once – they’ll have some out and some in a cabinet and will rotate through toys so things feel new and fresh. Maybe that type of toy-cycling feels better for you. Regardless, I would encourage you to give editing down the number of toys in your home a try! Like me, you too might find that less really is more when you simplify the chaos. πŸ˜‰