Jun 092015

Homeschool moms are busy. We have a lot to manage with educating children, laundry, cooking, housework, and even jobs. I’ve seen homeschoolers proudly announce that they have mountains of laundry to fold piled on the couch, or if someone comes to their house they have to run through the house wildly hiding piles of books and other clutter. But then they justify their lack of housekeeping by the fact that their children are more important than a neat and tidy home.

It’s not that I don’t agree with that. Our children are definitely more important than temporal things. No argument there, but sometimes I almost feel guilty for desiring a neat home because that means I’m spending less time on valuable pursuits, and I’m wasting my time cleaning and organizing.

And yet decluttering and organizing is a hugely popular topic on-line. (Just look at Pinterest if you don’t believe me.) It seems that people do crave organization, but want to justify their lack of it.

Giving Your Children WingsI was recently given the opportunity to review Giving Your Children Wings Without Losing Yours by Tami Fox. I was happy to discover that Tami and I agree that having a neat and organized home (at least relatively) is important. In her book Tami explains how we can have a neat house WHILE spending time with our children.

Messes and disorganization cause stress. Every person is different and the level of neatness that some require is going to be different. And that’s OK! We’re actually helping our children by having routines in our home and by including them in these routines. It’s also less stressful to us if we teach our children to share in the housework because when they get older, that will actually mean less work for us! (Sometimes in the middle of training a young child, it does seem like it would be easier to just do it yourself. And in the short run it often is. But the long term benefits outweigh the short term trouble of training children.)

In Giving Your Children Wings Without Losing Yours, Tami shares how she personally uses the Flylady system to keep her home clean and clutter free. I wouldn’t consider it a how-to book on setting up a system, but more of an encouragement to find a system that works for you and your family and to stick to it. Tami is open and honest with many of her personal trials and how she has overcome them.

My favorite quote from the book is this –

“We have all heard the saying, ‘If Mama ain’t happy, no one is happy.’ You can turn this around to, ‘If Mama is happy, everyone around her is happy, too’ A positive mood is contagious.”

I am guilty of feeling discouraged about everyone’s attitudes and being grumpy about it. That really makes no sense! My mood can, and often does, set the tone of the whole house.

If you’re looking for encouragement and ideas for cleaning and organizing your home while homeschooling, you should read Giving Your Children Wings Without Losing Yours. You can find it on Amazon.com.

Disclosure: I received a free electronic version of this book in order to write this review. I was not compensated for this review and the link to Amazon.com is not an affiliate link.


Feb 252015

Everyone knows that homeschoolers love the library.

And sometimes they share their record-breaking library overdue fines. Whenever this happens, there are some who mention that they have stopped using the library because they have spent more money on fines than would have to buy books.

While I am a huge advocate of having a large home library, I also utilize the public library. A lot. And I have very rarely had a book overdue.

Here are the keys to my system for organizing library books.

1. Store library books in a central location in your home.

I do NOT recommend a shelf. You need 2 containers. One for books that people are still using and one for books ready to be turned in. I use a tote bag for the ready to turn in books because then the bag is already loaded and I can pick it up when I’m ready to drop off books. I used to require that all library books be read in the living room where I keep the basket. I have relaxed that rule, but if you have a child who habitually loses library books, you might try implementing that rule at least until better habits are developed.

library books


2. Pick a library day.

This doesn’t have to be the only day that you ever go to the library, but pick 1 day of the week that you typically have time to stop into the library as part of your routine. If you’re close to a library, you can be more flexible with your choice then if you have to drive a distance to the library.
library books

3. Set up an on-line library account if you don’t already have one.

Set up accounts for every member of your household. I prefer to use 1 library card for all our books. However, we have a very high limit of books we are allowed to check-out. If your limit is lower, you’ll probably need to use children’s cards as well. Make a computer document with your library card numbers and passwords so you don’t have to search for your cards every time you need to log on.

4. On library day, log on to your library website and renew everything that is due that day or anytime in the next 7 days.

