Easter Follow-Up

Hallelujah! He is risen! I hope each of you had a blessed Easter and had time to celebrate the amazing joy of the resurrection of our savior among all the candy and feasting.

I wanted to take a quick moment to write a follow-up to my Clutter-Free Easter post. I’m sure you all were wondering how the Easter baskets turned out in the Brown household.  I didn’t get any good pictures as I was rushing to get them filled as we headed out the door for church and the kids were so excited when we got home and found them that they were strewn about before I could grab a photo.

But the baskets looked like this:

3 year old girl
book (Alice in Wonderland)
bottle of bubbles
pack of fun hair bands for ponytails
brightly colored tank top
chocolate bunny
handful of chocolate eggs (the Nestle Crunch kind)
bubble bath

2 year old boy
book (Peter Rabbit)
bottle of bubbles
pack of Silly Bandz
chocolate bunny
handful of chocolate eggs (the Nestle Crunch kind)
bubble bath

8 month old boy
2 packages of baby food
jar of Puffs

In addition to what I got them (which is on the sparse side compared to some people) the Easter Bunny brought gifts sent by the 2 sets of Grandparents – PJs, books, dress-up masks, candy, bibs (for the baby) and some other things I’m sure I’m forgetting.

I am happy to report that aside from some candy wrappers on the floor there was very little mess. The kids loved the baskets and the other gifts and I felt good about keeping things minimal.

One of the few pictures I managed to snap – on my phone, sorry for the blur. Showing off his new PJs and silly bandz.

Clutter-Free Easter

As someone trying to keep my home relatively organized and clutter-free I find holidays and birthdays for the kids to be challenging.  The two big offenders for me are Easter Baskets & Christmas Stockings.  So often we fill these things with stuff that our children don’t need because it’s small and cheap.

Why?  Why do we look at Easter as a time to waste spend our money on things that we (and our kids) don’t really like, that break easily, and become easy clutter in our homes?  Because marketers have told us that’s what we should buy because they fit in small easter eggs.

This year I propose we TAKE BACK THE EASTER BASKET!  The past four years as a mom I’ve tried to keep the things in the Easter basket to a clutter-minimum. I challenge you to do the same this year. 

What can you put in baskets that kids want and won’t add to the disaster in your home?  Well, the point is to avoid the “junk” – the trinkets and bobbles that make clean-up a pain and the kids get bored of after 2 days.  Embrace things that are consumable and that you would buy anyway.

– food (dried fruit, popcorn, a chocolate bunny)
– consumable toys (crayons, markers, bubbles, bubble bath)
– lasting toys (DVDs, books, video game)
– summer fun items (new bathing suit, beach towel, inflatable pool toy)
– accessories (hair clips, belts, sunglasses)
– household goods (cups and plates for little ones, reusable water bottle for big kids, new bathroom accessories like a toothbrush holder & soap dispenser, pillow cases and sheets)
– clothing (shirts, shoes, socks, tights)
– new undies (these are fun for a little, new-to-the-potty kid… not so much for your 10 year old)
– things that add to a collection (a new train or doll to add to an existing collection)
– healthy habits items (toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion)

Look at what you already had on your list of things to buy for your kids and go from that.  Even if the item itself isn’t “fun” (hello, new socks), getting it in an Easter basket is more fun than a random Tuesday.

The goal is to get stuff that’s fun for the kids without adding to the clutter in your home.  I try to avoid at all costs the Dollar Store and the Target Dollar Spot.  I know that goes against conventional wisdom but you and I both know that those cheap trinkets will break after one use (but no one will throw away for 6 weeks). 

Where can you shop?
If you have a baby… shop Babies R Us for some toddler items (cups, spoons, bibs) she’ll need soon
If you have a toddler… find a single-serve pack of his favorite snacks.
If you have a preschooler… browse the clothing racks for things to fit her latest obsession.
If you have a school-age child… remember the last thing she begged you for at the store and try to get things related to that.

The bottom line for me is that the stuff stores try to push on you for Easter is not often the kind of thing you’d buy if you were shopping for your child on a regular day.  So walk right past those to the brands you already know you trust and that will get use in your home.

With less than 2 weeks until the big day it’s probably time to get shopping!

Finish off 2010

The new year is here.  We are 3 days in and well, whether we’re ready to move forward or not, 2010 is gone.  But is it gone from your to-do list?

Let’s choose this week to wrap up the winter holidays so we can really move on to our future in this new year.

Shop
Finish buying the stuff off your Replenishment List that you need for next year.  You can still find a few decent sales on after-Christmas things.  Stock up now.

Update
Gather up all those envelopes from the cards you received and update your address book.  Don’t worry about making it perfect.  For now, just scratch out the old info and add the corrections.

Budget
Review your Christmas spending.  Was it in line with your budget? 
If there are categories you spent more than you planned was that because your original budget wasn’t realistic?  Do you need to add a category for next year?)

