Balancing Work at Home with a Baby

In Tuesday’s post, I shared a brief recap of last week’s trip to Pennsylvania and mentioned a bit about my work-from-home job. It made me realize I haven’t shared about my job in this space so I thought I’d take a minute to expand a little more on it.

I have a part-time job working remotely as an administrative assistant for a nutrition counseling company based in Philadelphia. I got connected with the position through a friend from college and started working in July 2017. (I previously spent 6 years teaching special education but took a step back from teaching after the 2016-2017 school year to become a stay at home mom). LJ was born in November 2017 and after a six week maternity leave, I’ve been juggling work- and stay-at-home mama life ever since.

The majority of my work tasks involve scheduling clients, contacting insurance companies, and keeping up with referrals, all of which I can do via email or phone. It is flexible and very organizationally-minded if that makes sense (lots of spreadsheets) and I love it! In looking at the past six months, I’ve averaged 1 – 1 1/2 hours of work each day (around 7 hours/week or 27-ish hours of work per month).

Every day looks different but I’ve come up with a pretty good little system that works for me. Today I thought I would share some of the things that help me to simplify the chaos of keeping up with work while still balancing life as a stay-at-home mama. Keep in mind, every mama and baby is different and there are so many factors with working from home. This is what works for me and might not work for everyone. I hope in sharing what has helped me, I can help just one work-from-home/stay-at-home mama who is feeling a little overwhelmed with trying to manage it all.

Have a designated work space

Work from Home Office

We don’t have room in our house for a true office so I set up a little workspace on our upstairs hallway landing with everything I need for my workday. I used to work here every day, but since the desk is right outside LJ’s nursery I end up working downstairs at the kitchen table if I have to make phone calls. I still prefer the desk space though because it’s too easy for the kitchen space to become cluttered with my work things. I also think it mentally helps to have a designated work space because I know when I’m sitting at that desk, it’s work time and I don’t get distracted by anything else (because there’s nothing else there), whereas in the kitchen I can see other household things I could be doing.

Prioritize work during nap time

At this time, LJ is still taking a good morning and afternoon nap (I know this won’t last forever but let’s not focus on bursting that bubble right now). As soon as I put him down, I get to work. It’s hard to predict how long it’ll take me to get through my tasks, answer emails, etc and my time worked varies each day so I want to make sure I have time to get it all done. I will say it’s pretty rare to work less than 30 minutes or more than 3 hours, although it does happen. On the busy days, I need every minute of nap time for my job and everything else has to wait. On the light days, I can quickly finish up work and then move on to cleaning or laundry or whatever else I need to do. I always want to make sure my job tasks get finished, even if means laundry or cleaning has to wait another day, so I start with work and don’t let myself get distracted with other things until it’s done.

Improvised work from home

Obviously, it doesn’t always happen that I get 100% of my work done during nap time and I sometimes need to finish up with LJ awake. When he was little, I often had him sit in a booster seat and play with a few toys next to me, like pictured above, but now that he’s bigger I just take my laptop into the playroom and quick finish up while he’s playing nearby. I try to focus on my “must-do” tasks if he’s awake and any non-urgent work tasks I usually just save until his next nap or the following day.

Remove distractions

For me personally, I don’t work with the TV on or podcasts going or anything that might shift my attention. I will sometimes listen to a Pandora station for soft background music, and I will definitely have some Christmas music playing in a few weeks, but I often prefer silence when working. It just helps me stay focused and efficient to finish up quicker.

Set hours and keep them

One of the biggest pros of a flexible work from home job is that many of my tasks can be done at any time, from any location. This can also be a stumbling block though: I used to check emails or do work at all hours, which made me feel “on the clock” all the time. Now I make a conscious effort to honor my business hours and not work after 5:00 pm. If 5:00 hits and I’m still working, I finish up whatever I’m doing and then don’t check my email again until the next morning. There is still the occasional day where I’ll work on a project in the evening hours after LJ goes to bed; however, this is usually something I have planned in advance to do so I don’t take up more of my daytime hours working and is typically reserved for extra projects I’m assigned outside of my normal daily tasks or days when LJ just didn’t nap well and I couldn’t finish everything. Maybe you have a job from home that doesn’t need to be during regular business hours but I still highly recommend trying to set a designated time frame for work so that it doesn’t become something that takes over your day.

Find simple ways to make work a joy

A few simple little things that have helped create a pleasant little work day are:

  • “splurging” $5 on my favorite pens + cute paper
  • lighting a candle when working
  • keeping a blanket over my work chair to cozy up in the winter
  • working outside at my patio table in nice weather

These things are small but they create an enjoyable atmosphere for working!

