Category Archives: Home

Apartment Modifications Part 1

unnamedWith the move in progress, the kids and I visited Riley in Texas recently for a whole week.  He has been in corporate housing (housing provided by his work until he gets more established), and will be for a couple more weeks.

This housing arrangement, while temporary, was a bit of a shock for me because it is a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment.  There is no yard, there are people around us to be respectful of (tough to do with two little ones who enjoy running and hearing their voices at full volume), and not as much space.

While there can be benefits to apartment living (not having to worry when things break, for instance), our weeklong visit got me to thinking of ways in which my current simple living strategy would need to be modified for apartment dwellers, especially those with kids.  The rest of this list will come next week!

Playing outsideWe were lucky–the apartment we were at had both a balcony and a park within the complex.  That said, it was very warm, wet, and mosquito-y during our time there, so we did not spend as much time outside as we ordinarily do.  I can absolutely sympathize with those who cannot just open their back door and enjoy a backyard.  Modification:  We planned thirty minutes of outside time each day, and shared that expectation with the kids–a sort of accountability program.  And we packed the bug spray, so no excuses!

Keeping stuff in checkExtra stuff takes on a whole new meaning when you have a smaller space.  It enforces the “one in, one out” rule.  Modification:  There would be no room for error on this, if we were staying in an apartment for longer than a month:  we would have to pare our possessions down even further, and keep them pared down. Honestly, this is something that we would benefit from, regardless of where we were moving to.

GroceriesI had to haul four days worth of groceries up three flights of stairs, with both kids in tow.  That was enough of a feat in itself–I can’t imagine doing that with a couple of weeks worth of groceries.  Modification:  If I were staying in an apartment long-term, I would back off the “buy as much as you can to avoid shopping more often” rule, and would instead focus on saving money other ways, such as a store loyalty program or coupons.

Living in an apartment with kids for one week was a good lesson for me, and reminded me that everyone’s situation is different.  What works for one person, may not work at all for the next.  Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!

Making the Cut: Spring Cleaning Edition

I tend to fall on the “fan of organization” end of the spectrum.  No big secret there.  I have written more than once about what fall and spring cleaning looks like in our house, even down to my “rules.”

But what do those rules look like in action?  Below is a list of some of the things that made it during spring cleaning this year…and those lucky items that are off to people who can actually use them.

11178539-6386-4f83-8a02-ad17cc4386871.  Favored toys:  Safe.  I’d have been in some pretty hot water if I’d tossed Peanut’s beloved Baba (pictured here), or any one of Bean’s baby dolls, so those highly preferred toys definitely stay.  Still, there were some that were either no longer age-appropriate, were duplicates, or long forgotten that are on their way to the thrift store or nearby charity.

2.  Devotional materials:  Safe.  These are getting a boatload of use since we implemented family devotional time in the evenings.  The only reason they were briefly considered for disposal is because they are getting a bit tattered and worn.

3.  Wedding dress:  Safe.  Sigh.  Read all about my quandary here.  The dress is safe…for now.

05d5d770-1bed-4cf0-af6a-6c44084e49914.  90% of school papers:  Gone.  As hard as it was to get rid of the dozens of scribbled coloring sheets from Bean’s first year of school, I also know that we have over a decade left of school papers to look forward to, not just from her but from Peanut as well.  I kept the super special ones, like this artistic rendition of a lamb, but everything else got recycled or given to people (ahem…grandparents) who may get pleasure from them.

5.  Holey blankets:  Gone.  I don’t know why I didn’t donate our “loved” linens to the local animal shelter sooner–perhaps I was attaching too much sentimental value to them–but these are gone, and our hall closet is far more spacious as a result.

6.  One of our coolers:  Gone.  I’m still baffled as to why we had two coolers, but now we are down to a much more manageable number:  one.

What made the cut in your home this year?

How it Works: Family Meals

10538295175_1440a7fcac_zTake a moment and consider what gifts you have in your life.

I would be willing to bet that, for many of you, family and friends top the list of gifts in your life.  The question then becomes:  How can we nurture that gift of relationships?

In our house, one of the ways we seek to nurture the gift of family (and friends) is through family meals.  Studies have proven time and again the benefit of regular family dinners; one would be hard-pressed to find proof that family dinners are a waste of time.

We have incorporated family meals into our life for quite some time now.  With that in mind, here are a few key traits of our family meal experience.  Note:  While I reference “family” dinners, I see no reason why friends cannot be considered family too.  If you have no family nearby, why not consider a friend dinner?

1.  It isn’t always dinner.  Since various times of the year are very busy in Riley’s line of work, there are times when supper as family mealtime simply isn’t feasible because he isn’t home until long after the kids are in bed.  The solution:  family breakfasts.

I haven’t seen a study yet that says family meals have to be supper to be beneficial.  We still get the connection and conversation that is essential to nurturing family relationships–we just get it at 7 a.m. instead of in the evening. Tasty, filling breakfasts are also a special way to begin the day!

2.  No toys (electronic or otherwise) at the table.  Because distractions come in many forms.  This rule applies to adults and kids alike–no TV, no phones, no computers, no stuffed animals…just you and your family.

3.  Teachable moments are many.  We have been able to use family mealtimes to teach our kids basic manners–both the “how” and the “why” of table manners are important!  We have started small (sitting on our bottoms for a few minutes) and worked our way up to more complex manners (passing condiments, chewing with mouths closed, etc.).

4.  Everyone gets a chance to chime in.  Usually we start meals with a prayer, and then each person is asked how their day was, and what their favorite part of the day was.  Questions should not be limited to just these, however–this site has some great conversation starters.

