Category Archives: organizing

My daughter’s room

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bench

Dorothy has been living in filth. She’s a hoarder by nature, tucking baggies of rocks and shells and old toilet roll tubes away like squirrels do nuts for the winter. The difference is that squirrels eat all their nuts in the winter, but Dorothy’s room just gets more and more crowded with junk. Telling her to clean her room didn’t even help, because she wasn’t sure where to put baggies of rocks and old toilet paper tubes. I drove to IKEA right after Christmas to pick up some storage furniture to replace daintier but less useful pieces and enlisted  her help getting organized. Fortunately, she got tired of helping after the first hour or so, so I got to spend all my “free” time for the better part of two weeks putting together furniture and throwing stuff away without her there to witness it. I’m sharing my after photos. She’s now one very organized 8-year-old, and my hope is that the new system will help her keep it that way. I bought 3-inch foam to make a seat on top of the shelf under her window. All her doll accessories are now tidily at hand. Don’t notice my measuring “oops” on the side of the seat cover! After spending that much time sorting through 3rd grade ephemera I apparently lost the ability to do simple math.chair

This chair was in her room before, but it got a coat of white paint and a new seat cover. On the wall behind her is a pouch she sewed herself to hold keepsake letters.cubes

This IKEA shelving unit got a little dressed up with pretty glass knobs on the cabinets and drawers. She painted the ruby slipper canvas at an art camp last summer.
earringsI found this earring tree on Amazon.com to keep all her ear candy organized. She had earrings crammed in boxes and baggies all over her room. We put some other pairs in ice cube trays in her top drawer.
labels

I made labels with a craft punch for all her bins. We use a velcro label system for toy bins all over our house. I staple hook tape to the bin, and glue the loop tape to the back of our labels. I keep a jar of the extra labels on hand for when we want to repurpose a bin. The bins can be exchanged for others in our playroom and in Worth and Daphne’s room when they want to rotate playthings.lamp

I bought a wall-mount lamp at IKEA and spray-painted it to match the room. Putting the lamp on the wall helped free up space on her desk and alleviated my long-standing worry that she’d knock it off and break it. Dorothy made the name banner hanging over her bed.
window-seatHere’s a final view of her new window seat. I left her doll-clothes storage system of a ribbon strung in her window intact because it’s pretty and functional. I think I’ve blogged about her quilt and curtains before. When we moved into this old house, Dorothy fell in love with the bedroom she now occupies and the specific wallpaper hanging on the walls. I removed wallpaper and repainted every other room in our house, but we’ve honored her wish to keep her vintage wallpaper. I collected old bedsheets in similar colors from thrift stores and made her quilt and curtains out of them. It’s made a sweet little-girl room, with a nice blend of old and new. I’ll probably flip out in a few weeks when she lets it get messy again, but I’m enjoying the view from the doorway in the meantime! Because of course, as soon as I was done with the job and turned the room back over to her all sparkly and clean, she shut the door and hasn’t welcomed any other family members in since. C’est la vie.

Right Start Math bags

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math-bag math-bags

Since last spring I’ve had this niggling feeling that I should better organize our math manipulatives. We use the homeschool math curriculum Right Start Mathematics, which is a good fit for me and my third-grader, and it comes with lots and lots of little bits and pieces and sets of cards. I have a small secretary desk in my living room that is dedicated to holding our math supplies. The problem was that I couldn’t close it anymore because it was so crammed full with our manipulatives, cards, and the various sandwich bags or dog-eared envelopes I was employing to hold them. I bought some white zippers in bulk and used canvas left over from our field trip bags to make 13 zipper bags for our math supplies. I took the time to embroider a label onto each bag, which seemed like “OMG, have I really become a person who embroiders labels on to homemade canvas bags to hold math manipulatives?” but yes, it seems I have. Assuming we stick with this curriculum, I’ll be using these supplies for many more years, and I’d have been mad if my previous disorganized system had caused me to have to re-purchase supplies I could have kept track of better. I am not, under any circumstances, going to follow this project up by crocheting a cozy for our abacus. So here we go. Hopefully these bags and I will have quite a future together, and it’ll be worth the time spent when my current toddler learns her fractions with their help. And if there is just a little voice in the back of my brain that says, “really? You made special bags to hold math supplies?” I’ll just tell it to shut up. In Latin, because that’s all homeschool-y, right?