Set realistic expectations

This is probably the biggest one for me. It is so important that I am realistic with what I can accomplish in a day and start each day with a flexible mindset. Babies are unpredictable! There are some days where LJ naps a long time and I have time to get all my work done, clean, and even read a book while he sleeps. Then there are days where he doesn’t nap well and I’m lucky to scrape by with just getting my work done. There are days where we have obligations outside the house that throw off our schedule. There are days where one or both of us feels sick and we just need lots of cuddles on the couch.

I also want to be clear that I do not do it all. I might get through the day with all my work done and a clean bathroom but there’s a pile of dishes still in the sink. Or the kitchen is sparkling but the laundry basket is overflowing. I can’t focus on everything or it becomes too overwhelming to do anything. So I focus on realistic expectations. My #1 goal each day: LJ and I are both fed, happy, healthy, and alive at the end of the day. If nothing else, that’s all I really have to accomplish each day. Then my goal is to finish my work tasks, or at the very least, get to all tasks that must be addressed that day. Then I’ll try to clean a room or empty the dishwasher or finish laundry. But if it all that doesn’t happen, I have to be willing to be okay with that. I start out each day with goals, but I have learned to give myself grace if the day ends and I didn’t get as much done as I had hoped.

If you have a work-from-home job, I’d love to hear what works for you!

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Finding Balance with Toys

While I love the simplicity of living with less, there is one area where things can quickly move into chaotic overabundance: TOYS.

That being said, I honestly do not feel overwhelmed by the toys in our house. I don’t feel like our living space has been taken over by toys. I don’t spend hours picking up toys and in fact, spend less than four total minutes putting away all our toys. And while I am going to share how I organize all our toys, spoiler alert: there is no magical storage system or organization strategy that makes me feel in control of our toys. I feel in control of our toys because we limit our toys to a manageable amount. Simply put, we do not have more toys than we can handle. Justin and I both agree we would rather LJ have fewer toys that he actually plays with than more toys than he knows what to do with. And while I know our choices in this department will not be for everyone, I wanted to share what has worked for our family in case there is someone out there who feels like they are drowning in toys and wants suggestions for ways to simplify the toy chaos and take back control of their house.

LJ in playroom

How we keep our toys manageable

1) We rarely buy toys for LJ.

In a minute, I’m going to show you every single toy in my house. And since LJ has been born, I have bought exactly one of these toys (a xylophone). While there are a lot of beautiful, fun toys out there that I know he would love, I also know that at this point he is so happy with the variety of toys that he was given through my baby showers and Christmas last year. He gets exposure to other toys when we go to the library, play dates with friends, or grandma’s house and I do not need to spend money on more infant toys in our home for him.

2) We keep a loose definition of “toy”

LJ regularly plays with the hard plastic water jug I got from the hospital where I gave birth (he particularly loves the straw). He loves the ridges and crinkly sounds of a recyclable plastic water bottle. He is just as happy playing with these as he would be playing with a $20 toy from Target. Free promotional balls from local sporting events, books from Kids Eat Free night at Chik-fil-A – these are all fun for him to play with and also very easy to dispose of or put in a 25-cent garage sale bin when we need to make space for toddler toys down the road.

3) We’re honest about gifts

Both sets of our parents know about and respect our desire to live with less. We have communicated honestly with them that we love seeing their love expressed through quality time spent with LJ, cards, video chats, etc and do not need them to constantly gift LJ toys. We totally understand their rights as grandparents to occasionally spoil, so if they happen to see something that they just can’t resist giving him, of course that is okay! The key is occasionally and we so appreciate that they have mostly limited gift-giving to Christmastime or special occasions.

And speaking of Christmas, we don’t fill LJ’s wish list with toys. We do choose a few toys or books we know he’ll use throughout the next year as he develops and grows, but we also include other necessities (clothes, diapers, wipes, stroller attachments, money towards a convertible car seat). He is too little right now to know that he’s getting the “boring” gifts and there is no shame in my mom game to limit the toys and ask for other things he really needs. Gifts don’t have to just be toys!

4) We toy swap

We currently have a musical walker and learning table that we borrowed from friends – their first child has outgrown these toys and their second child is still too little. By the time LJ is done with both toys, our friends’ younger son will be ready to play with them! It’s a win-win; neither of us has to take up space storing these toys when our kids outgrow them. I do this with baby gear too (my niece is currently using LJ’s doorway jumper and Justin’s colleague is going to use LJ’s baby swing) which really helps keep storage spaces manageable!