Yes, you read that right. I renew everything that is due unless the system won’t let me. If there is a hold on a title or I’m out of times to renew, it won’t let me renew. I then look at the list of books that HAVE to be turned in that day and put those in the library bag. The bag already holds books that we’re done with. I drop those books off at the library that day. If there is nothing that has to be turned in and nothing that I have waiting for me at the library, then I don’t have to go the library that week.

5. Set a weekly reminder to renew library books.

library books

It is important to remember to check the library account and renew all the books. Maybe you’re the type who will just remember to renew the library books every Tuesday, but if you are that type, then you probably don’t need help with keeping up with library books. So you need something that will remind you to do this task weekly. You can use an on-line calendar like Google calendar to remind you. If you have a smart phone, I highly recommend the Todoist app. You can also use Todoist on your computer. I am using it to organize all my repetitive tasks that are not quite repetitive enough to ensure that I remember them. Plus I get a thrill from marking things off a list. If you’re a paper planner kind of person you can just write it in your planner. The trick is to remember to copy it in every week. That’s why I love the Todoist app so much, I get all the great feelings of accomplishment that I get from making a list without the task of writing repetitive tasks on my list every week.

How many library books do you have checked out right now?

What’s the highest library fine you’ve ever paid?

How do you keep track of library books?

Jan 142015

A lot of people, including me, make New Year’s Resolutions to declutter their home and to simplify. But I bet not as many people resolve to declutter and organize their computer files.

Organizing Computer Files
Photo credit – Marcin Wichary

Keeping Your Computer Organized is Essential

You may not realize it, but keeping your computer organized and decluttered can save you both time and money. How much time do you waste looking for items you’ve saved on your hard drive? How many times have your looked for a computer file and not been able to find it? Or how many times have you forgotten that you had a great freebie or even purchased a resource and didn’t use it because you had forgotten about it?

January is Clean Up Your Computer Month

Here’s a free checklist with short daily assignments to help guide you through cleaning up your computer in 3 weeks. This checklist was provided by SingleHop, a cloud storage company. Click on the image to download a copy.



Organizing Computer Files

Organization is something that is individual. It needs to make sense to you, so there isn’t a single right way to organize your computer files. However, here are some questions to guide you through the organization process.

1. What do you save on your computer?

Do you use your computer for running a business? Do your children use it for school works? Are there pictures and ebooks on there?

2. Think about the general categories that you use your computer for and create folders for them.

I have folders for Home, Homeschooling Resources, Work,  and Blog. I also have folders for each child that uses my computer occasionally.

3.  Go through your documents and move them to the appropriate folder.

As you’re moving files, you may notice that you need sub-folders. I have sub-folders under Home for Recipes and Cleaning. In my Homeschooling Folder, I have folders for various subjects like Math, English, etc.

4. Delete documents that you no longer need.

Also create an archive folder for things you should save, but don’t need to access often (or maybe ever, but need to save just in case.)

5. Organize pictures by date or event.

Pictures are tough. I honestly don’t have a good system for my pictures.

6. Backup your hard drive.

You can do this with an external hard drive, cloud storage, or both. I like to use Snapfish for photo storage of images that I want to print, but I don’t save every image there. They do require an order every 12 months to use their service.

7. Maintain your organization system.

When you save something, go ahead and put it in the right folder. Go through your files at least monthly to see what you should move, archive or delete. Make a backup!

Hopefully these tips are helpful for organizing your computer files. I’d love to here about how your organize your files! (Especially for pictures. I need help!)

Jan 172014

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode

In November I happened to see a post in my Facebook feed about signing up for a chance to be on the launch team for Crystal Paine’s (Money Saving Mom) upcoming book, Say Goodbye to Survival Mode. Based on the title alone, I decided to sign up. At the time, I really felt like I was hanging on by a thread. We had finished with the very busy fall cross country season. (OK, a month earlier) and there’s something about getting through a major busy time that leaves me feeling let down. So I felt blah but without direction, and  I wasn’t making any progress on anything.

Thankfully, I was chosen for the team. I started reading and found myself agreeing wholeheartedly. The first chapter was Stop Trying to Do it All. Honestly, I’ve always prided myself in not over scheduling. I felt like I had kept our schedule pretty open. But in this season of our homeschool with my oldest in high school, we are involved in several outside lessons and classes. And they’re at an all time high this school year.