Plan
Make a note on your holiday card list of anyone you want to add or remove.  Maybe you made a new friend this year.  Or maybe there are people still on the list since your wedding many moons ago that you really don’t have contact with anymore.

Remember
Review what you cooked and ate for your holiday meals & parties.  If you had a written menu, make notes of what worked & what did not.  Some items may become part of your annual tradition and some recipes need to hit the “round file.” 

Commemorate
Do something with the holiday cards you received.  If you plan to scrapbook them – put them with your scrapbooking supplies.  If you plan to make To/From labels for next year’s gifts then put them with your crafting supplies.  What do I do with them…. anything with a picture of people gets put into an inexpensive photo album for my kids.  They love looking at pictures of people and asking me who they are.  I add the new cards to it every year.
Or you might just enjoy them and then recycle them.

Clean (make sure you do this task AFTER you finish the shopping task)
Put away all the lingering decorations.  You may have already taken down the big stuff but if your house is like mine there is always about a small boxful of miscellaneous stuff that was missed the first time around.  Pack it away, make sure the box says clearly that it’s holiday things and put it away with the rest of the holiday boxes.

Start Fresh
Upload all the photos from your camera to your computer.  Back them up.  Then clear your memory card.  Make room for lots of new photos in 2011!

Quick Tip Thursday

It’s time to get those gifts in the mail!!

If you have anything that needs to be sent out of town, please take time today and tomorrow to get it packaged up and put in the mail.  If you plan to ship using the United States Postal Service their last day for Christmas delivery of first class mail is Dec 20. 

See the complete list of deadlines here.
You can find the last days to ship with FedEx here (it’s Dec 23 unless you want to pay for overnight).

To help you stay on track this season, avoid going to the post office or shipping store to get those packages sent.  Instead schedule a pickup right from your front door.  You weigh your package, pay for the shippng online, print out the shipping label and tape it to your package and then place it on the porch for your mail carrier.  It is actually quite easy.

DO Holidays – Prepare for Guests

Are you expecting guests this holiday season?  Today’s the day to start getting ready for their visits.  If you will only be having non-overnight guests your to-do list is much shorter (but no less important).

Check your primary guest bathroom (a half-bath in many cases) and make sure you have the following:
* Hand soap (if your bottle is getting low, think about just replacing it with a new one, or refilling)
* Extra toilet paper that’s easily accessible.  If you have a vanity under your sink this is a great place.  If you have a pedestal sink you’ll need something more creative – like a pretty basket that sits on the back of the toilet or a nearby shelf.  Whatever you do, please don’t use one of these.  Please, for my peace of mind.
*Air freshener of some sort.  This can be whatever you prefer.  Some air freshener spray discreetly hidden under the sink, one of those little air fresheners that “puffs” when you press it, or a candle that you light before guests arrive.  Whichever you choose, please have something that guests can use to make themselves feel better if they need to use your restroom for something a little bit, well, stinky.

Now, if you are having overnight guests you have a bit more prep. 

The must-haves:
* clean sheets
* clean towels, hand towels & washcloths
* light-bulbs that work (I know this seems silly but it’s easy to not notice that a bulb is burned out in the guest room if you never go in there)
The really-should-haves
* space in the closet
* extra hangers in the closet
* extra blankets & pillows
* trash can in the bedroom & bathroom
* tissues (especially in winter with all those runny noses!)

The nice-to-haves
* easy-to use alarm clock (most people have cell phones with alarms so this isn’t top priority)
* night-light
* key to the house (or garage door code)
* list of important numbers (your cell phones, the home number, the address of your house)
* list of places they can easily walk or drive to, including nearby churches
* local area map
* hair dryer
* basket or medicine cabinet with essentials – toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, shampoo & conditioner, lotion, floss, shaving cream, razor, over-the-counter medicines (antacid, ibuprofen)

There are of course a lot of other things you can add to these lists to make things that much more comfortable for your guests but these will suffice for most short visits. 

Take the time to check on these things now.  Change the sheets, add anything you need to buy to your shopping list and generally tidy up so the day guests arrive you aren’t feeling frantic and unprepared.

DO Holidays – Plan The Grub

Are making any big meals or hosting any parties this holiday season?  It’s time to start thinking about your menu.  Yes, I know Christmas is still 2 weeks away.  But, hello… Christmas is only 2 weeks away!  Let’s get cracking.

How to create the holiday meal/event menu you need:

1. Write down the date, time & name of the event
2. Figure out the number of people you need to feed.  Make a list!
3. Decide if this is a full meal or an appetizers & desserts type affair.
4. Write down what your ideal menu looks like.  Don’t forget:

  • appetizers
  • specialty drinks or cocktails (eggnog, spiced cider, signature cocktail, etc)
  • beverages (adults & kids)
  • garnishes for drinks (lime & lemon wedges, maraschino cherries, peppermint sticks)
  • main dish
  • sides
  • condiments (gravy, cranberry sauce, etc)
  • bread
  • dessert
  • after dinner drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic, coffee)
  • ice

5. Determine if you know how to make everything on your menu.  If not, it’s time to find recipes or decide on a substitute.  My personal favorite websites for recipes are All Recipes and Epicurious but there are hundreds of places to search.  Don’t forget to peak in that old Better Homes & Gardens cookbook you got for your wedding too.  My favorite cookbook for making, well, anything is How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.  Never roasted a turkey?  Mark will help you produce a tasty bird the first time.