5) We clean up when we’re done playing

When we’re done playing in a room and ready to move on, I very quickly scoop everything up and put it back in place. I’m a big believer in “outer order, inner calm” (thanks Gretchen Rubin!) – I am much less stressed when my house seems somewhat orderly and toys aren’t left everywhere. The mess always seems manageable because it is confined to one room and not spread throughout the entire house. Plus, I am always amazed by how little time it actually takes to get things back to baseline. Just a minute makes a huge difference!

How we keep our toys organized

We spend most days at home so LJ plays with his toys often. While I know I could keep them all in one room, I prefer to have them stored in three main areas as we move throughout the house during the day. Keeping toys in a few strategic places helps prevent the feeling that they’ve taken over our entire house but they are readily available where we hang out most frequently.

Nursery

Nursery Toy Storage

In LJ’s nursery, I have an old crate that I use as an end table + storage. This is where the bulk of LJ’s book collection is kept because we often read in the rocker. I store stuffed animals in a fabric basket and found the perfect little wire basket that fits just right to house a few other toys – crinkly books, rattles, animal links, and a wooden ball toy.

LJ and books

LJ frequently pulls everything off the shelf, but because it is a limited amount of toys and everything has a clear belonging place, it takes me between 30-45 seconds to put things back in order when we’re done playing.

My Bedroom

bedroom

I often have LJ in my bedroom with me if I need to fold laundry or get dressed to go out of the house. I keep a small basket with textured balls and a few other toys so he stays occupied playing while I do whatever I need to do. I timed our clean-up after the last time he was playing with these – it took ten. seconds. to throw everything into the basket and put the basket back against the wall. Just ten seconds out of my day and my room felt put back in order. Totally worth it!

Playroom

Playroom toy storage 1

We have a small den in our home that has become our main hangout space. It’s got a comfy sectional and our TV so it’s where we naturally gravitate as a family and is therefore where we have created a little playroom for LJ by blocking off the doorways with the sectional ottoman and a baby gate. I painted a buffet hutch that was handed down to me and we use the entire bottom to house LJ’s toys.

Playroom Toy storage 2

While I have the doors open to show you how I store the toys, I rarely have the doors open while we’re playing in this room. Instead, I’ll alternate taking out a basket or two at a time and close the doors so LJ doesn’t pull out the rest. I know eventually he’ll be big enough to open the doors himself, but for now, this method works really well for us in preventing all the toys from being pulled out every time. Examples of things I’ll bring out at any one time are:

Side note: You’ll notice I keep some of these toys in their original packaging. I know I can just throw everything into a bin, but I personally don’t mind spending an extra 10-20 seconds putting things back in the plastic pouch so I can store them vertically (space-saving) and make sure I have everything (easy to see if I need to search under the couch for missing items).

Last night I snapped a picture of the playroom after LJ went to bed but before I cleaned up.

nightly clean-up

I timed myself picking things up just to see how long it took. It took me ninety seconds to put away everything you see here. Then it took me an extra 49 seconds to grab my broom from a nearby closet and retrieve two balls that had rolled past my reach under the couch. A total of 2:19 and the room was back in order so I could relax and enjoy the evening!

Bonus – pack n play

While it’s not frequently used anymore, I do also have LJ’s pack n play set up in our main living room for anytime I need to set him down and leave the room. I keep just a couple toys in there so it’s always ready to plop him down into. I also keep his activity center next to it, although now that he is so mobile he does not like being in the activity center much so this will soon get converted to a toddler table when we give our friends their learning table back.

pack n play

And that’s it! That is literally every single toy in our house. There’s nothing hiding out in a closet, there’s nothing I pulled out of pictures to seem like we have less. This is everything LJ has. I hope you can see that just because we choose to live with less does not mean we deprive our son. He still has plenty of toys to play with that engage his mind and help with stages of development.

Did you notice how much time it takes to clean up when we’re done? On an average day, I spend less than four minutes cleaning up. Four minutes is all it takes to get back to baseline for the next day. FOUR. MINUTES. This is not because I’m a magical cleaning wizard who can put things away at super-speed. This is not because I’ve discovered the perfect organizational system to store toys. It is because we have decided on what “enough” toys looks like for our family and we stay within that amount of toys. Living with less toys has simplified our lives and allowed our home to still feel like a relaxing haven rather than the inside of an overstuffed toy box.