Time doesn’t expand limitlessly. When I say yes to one thing, I must say no to something else.

I’ve definitely said yes to a lot of things this year. What have I said no to?

Consciously, nothing. But certain things were not getting done.

Things like –

  • Regular Exercise
  • Meaningful Bible Study
  • Going over lessons with my children
  • Some housecleaning tasks (like ironing and mopping) – OK, so I don’t mind skipping those.

But then came the part where I was supposed to write down my own personal priority list.

And I froze.

I’ve never been one for open ended questions. And trying to come up with 4 or 5 concise statements of my priorities in life is overwhelming.

But I knew I should do it. I couldn’t go on without doing it. But I couldn’t do it. But what if the rest of the book hinges on those priorities?

Finally after being stuck without reading, I decided to keep reading.

OK. On to Chapter 2. Say Yes to the Best. Oh no, we’re going to be using the personal priorities list! Just keep reading.

Pretty soon Crystal got to topics that are more comfortable for me: things like dividing your time and  setting up a routine. Those are more my style. That’s how I think naturally. I haven’t been doing them though. I wonder why not? What happened?

The book progresses from thinking about the big picture of our goals and priorities to more practical ways to organize specific areas of our lives such as finances, the home, and giving. Crystal’s writing is informative and engaging with a good mix of personal stories and practical tips. But it’s not an exhaustive organizing book with how-to’s on organizing everything under the sun. It’s more of a big picture book with practical tips to get you started.

I kept getting called back to that big picture. What are my priorities? Why am I doing the things I am doing? What am I doing with my time? With the new year approaching, it seemed an appropriate time to be pondering  all these things. As a result of reading Say Goodbye to Survival Mode  I started to implement some major changes to my schedule.

The biggest one is my no computer times I have set up every day. I have determined that I cannot do a good job with homeschooling while I am also checking e-mail, browsing Facebook, and working on my job. So I am requiring that my laptop stays shut and put away from 8-11 am every weekday. And in order to spend more focused time with my husband in the evenings, we have both agreed to no electronic devices between 6-8 pm.

Without me bringing it up, my husband suggested that we set some goals for the year and think about our priorities. Isn’t that an amazing coincidence? (I don’t think so. I love how God in his sovereignty oversees even the seemingly small details like my getting “randomly” selected for a book launch.) If I hadn’t read Saying Goodbye to Survival Mode, I wouldn’t have been prepared to set goals with my husband. I would have felt like he thought I was failing, and I needed help. But I was finally ready to admit that I did need help. And I came up with the no computer time idea. My husband had thought of that long ago, but knew better than to suggest it to me. Some things we have to see for ourselves. And I foolishly thought I could handle all that multi-tasking. And I continued to sink further and further.

Things are looking so much better. No, my life of homeschooling 5 children, keeping house, and working part-time is not suddenly easy. But I finally feel more in control. I still haven’t written out my priorities, but I’m going to. I have set aside a lot of the things that were wasting my time (mainly computer related), and I have been much more productive. Do I owe it all Say Goodbye to Survival Mode? Well, maybe not, but it certainly came at the right time and helped me to get out of the life boat and back onto the ship.

So take a look at the book. Right now it’s still pre-order only, but there are some great freebies that come with it. But hurry if you want the free stuff because the book will be released on January 21!

Disclosure: I received an advance electronic copy of this book in order to complete this review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.



Sep 212011

I have a special treat for you. I am today’s host for the Schoolhouse Birthday Bash Blog Hop! Every day you can meet one of the new monthly columnists for The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine.

Malia Russell is the founder of Homemaking 911, a website providing help and encouragement to homemakers. She is a gifted writer and speaker and seeks to serve the Lord by helping other women learn to serve Him in their homes. I was privileged to ask her a few questions about organization.

Kristen: In your opinion, are organizers born or made?