6. Decide what to delegate to others who are coming

7. Now that you have a menu and recipes it’s time to determine quantities.  You know what you want to make but how much?  There’s an easy calculator at Best Party Ever than can help with quantity suggestions.

8.  You’re finally ready to make your shopping list.  Go through each recipe.  Write down every ingredient it calls for (even if you know you already have it on hand.)  Now check to confirm what you have on hand and put a check by it.  The rest is your shopping list.  At this point you might want to rewrite the list to sort by store (liquor store, warehouse club, grocery store, etc) and within each store by category.  The more you can group like items together (produce with produce) the less likely you are to overlook something on your list and the less amount of back-tracking you’ll have to do in the store.

Steps 9 & 10 are purely optional for those of you who want to maximize your savings.
9.  Do you clip coupons?  Now is the time to go through your coupons and pull anything you can use for your shopping trip.

10. Check the grocery store website(s) where you normally shop and see what they have on sale this week.  Add anything that’s already on sale to this week’s grocery list.  Save the rest for next week.

11.  Hit the stores!

Quick Tip Thursday

The holiday cards have started to arrive! 

I know how anxious you are to rip open those envelopes to see the newsletters and pictures inside.  But wait!  Don’t throw that envelope away just yet.  Once you’ve had your fill of Christmas cheer from the card, use the envelope to check you address book and make sure you have the most current address for your friends and family. 

Feel too rushed to do it right away?  Then set up a little file folder with the envelopes and run through them after the 1st of the year.

DO Holidays – Stock The Freezer

Are you making dinner tonight?  If you are, why not make a double batch.  Instead of 4 chicken breasts, make 8.  Instead of cooking up one batch of meatballs, make double.  Instead of one lasagna, assemble two.  Wrap the extra portion well (freezer bags, plastic wrap covered with foil, etc) and place in your freezer.  Make sure you LABEL the package with what it is and the date you put it in there.  And if there are special instructions for reheating, put those somewhere you’ll find them easily.  Then, next week when you’ve just had a crazy day, pull out that frozen meal, reheat it (or cook your pre-assembled item) and serve your family something hot and homemade.

If you are feeling especially ambitious and want to really make make-ahead meals a staple in your family check out Once A Week Cooking or request the book Don’t Panic, Dinner’s In The Freezer by Susie Martinez, Bonnie Garcia & Vanda Howell at your local library or bookstore.

DO Holidays – Feather Your Nest

We all love a comfy cozy home, especially at the holidays.  But how can we make our home beautiful without making our lives crazy?  If you’ve been putting it off but can’t seem to get going let today be the day.  Remember these things when you’re feeling daunted about getting started.

Cut yourself some slack
If you don’t put up every piece of holiday decor you own no one will know but you!  Remember that we are always our own worst critics. 

Focus on the Big 3
Simplify this year and do the Door, Mantle & Tree.  If you have the energy and time for the dining room table add that on.  But don’t stress if you don’t get to it.  No holiday towels in the guest bathroom?  No worries! 

Simplify
If the idea of pulling out all 250 of your Christmas tree ornaments has you wanting to curl up on the couch to watch reruns of 80s game shows then skip it.  Put up your tree (real or artificial), add a lot of lights, wrap it in ribbon and put a giant bow on top.  It will look beautiful.

Go Fresh! 
Rather than dusting off all those boxes in the attic, consider heading to your local florist for a beautiful arrangement for your table.  Or go to the nursery for a swag of greenery for the mantle.  If you are feeling creative, grab the kids and head outside.  Gather pine cones and greenery.  Use these plus a bunch of walnuts, oranges & pomegranates from the grocery store to make simple but gorgeous arrangements for your home.

Delegate
If your kids are school aged they are old enough to help with the decorations.  Give them a few “assignments” and offer rewards.  For example – if they make paper chains and gather the pinecones have cocoa & Oreos waiting when they are done.

And my last tip for holiday decorating is to take care of yourself.  Pick one thing you love – a favorite ornament, a framed photo of your baby’s first Christmas – and put it somewhere you’ll see it every single day that’s just for you.  This year I took a little tray I had previously used for a tablescape and moved it to my dresser.  I put my little Swarovski crystal tree (a gift from many years ago) and a picture of my kids with from last Christmas on it.  Every night when I take off my rings and get ready for sleep I see these things and smile.  And I get to see them again when I get up and get dressed.  It’s my own simple corner of Christmas cheer.

For beautiful decorating inspiration, check out Layla & Kevin‘s blog at The Lettered Cottage.