Oil cloth projects

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homeschool-org

I’ve been having some fun with some waterproof fabrics. I bought several yards of this cute apple oil cloth (which is actually vinyl, not oiled cotton like old school oil cloth) and have been having all sorts of fun with it. First I used it to cover the surface of my basement craft table and make a easy-clean surface under the kids’ easel, then I made this little pouch to attach to the outside of our homeschool bin. We have a few papers we need to access quickly or regularly, such as our agenda and our teacher/taught homeschool contract, so this pouch is for the storage and quick retrieval of those documents.

pouches

Then I made some zippered bags. Two are gifts for friends, and one got a grommet in the corner and is hanging by an S-hook to my homeschool pouch (above) to hold sticky notes and favorite pens.

car-bag

And since those little bags went together so easily and turned out so nicely, I got inspired to make this bigger waterproof bag to keep in my car door. It’s supplied with my waterproof zip-up rain hoodie, a grocery sack just in case we need it, and a small towel for the same reason. The contents won’t get wet if I open my car door in the rain, and it keeps all those sundries together in a handy and attractive way.

chair

I also recovered my kitchen chairs. These were covered in black and white polka-dot oil cloth (again, vinyl), but it didn’t wear well. The oil cloth split and got very worn around the edges after not all that much time. This time I covered the chair pads in laminated cotton, like I did for my dining chairs a couple years ago. I’ve had a great experience with the laminated cotton as chair seat upholstery fabric. It is comfortable, it wipes clean, it wears well, and it is easy to work with. I’m enjoying the pop of blue this new fabric is bringing to the room, too, in place of the black and white.

The continuing evolution of our playroom and studio

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playroom-w-curtains

This room has appeared on my blog a few times in the almost four years since we moved here. There was the time I made the futon and pillow covers, and the time I painted the sun on the floor (now painted over, due to water damage). We don’t use this basement space as our primary homeschool spot anymore. It has evolved and changed, and I work on it periodically–sometimes because I want to and sometimes because it floods (or did? Supposedly that’s fixed now). This summer I made some more changes to it to continue to meet our studio and play space needs. It’s just a basement room with a low ceiling and a concrete floor; it’s never destined for Better Homes and Gardens or to be the room we spend the most time in, but it is good space. It’s a place to put the bulky things that aren’t in the kids’ rooms or our shared living space. It’s the kids’ art spot, the dress-up spot, the home for games and toys. It’s the only spot in our home with a television. It’s the room where my fabric is stored, and is a cool place in summer and made cozy in winter with a fire in the fireplace. Some day it’s going to get a chair that doesn’t have an arm that falls off occasionally, a bigger and better rug, and I’m sure it will continue to evolve in other ways, but here are some scenes from this creative space right now. This summer I bought new storage furniture so the kids can easily access all the treasures.

craft-area

I set up a desk area dedicated to their crafty needs. Colored paper, art books, clay, melt beads, yarn and assorted other supplies are organized and at the ready. The labels are serving the dual purpose of reminding my little artists to clean up after themselves and helping Worth learn to read.

paint-bottles

I saved coffee syrup bottles, washed them out, and filled them with tempera paints. A color-mixing chart hung over the supply table helps the small artists mix their choice of hues. There is a bin under the table with clean, empty yogurt and applesauce containers we save. The older kids know how to wash the brushes out themselves so they are able to paint independently, without me dragging out supplies or cleaning up their messes. I hope to fill two more bottles with black and white paint, but first I have to drink more vanilla lattes.

easel

This is the easel, a half-turn from the paint-mixing spot. Bright oilcloth protects the floor, the canvas aprons protect the kids, and just out of the scope of the photo is a cord with clips for the kids to hang their masterpieces when they are done.

ribbons

My crafty storage area got a few upgrades too. I’m not very handy with tools but I knew just enough to drill holes in an old scrap board, insert some dowels, apply some paint, and enjoy my much-needed new ribbon organizer. For several years I’ve been buying ribbon every time I see it on sale because I can never find it when I need it. Now I see clearly that the problem was my storage method–not my lack of ribbon!

jars

And I used a Pinterest idea to transform some recycled glass jars into cute, quirky storage with the addition of one tube of little plastic animals and some spray paint. The work table beneath this supply counter is covered with the same apple oilcloth that is under the easel for an easy-clean, cheerful work surface. I sew upstairs in our living room, but this table houses all projects involving glue, paper, glitter, or general happy mess. (It is also housing me at my laptop right now, while my kids play in the room behind me!)