Malia: Some are born naturally organized.  My daughter, Anne is very naturally organized.  She craves order and is very visually oriented, so a lot of chaos bothers her.  She seems to be able to find an organizational system for herself when needed, and she is good at maintaining it.  Some people who are organized are not naturally organized.  I was not born naturally organized, which is why Homemaking 911 was created.  I needed to learn the specific skills of organization, and I had to learn the WHYs of organization- sometimes the hard way!

Kristen: What is your best organizational tip for busy moms?

Malia: Examine your life for ONE area where you are organized- one small system where things are working well is a great starting point.  Then, figure out why it works so well.  For example, when I first started organizing, about the only organized thing I could find was my husband’s tie rack.  Why did it work?  It was the right size, it was in the right place, and it was holding the right amount of things.  I took that idea and tried to apply it to other areas.  I started with the closet in our entry way.  Then, I figured out what natually ended up there and found a way to make it organized that we could maintain.  So, start with something small you are doing right and apply it to other areas.

Kristen: When life becomes chaotic, how do you start to get control of things again?

Malia: I stop everything and pray for wisdom.  Then, I think about the next “musts” such as the next meal that must be prepared.  Next, I start all my modern day “servant girls” working for me.  I get the washer going, unload and load the dishes, and I get everyone working on their chores.  I will generally start on the main floor since that is where we spend most of our time and it is the entry way for guests. This area includes our hall, kitchen, dining room and living room and powder room. Once those are done,everything else seems so much easier to handle.

If the chaos is created by outside issues such as orders needing to be filled, customer questions and emails, business requirements, I will make a list of everything on my plate and start deciding what can be delegated to my assistant or children (or what requires my husband’s help).  Then I will start sending out work to get complete, and tackle everything else that only takes a few minutes.  I will make sure I am putting everything on my master list to review so that things do not slip through the cracks. I delegate liberally and have come to realize that if I delegate a task (such as mopping a floor) to someone young, and it is not done perfectly, at least it is better than not being done at all.  I can use spare time to train on proper techniques, but on a busy day, any help offered and taken is better than practicing perfectionism in terms of getting tasks completed.

To avoid getting to the point where everything is out of control, I try to look at tasks I repeat often and try to make those as efficient as possible.  Meal making, bill paying, product mailing, etc. are all things I have to do over and over again.  Becoming more proficient at these helps me keep things under control so that I can get more done in less time.

Kristen: Thank you so much Malia. I love the idea of figuring out what organizing system is working for you and figuring out why. And I agree with your observation that a task done imperfectly by a young one is still better than not being done at all. I’ve had to let go of some of my perfectionism in this area. I’m looking forward to your monthly columns in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine.


May 062011

Homemakers Challenge - 31 Days to CleanThis week I started reading 31 Days to Clean and participating in the HOMEmaker’s Challenge working through it. I am really enjoying this book. If there was any doubt before, this book has confirmed something to me. I am more of a Martha than a Mary. At least my natural inclination is more that way.

31 Days to Clean is divided into 31 short chapters. Following each chapter are 2 challenges: A Mary challenge and a Martha challenge. The Martha Challenges are cleaning tasks. Great! Give me those! I’m very happy to report that my refrigerator has been cleaned inside and out. My kitchen cabinets are clean and shiny too. I love these type of assignments. They keep me accountable to do an extra chore, and I’ve always loved the gratifying feeling of tangible accomplishments.

But the Mary Challenges are….hard. I’ve been thinking and pondering this week about WHY I clean. I’ve been thinking about a mission statement for cleaning. But I haven’t come up with anything concrete and definite yet. But something did happen this week that is very relevant to the challenge, even though I wasn’t trying to discover the answer.

Day 3’s Mary Challenge was:

Ask your family what makes them feel the most loved when it comes to you caring for your home – ask them to be specific so that you can begin (or continue) to give life to your domain.

Confession time. I did not ask. But apparently the Lord really wanted me to do this. On Tuesday evening my husband and I got into an argument. I don’t want to share the details because they’re private and not pretty. But I do want to share that at the root of the argument was the fact that my husband didn’t feel like I appreciated the things he helps with around the house. And he doesn’t like it when I leave dishes in the sink when I’m cooking and expect him to wash them for me.