Family mealtime is one aspect of our life that I aim to continue as our family matures.  It’s a special time that is treasured by all of us, and one I cannot recommend highly enough!

Photo by Didriks

Free of “Free”

For the month of February, I decided to keep track of everything that I brought into or out of my apartment. I had hoped to get a sense of the things that tend to become clutter.

To be honest, this project wasn’t eye-opening, like I hoped. There just weren’t any revelations or areas of improvement identified. Still, I think it was good to do this exercise as it is always good to take some time to focus on a specific area.

Though the results didn’t yield much, I was on the right track: after all, everything that is currently in my apartment got there because someone brought it in. Instead of keeping a formal list, I think the best thing is to mindfully consider each piece as I consider accepting it or buying it.

Obviously, buying less will limit what you bring in, but I think “free” things are more of a problem. Somehow, we think that if we don’t pay for it monetarily, there is no downside.

People look at you funny when you turn down free things. My dental hygienist keeps trying to force a bag of goodies into my hand upon each dental visit, but I have to say no.

As a general rule, I say “no” to free items, just as I do to items that I could buy. I don’t mind saying “yes” if:

  1. It is something that I need.Bose speaker
  2. It is something that I have already identified a home for in my apartment.
  3. It will meet a want or need, at least for right now.

For example, I recently got a lot of swag for work. A lot of it was completely worthless to me and ended up in the give away pile. But I did decide to keep a wireless Bluetooth speaker because it could be more useful than the Bluetooth stereo I already had. While it wasn’t something that I would spend money on, I can still benefit from it and the money I can get by selling my stereo (now I just need to take the time to do it!).

I don’t always follow my own rules, but it has helped me not feel guilty about saying “no” to free.

Where do you stand when it comes to “free” things?

My “Small” House

Our house is not nearly this big.
Our house is not nearly this big.

When Riley and I first moved into our current home back in 2010, it seemed huge to me–likely because we were only moving the two of us and one dog from a small apartment, so we had fewer possessions.

Thought we still have quite a ways to go in the culling possessions/organization department, I think we make very good use of the space we have:  approximately 1100 square feet for four people and an assortment of pets–three bedrooms and 1.5 baths.

On more than one occasion, however, it has come to my attention that, according to the standards of many, our house is rather small.  The first time the size of our house was brought to my attention was about two years ago, with the comment of, “Wow, your house is so cute…and small!”

Variations on this comment have been said with relative frequency since that time, particularly when we have company over (admittedly, it can be a tight fit for more than just a couple of guests).   We don’t have a guest bedroom (instead using a blow-up mattress in a private area of the basement).  We don’t have an office for the three days a week Riley works from home (instead using part of the sub-basement for an office).  We don’t have a dedicated playroom (probably for the best though–instead the kids’ rooms house the majority of their books and toys).

I suppose that, compared to some houses in this country, our house is rather small (though nothing compared to tiny houses).  Conversely, our house is a mansion compared to other homes in the world.  I am pretty content with our “small” home, but falling into the comparison trap with the homes of others is something I’m not immune to.  Here are a couple of things that aid me in staying content with our abode.

I remind myself what living in a modest home permits us to do.  Staying at home with our kids is one of our top priorities, and not having a large mortgage payment each month helps make this possible.  Bonus:  we paid for the house ourselves–there’s something to be said for pride of ownership.

I remind myself that our home has everything we need (and want).  Would I like an upgraded kitchen and bathrooms?  Absolutely.  Would I appreciate a two-car garage for more storage (since we only have one car, we wouldn’t need the space for a second car)?  Sure.  But we have a fully functioning kitchen and bathrooms, and not having a whole lot of extra space means we keep our clutter under control.  Having a smaller house also means we have ample opportunity to spend time together as a family–no one can go off and do their own thing without anyone else knowing.  This “small” house gives us all we need and more.

I remind myself that less house=less cleaning.  Pretty self-explanatory.  I like a neat space, but I also don’t want to be a slave to housework.

What about you?  What are your thoughts on living small?

Photo by Fotorus.

Home Maintenance

It has been right about five years since Riley and I became homeowners, and if health is one of the life aspects where “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies, then I would argue so is home ownership.  It is cheaper and less time-consuming to practice prevention than it is to solve the problems as they crop up.

The gift of homeownership comes with certain duties and responsibilities (as well as the never-ending list of home improvements):  home maintenance.  This is far from a comprehensive list (click here for a good start), but hopefully serves as a good reminder of the (many) things that need to be done to keep a home running in tip-top shape.

1.  Check air conditioning and heat at the change of seasons.  This can not only prevent environmental problems like freon leaks, but can also spot potentially life-threatening issues, such as cracks in a furnace (which can cause lethal carbon monoxide poisoning).

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I speak from experience on this:  it was through an annual tune-up that we learned of hazardous cracks in our ancient furnace (seriously…it was 35+ years old), and if we turned it on, carbon monoxide would leak into our home.  We promptly got a new unit!  Those few minutes and dollars spent on a tune-up are well-worth it, and if there happens to be a problem, you become aware of it before it is too late! And on the subject of carbon monoxide…

2.  Check the batteries on carbon monoxide and smoke detectors twice a year.  This is something that can be done whenever the clocks need to be changed.  It’s easy to let this slide until an obnoxious little beep wakes you up at night, but as with a furnace tune-up, this little home maintenance tip can save lives.

3.  Vacuum refrigerator coils.  This one seems minor, but since your fridge sucks up a lot of energy, it behooves you to get rid of the dust and gunk that collects in those coils.  Doing so not only helps conserve energy and helps the environment, but also helps your utility bills.  Add it to your spring cleaning list!

What home maintenance projects do you recommend?