Laundry bags

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wash-me

This is certainly not the most exciting project I’ve ever blogged about, but it sure is useful. Each bedroom in my house is equipped with a laundry hamper. My usual laundry strategy is to fill great big TJ Maxx shopping bags with the laundry from the hampers, haul it downstairs, then drag it back up (clean) in the same bags. I have about six of the shopping bags and they are really just the right size for the job and have well-placed handles. The problem with them is that they are not very sturdy–the seams break easily–and I end up with empty plastic TJ Maxx shopping totes hanging all over the bedroom doorknobs, looking cluttery.

laundry-bagRather than replace these falling-apart shopping totes with new store-bought ones I decided to just make some nice, sturdy ones just for the purpose of laundry. I bought pretty blue canvas fabric and sewed six new totes to the same dimensions as the TJ Maxx bags. Then I embroidered their purpose right to the front of them, so they won’t run off to get used for something else. Finally, I hung a hook on the back of my bedroom door to house the bags not currently in use so these won’t clutter up my doorknobs either. Now my when piles of unfolded laundry collects in my bedroom it will look so much cuter!

Our playroom

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playroom

This is our basement playroom. This is also the room with the old fireplace insert and all my fabric on shelves. We bought an IKEA futon when we moved in and I would haphazardly cover it with quilts to try and combat our cat hair issue, since our cranky old cats have staked out this room as their particular habitat. I had a cheap butterfly chair in the corner and we tossed toys into plastic bins. It was fine, blah, a basement playroom. Last year we did most of our homeschool lessons down there, but this year we’re more likely to camp out with our stack of books and manipulatives in whichever part of the house seems most appealing on a given morning, so this room is really used exclusively for playing and crafting. Unfortunately this room also used to flood in heavy rains, which meant that our train table (not pictured) had yogurt cups around the legs, we couldn’t have a rug, and all the storage and furniture had to be made of water-resistant materials. Ugh. This fall, however, we had our basement waterproofed and I decided to improve on our newly dried-out space. I found a sweet vintage toy box to store the dress-up things, an old comfy rocking chair, and an inexpensive rug. I recovered the seat on the rocker and I sewed a new cover and pillows for the futon out of sturdy indoor/outdoor fabric that stands up nicely to the cat wear. A set of old wooden shelves became easy toy storage.

playroom-pillows

The pillow covers have overlapping back panels so they stay on well but also come off easily for washing.reboot

The old rocker now beckons you to the basement to “reboot” and relax. (Freezer paper stencil and fabric paint.)

kitty-litter-toy-buckets

I dressed up more old kitty litter tubs with scrapbook paper covered with contact paper to store small toys such as balls, matchbox cars, and little people. Now the whole family gets more (and more pleasant) use of our playroom space. It has a cozy cabin feel with the fireplace and the old pine walls. We appreciated it fully earlier this week when we spent part of the night down there, listening to tornado sirens howl outside!

A dog treat jar

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dog-treat-jar

Has it been almost a month since I’ve blogged? I can’t believe it! I haven’t lost interest, but somehow this school year I haven’t been able to build this into my schedule. I should, because I get a cozy little sense of accomplishment when I look back over my blog pictures, and sometimes when there is kid crap all over the floor and my dog is barking at the mailman and my son is peeing on the floor…well, I just need that sense of accomplishment! So I’m stating for the record that I AM going to blog three times per week until I get caught up on some of these projects I want to record.

First off, I’ve been obsessively covering things with scrapbook paper. I don’t “scrapbook” in the sense of sticking photographs on cute paper and adding stickers, but I do love to buy those big, awesome stacks of scrapbook paper they sell in crafts stores. Those pretty 12×12 sheets can be used for anything! Lately I’ve been recycling containers, such as this pretzel tub I’ve turned into a dog treat jar, by gluing scrapbook paper on them and then covering it with clear contact paper, which protects the paper and allows me to wipe the surface clean. This jar sits on top of my fridge and looks much better than the Target bag that was holding dog treats up there before.

reading-by-the-fire

This is not a crafty thing but is just a favorite recent photo. Kentucky is partaking in this Midwest cold snap, and we’ve never been happier homeschoolers than on these frigid mornings when we can roll out of bed and light a fire and read books by it in our pajamas. I snapped this photo a couple evenings ago, when the kids were ending the day basically the same way we started it.