OK, so I took this constructive criticism to heart and realized that I was indeed expecting him to wash those dishes for me. Umm. Not exactly. Not at all. At least not initially. My ruffled feathers are smooth now. I was doing what he said. I wasn’t expressing my appreciation to him enough. And now I’m making a conscious effort to clean up as I cook.

So this has definitely been a productive week for me. I’ve cleaned, I’ve learned something I didn’t know, and I’m expressing love to my husband in a way I hadn’t realized was needed.


Aug 042010

OK, so it’s not a major award. But I won something great!

I enter some giveaways, but I frequently skip them because they are just too much trouble to enter. However, when I saw this giveaway on Homeschool Creations, I couldn’t resist entering. (And doing everything I could to earn more entries.)

I am thrilled that my entry was selected to win this really neat library cart from Guidecraft. My husband thinks I’m a little strange to get this excited over a library cart, but it is not something I could afford to buy right now. But it looks like an ideal way to organize our homeschool books. Plus, I think this will allow me to move the homeschool stuff out of my bedroom! (We don’t do school in the bedroom, but I have the books on the bedroom bookcase.)

I can’t WAIT until I receive this. Hopefully, it will be just what I need to give me that last surge of energy to get things ready to start school!

Oct 212009

I should mention that I really don’t like to dust. It’s one of the chores that I try to assign to my kids. My bedroom furniture is particularly difficult because it has grooves that are hard to get to. Here’s a picture of the cabinet on the front of the chest after not dusting it for months, weeks, a few days. I intentionally didn’t dust for the experimental purposes. (I’m not a very good liar.)

(I really can’t believe what I will take pictures of!)

This is after dusting it with a dust cloth.

And here is the final product after using the canned air.

There is still some dust in the corner, but overall a great improvement. And it’s quick and easy too. I’m certainly not going crazy dusting with the canned air every day, but when I actually do dust, I’ve finally found a way that Works for Me!


Oct 072009

This week is cleaning theme week at Works for Me Wednesday. I have already made a few Works for Me Wednesday posts with some of my cleaning tips. Here’s our Chore Chart, and just last week I posted on Dividing Cleaning Tasks. You may think that I like to clean. But I really don’t. I just like the end results. There are some chores that I am particularly likely to procrastinate. My tip today is for those little chores that you tend to put off because “you don’t have enough time right now.” (I’m not talking about cleaning out the garage!)

Time yourself doing the chore.

Really. See how long it takes. I was amazed one time when I was heating something in the microwave while I was unloading the dishwasher. I finished the entire dishwasher while I was waiting! What about folding a load of laundry? It can be done in 5 minutes!

A way to take this just a step further is to have a race doing a chore. I started having a race with my daughter while putting sheets on my bed. My job is to put all the sheets on while she is putting all 4 pillow cases on. We actually have fun and it is a way to get the chore down even faster! You can even race against the clock if you can’t convince anyone to race with you.

On your mark…Get set…Clean!

Sep 302009

When I was a kid, my mother cleaned the whole house once a week. (Not that she didn’t clean up anything in between) I mean all the dusting, vacuuming, bathroom cleaning, floor mopping, EVERYTHING on ONE day. As I got older I was assigned a lot of it. It takes a lot away from a Saturday morning when you have to clean the whole house. Not to mention what happens to the house if you miss your cleaning day.

Well, with homeschooling, that definitely does NOT work for me. I’ve divided up my housecleaning into manageable chores each day. I also have them scheduled a little more often than is absolutely necessary because I’d rather clean a not-so-dirty toilet twice than a nasty toilet once. Overall I think it’s less work too.

So I don’t clean my bathrooms on the same day as I vacuum. (And if I didn’t have kids assigned to clean some of the bathrooms, I wouldn’t even clean them all on the same day.) I don’t mop the kitchen the same day I change sheets. What do I gain from this?

 Cleaning takes smaller chunks of time.


 A  house that is never totally dirty.

(It’s never completely clean either, but I can live with that. How long would it stay completely clean anyway? 5 minutes?) It’s definitely working for me.