I hope this encourages you to know you can still live abundantly without an overabundance of toys for your baby. What tips/tricks do you use to manage toys within your home? I’d love to hear what works for you!

Simplifying the Diaper Bag {Infant}

In a previous post, I shared with you what I carried in my minimal-ish newborn diaper bag. That system worked very well for us for roughly the first 3 months of my son’s life and then our needs started to shift a little. Today, I thought I would share how I updated what I packed in LJ’s diaper bag as he left the newborn stage. I still tried to keep things simple so I had what we needed when out and about without carting around half our house.

Simplifying the Infant Diaper Bag

If you missed the newborn diaper bag post, you can find it here. In it, I spend some time discussing the diaper bag I use. I love its simple, clean look and minimal-ish use of space and pockets! I’m going to try not to repeat the first post today so I’d say start with that post if you want to learn more about the diaper bag. And again, I want to say that I know every baby and mama are different and needs will vary – this is just what worked for us. The list is “minimal-ish” because there are a few things included that aren’t really needs but sure do come in handy. I also link to a few items; I don’t get any compensation for this but just wanted to share products that have worked for us.

Now let’s jump in to what I carry around with my infant!

Infant diaper bag essentials (plus a few extras)

The front compartment is still my “mom” compartment and the only change to this pocket from the newborn stage is the inclusion of a sunscreen stick as summer arrived. This was the perfect size for the pocket and I found it to be super convenient to just swipe on my face/shoulders and go! Otherwise, I still keep the same items as before: my wallet, checkbook, 1-2 pens, headphones, chapstick, hand sanitizer, a snack, hair tie, and gum. I also still have disposable nursing pads and motrin in the small pocket inside.

Infant Mama Compartment

The back compartment remains exactly the same as before and is still used exclusively for diapering needs. I keep 5-6 diapers, wipes in my wipes clutch, a changing pad, diaper cream, and a diaper bag dispenser.

Infant Diaper Items

The main compartment is where the big changes happened. I used to carry around at least 3 burp cloths at any given time because my newborn baby spit up frequently. After 3 months, there was a noticeable change in spit up and now it’s a pretty rare occurrence so I usually only carry one burp cloth. I also carry a lot more toys since he is much more interactive and I need a variety of items to keep him entertained. I have a mix of silent toys and noisy toys so I can adjust what he plays with based on our surroundings. Once he started eating solids around 7 months, I included a bib and a silicone placemat that we could put on a table at a restaurant so he could pick up food and not be touching the surface of the table. I also typically carry around a simple, non-perishable snack such as puffs or melts and a straw sippy cup.

Infant Main Pocket

In addition to these items, I still carry a muslin blanket, a flannel blanket, a light hat, my nursing cover, and 2 outfit changes.  I also still roll my items and store them vertically so I can see almost everything at a glance and grab what I need without much rummaging. In the back pockets of this main compartment I keep socks, 2 gallon ziploc bags (in case of a diaper blowout that soaks through his clothes), a pacifier on a clip, and animal links. I now also include sunscreen since we have been outside a lot.

Depending on where we are going and what food will be available, I might also include a jar of baby food and a spoon but this is pretty rare since we generally can give LJ some of whatever we are eating. 

And there you have it!

A few of my extra tips:

  • I try to regularly check the diaper bag at home to make sure it’s ready to go. Having extra space in the diaper bag means there is room for other things to get put in there (such as an item we bought while out and about or maybe LJ’s shoes we took off or something). I try to leave the house with the diaper bag back to ‘baseline’ if possible.
  • When I check the bag, I also check the diaper compartment. I try to always have at least 4-5 diapers and plenty of wipes so we never have an “oh no!” moment when out and about and we realize we’re out of these crucial things. I love my wipes clutch because I can easily and quickly add more wipes at home.
  • When the bag is back to ‘baseline’ and ready to go, I place it on a certain chair in our kitchen. That way I know I can grab it on the way out the door and not have to worry that I might not have everything I need.
  • I have one of LJ’s toys on a pacifier clip so I can attach it to him if we’re at a restaurant or somewhere where I don’t want to keep picking up toys off the floor. Huge help!

For me, taking less has actually helped reduce stress because I have everything I need and can access it quickly and efficiently without sifting through a lot of extra stuff. If you have an infant and feel like you’re carrying around half of his or her earthly belongings every time you leave the house, I hope this post gave you a few times for simplifying the diaper bag!