A get well kit and a painted hutch

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Dorothy and Worth are not feeling well today, both down with the kind of passing tummy ailments that seem to accompany childhood. Thankfully neither child tends to get too pathetic; instead they seem rather glad to be allowed the rare chance to zone out in front of some DVD entertainment on our dusty television while Mama washes icky sheets and, in this case, blogs. Even though the stomach bug has hit all members of our family on a semi-regular basis since our little germ-magnet Dorothy was born, the first symptoms still seem to find us scurrying to collect the supplies we need to recover appropriately. Of course every family has it’s own version of comfort or soothing foods when they are sick, but we gravitate towards the old school Gatorade, chicken soup, soda crackers and those preternaturally bright popsicles that come as liquid in plastic sleeves. Last winter it occurred to me that it might be handy to actually just keep all those items on hand so that when one of us gets sick we can skip the harried trip to Kroger. The problem was that such infrequently-used items kept getting shoved to the deep, dark recesses of the pantry where no one can find them, especially if Mama is the one sick and the person looking for the Gatorade is biologically incapable of moving other food items to see if it might be behind them. So after my last bought with the stomach flu, when I suffered through a recovery without the comfort of technicolor popsicles, only to find them the next day right where I had said they were, I got the idea for our Get Well Kit. The kit is just an old kitty litter bucket which I scrubbed clean, decorated, and stocked with our sick foods of choice. I closed it up and placed it in an obvious (I hope!) place, and then today when I needed bland, salty noodles for my ailing angels I knew right where to look. Now they’ll go on our regular grocery list and the bucket will be replenished with no extra gas money involved.

I was having some trouble with my old china cabinet. I don’t think I’ve ever posted a photo specifically of it, but I’m sure it’s appeared incidentally in other photos, like here.  It was a very pretty, traditional, glass-doored and glass-shelved oak cabinet. I lucked into it by deserving some good karma after my arm was broken when Dorothy was a baby–a friend who was downsizing gave it to me and my brother delivered it to me in his truck. I stuck in my dishes with my one good arm loved the thing to death in our old house.  In this house it never looked quite right. The very small dining room needed an anchor point, and so much furniture of the same color all crammed in just didn’t work. I’d have probably kept it anyway just because I was fond of it, if it hadn’t been for the unnerving combination of teetering glass shelves + all the dishes we got for our wedding + my son zooming through the house in a plasma car. It was an accident waiting to happen. New furniture wasn’t in my budget, however, and buying something to hold dishes on Craig’s List would require the use of a bigger vehicle than I possess. Then I saw a photo on Pinterest one day of a painted hutch with open shelving, where the owner’s white dishes stood out beautifully and didn’t appear to be on the verge of plasma car disaster. I found a similar hutch on Craig’s List at a secondhand furniture store not far from my house. I printed out a photo of my china cabinet and decided it couldn’t hurt to ask the owner for a trade. I was a little surprised when the owner accepted at once! My china cabinet good karma continued. Since my cabinet was worth more than the outdated (but very sturdy–I checked) hutch in her store she was happily willing to send a truck to pick mine up and deliver hers. We’d exchange no money. Perfect!

I had the men stick my new/old hutch in my garage for its transformation. The top, above, had two glass doors. I took one to a glass place to price replacing them with clear glass, because just a wee bit of glass up so high didn’t feel too dangerous, but the price was high so I decided to wait on them.

The bottom was a little beat up but sturdy and very roomy, to accommodate lots of extra dishes (I’m a dish hoarder; I’ve disclosed this before) and linens.

I spent a very pleasant afternoon in the garage with the radio and my electric sander. I knocked off the decorative railing on the middle shelf (kapow!) and decided as the paint went on that I actually really liked the look of the thing without the doors. I used a satin finish black paint and all new black hardware.

I’m really pleased with how this turned out. My white dishes look awesome against the black, and I can access them more easily as well as change out a few accent pieces seasonally. (My Louisville Stoneware out now is in honor of the local upcoming “holiday” of Kentucky Derby Day.) Although this hutch may not have the trade value of the cabinet I had before it is infinitely more valuable to me to have a piece of furniture that can withstand a plasma car crash without reducing my dish collection to dust, and I really like the way having something big and black in the room helped it look better overall. The room even seems bigger now without so many brown things in it. This could be dangerously habit-forming, though. I can totally see how furniture barter could become a slippery slope! Good thing the kids cannot be offered in trade…

Christmas t-shirts and a dresser

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This picture is what you get when you set the camera on something, focus on your children, hit the timer, then jump in yourself. Oops! I really do have a head–it just didn’t make it into this photo. Anyway, the point of this photo is the matching Santa t-shirts I made for Dorothy and me. I cut out round scraps from fabric left over from the pillow project (below), a coffee-drinking Santa for myself and a stocking-stuffing Santa for Dorothy. I ironed them onto the shirts with Wonder-Under and zigzagged around the edge in red. Also with the red thread I did decorative machine stitching around the neck and bottom hem of the shirts. I paid $2 for my like-new, name-brand cotton shirt at a thrift store and $.50 for Dorothy’s from the same place. Not bad!