Stay in the picture, mama

In Monday’s post, I shared a bunch of pictures of my family’s recent vacation to Virginia Beach. After publishing the post, I noticed something about the pictures I chose to share as highlights. Mainly, I noticed I wasn’t in them.

Allow me to indulge in a brief trip down memory lane. When my husband and I returned from our honeymoon 5+ years ago, I posted a ton of pictures of our trip on Facebook. I mean, why not? We had an absolute blast on the trip and we documented it well. In many of these pictures, I was in a bikini.

Honeymoon balcony

Everyone from my best friends to my husband’s grandmother could see my bikini pics and I didn’t think twice about it. I was dang proud of my body. In the months before our wedding, I created and stuck to a workout regimen. I went to the gym for at least an hour 4-5 days each week. I ate healthy foods. I ran for miles. I worked hard for months and months and when the wedding rolled around, all my hard work paid off. I felt confident and proud in my wedding dress.  And on my honeymoon, I rocked my bikini like I never had before.

Honeymoon

Flash forward 5 years, and we took another beach vacation. Once again, we had an absolute blast on the trip and documented it well. Once again, I wore a bikini for a lot of the trip. This time, however, when it came time to post pictures, my bikini pictures remained safely on my phone.

My body has experienced drastic changes over the past 19 months. I gained and lost 45 pounds; I was stretched out and didn’t shrink back the exact same way. To be clear, I am so thankful for my body. I was able to get pregnant and grow a human, something I worried wouldn’t happen after the loss of my first pregnancy. I have breastfed my son for over ten months and am so grateful that my body can provide him nourishment. I take walks with my family, attend a weekly cycling class at my local YMCA, and squeeze in a bootcamp class when nap time allows. I don’t say any of this to brag, but to honestly say that I truly am proud of what my body has done and can still do.

But the bikini pictures remained on my phone.

To be completely open and vulnerable, for as proud as I am of what my body has done and can do, I still struggle to wholeheartedly love the way it looks. It’s easy to post a bikini picture when you have rock-hard abs and nothing jiggles. It’s harder to post when your stomach has a stubborn post-baby pooch and you’re soft around the edges. I felt pretty good about the fact that I even wore a bikini on our vacation, but I wasn’t about to share the pictures.

Until I took the time to really look at them.

LJ and Mommy 1 (2)

Look at my son and his pure joy in this moment. He doesn’t care that his mommy’s belly is squishier than it once was. He doesn’t care that her hips are bigger and her baby pooch never left. He doesn’t care that mommy isn’t standing at a flattering angle to the camera or that oops, her c-section scar is showing (did you even notice that? My inner mean girl sure did).

LJ and Mommy 2

My son cares that his mommy is playing with him. He cares that his mommy is focused on him. He cares that he feels safe and loved and knows mommy is going to catch him every time she throws him up in the air. I see love and happiness in these moments captured from my son’s first beach trip and I’m so glad I have these pictures.

LJ and Mommy 3

It would be easy to hide these pictures. It would be easy to keep them on my phone or in some remote corner of my hard drive where they’re never seen. It would be easy to forget they exist. It would even be easy to stop taking them in the first place.

But here is the truth. I want to be in the pictures. Even if I’m not looking my best, I want these sweet moments captured from this all-too-fleeting baby stage of my son’s life. I want us both to be able to look back years from now and cherish the fun we’ve had together. Plus, I want to raise my son to know that a woman is worth so. much. more. than her outer appearance – I can hardly teach him that truth if I’m not living with the confidence of knowing it’s true about me too!

So I am going to continue to ignore the narrative in my head, the critical inner voice who says my body isn’t “back” and I’m not “ready” to be in a bikini. I am going to continue to throw that suit on and make memories with my son at every stage. I want to be the mom running around in the splash pad with my toddler, sliding down a water park slide with my six-year-old, and challenging my ten-year-old to a cannonball contest. I can’t waste energy comparing my honeymoon body to my mom body. My body has changed and I am not the same 24-year-old who could spend 60-90 minutes in the gym every day. But ten months ago, I brought a human into this world and I am dang proud of all my body has accomplished since then.

If you are a mama struggling to love on your postpartum body, I just want to encourage you today to stay in the picture. Don’t sit on the sidelines, don’t keep out of the frame. Keep loving on your kiddos no matter if you’re bundled up in snowsuits building a snowman or splashing in a pool in your swimsuit. Make those memories. Cherish those times. Take those pictures. Your kids don’t care what you look like. They care that you’re there. ❤