Now the sad thing about making a t-shirt for Dorothy is that it was going to end up going into her closet, which is often a Horrifying Pit of Filth and Stuff, kind of like the rest of her room only worse. Housekeeping is not a talent of my five-year-old, but unfortunately hoarding does seem to be. One of the problems has been that she really hasn’t had enough drawers for folded clothing items. She has one vintage chest-of-drawers my Mom refinished before she was born, but it has very shallow drawers that won’t begin to accommodate the piles of accessories she accumulates. We were keeping skirts and pants in labeled kitty-litter buckets similar to these but as she got larger her clothing got larger too, and suddenly not very many pants would actually fit into a bucket at all, so they were mostly getting thrown in the direction of the buckets, spilling out, then mingling with doll clothes, dirty clothes, cat hair and who-knows-what-else on the floor. I got completely fed up with the situation all at once last week, drove to the nearest Goodwill, and promptly bought an old wooden dresser for $15. The drawers didn’t fit in quite right but I figured I’d see what I could do–I wasn’t making more than one stop.

The problem with the drawers ended up being that they weren’t in the right slots–easy fix! I sanded the whole piece, used leftover wall paint to make it a cheery yellow that coordinates with Dorothy’s beloved wallpaper, and sprayed the old handles white. I did need to purchase new knobs for the top because they were missing entirely, so I bought cute glass ones that look appropriately glamorous. We spent a productive afternoon organizing Dorothy’s things with the help of the roomy new drawers. She loves it and claims to be determined to stick to our new organization plan. I suspect she won’t, but at least now I can chalk her big mess up to her creative spirit instead of a system stacked against her.

As an update to an old post, we had a good thing happen in our family this week! Rob, who had been on crutches since he ruptured his Achilles tendon in September, is finally able to hobble around on his boot but without the crutches. He missed being able to drag the dresser downstairs to my work space and then upstairs to our daughter’s second-floor bedroom, but by the next time I drag home used furniture he should be much more useful!

Our entryway and a perpetual calendar

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I sometimes enjoy reading other blogs and often get inspired by them. There are only so many ways certain tasks or projects can be done, so there will often be some overlap between the creative projects of different crafty bloggers. There is a difference between inspiration, intentional knock-offs, and flat out copycatting, right? Last winter I bought yellow paint to makeover my family room, the exact same color I’ve used in my living spaces in my last two houses. I tried to think of ways to make a user-friendly entryway spot to keep my family’s accoutrements tidy near our main (side) entrance. I purchased a row of hooks, a little step stool from IKEA, and a big basket to keep everyone’s shoes in. I decided to blog about it after I painted the wall behind them. The very next week Soule Mama blogged about a very similar project and I had to laugh–maybe great minds think alike? Then I realized she actually did it a bit better than me because she included a row of hooks for the children, not requiring them to use the step stool like I was. So, inspired by her execution of a project that exists in many homes’ entryways, I added a row of bottom hooks myself after our recent paint job. The space now functions better. Isn’t sharing ideas great?

I’d like to make the point that while taking inspiration from the beautiful marketplace of the mama blogosphere is acceptable and even lovely, actually taking someone’s intellectual property and passing it off as your own is not okay. It is hurtful, wrong, and fundamentally uncreative to take something that belongs to someone else and present it to the world as if you own it. Inspiration is lovely. Following tutorials, giving credit and back-linking is grand. Passing another person’s intellectual property off as your own, especially in a way that diverts search engine traffic from the blog for which it is intended, is stealing. (Um, yeah, sorry I had to get all preachy, right? But I wouldn’t say it unless I felt like I needed to…)


Moving on, Dorothy has been asking me every day for a week how many days are left until we start school. Although homeschooling kindergarten at my house is actually going to be a pretty informal and fluid event, I have decided to follow the school schedule of our local public schools so that Dorothy and her public-schooling BFF next door will always have their days off together. It seemed high time for me to finish the perpetual calendar we will be referencing every morning and to let her see for herself how many days we have until we officially begin. I sewed rows of clear vinyl pockets over fabric that matches my new kitchen curtains. I printed off little cards with the days and numbers on them and inserted them into the pockets. I will task Dorothy will decorating/labeling the special days on our calendar (like the first day of school!) and she’ll add a sticker indicating the morning’s weather to each card as we go. Who knows, maybe the whole family will be better organized now that we have a pretty, easy-to-update calendar right there in the kitchen. (Yeah, right.)