Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Decluttering 101

I've never been much of a packrat, or at least that what I tell myself. I'm not one to hold on to items for sentimental value, or even because I may need it one day (if I haven't needed it in the past 3 years, chances are I won't need it in the next 3).

But now that I'm in the midst of decluttering my home pre-baby, I'm finding that I have a lot more stuff than I thought.

Fortunately, when I do go through my collection, it's usually easy for me to let go of things. The bad part is that I don't let go of nearly as much as I need to. If I want to live the minimalist life I'm envisioning in my head, I've got to get serious about getting rid of all the junk.

And I am trying. I've even discovered a few tricks along the way.

The number one, most useful, easiest, best trick I've found is this: instead of pulling out items you want to get rid of, pull out only the items you really want to keep, then get rid of everything else.

I'm finding this tip especially useful for books, because I don't habitually reread books, so there are very few I actually need to have on my shelf. But if I go through looking for books to toss, I'll fall into the trap of thinking, "Oh, I liked that book all right, I think I'll keep it," or even, "I never got around to reading that book, I'll get to it eventually." WRONG. With Baby on the way, I'm about to have less time to read than ever before, so if I haven't gotten around to reading it yet, chances are I'm not going to.

But it also works for other things. Take clothes, for example. Most of us have more clothes than we really need, and I, at least, wear only a select set of them on a regular basis, and what's more, we know what that select set is (hint: look at your laundry basket for a couple of weeks). The trick is, which ones DO you wear, not which ones do you think you might wear? That's the tough part.

Of course there are going to be things you don't wear on a weekly basis, or seasonal items you won't wear for another few months. I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about the shirt that's slightly uncomfortable, or that makes you sweat, or that doesn't quite fit, or that you're not sure if it's really your color. All of those, out they go!

It's not as hard as it seems, and it's actually quite liberating. I'm looking forward to getting rid of more stuff this weekend.

After the football game, of course.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One Week and Counting!

I guess I can officially claim to be a cloth diapering mama. I’ve been at it for one week now and I can officially say- it’s gotten easier. Am I over the learning curve? No. No. And for good measure, heck no.

Although the process seems much easier now, I am still eons away from being an expert. I have finally stopped hearing a little voice in my head saying “you didn’t know what you were getting yourself into, just declare it a loss and put on a disposable” every time I change my baby’s diaper.

My baby has also gotten used to cloth diapers. He seems happier with them now than before, when he was clearly trying to figure out just what the new texture and additional moisture were all about.

Granted, I still use disposables at night. That may continue indefinitely. It works well because baby has his biggest “constitutional” in the morning. It can be kind of explosive and… never mind. It is kind of nice to get that out of the way, wrap it up and never deal with it again. (I know, except for the fact that it ends up eventually leaching into the earth and poisoning the land for future generations, but please, give me a break because I’m trying.) I also still use disposables at daycare. I just don’t know about switching them over, and too, I need to give my credit card a rest for a while.

Current Observations-Prefolds
1. As I previously mentioned, get plenty of covers. Get different kinds because they fit differently and you need to learn what works best for your baby. Invest in wool- even if it’s just one cover. It really is awesome! To keep costs down, I knit my own and it’s already my “go to” cover.

2. Buy a few different prefolds to find the best fit. If you can, try to purchase singles in a few different sizes. I had initially thought to buy a bit bigger than baby truly needed to maximize the investment, but they didn’t fit well and diapering was way more difficult and frustrating than it needed to be. Basic cotton prefolds are not terribly expensive; it’s worth it to find and buy the correct size. Both you and your baby will be much happier and it’s going to keep you from reaching for the disposable out of frustration.

3. Be realistic about your needs. Over the weekend, I found myself washing diapers daily. I wanted to rush right to my computer and order more. When I thought it out, I realized that 5 days a week, I’m only going through 4-5 diapers a night. Two dozen diapers meet our needs just fine. If I were to go to full time cloth diapering, I would definitely order another 1-2 dozen. I should also mention I grab cloth diapers when a spit-related emergencie arise (no pun intended). We go though extra diapers that way, but they absorb so well they are a must have.

Monday, August 18, 2008

And we're off!

The remodeling of the dining room has officially started! Most of the walls are stripped, with the final section getting stripped either this evening or first thing tomorrow. Also tomorrow, they're coming to install our new sliding doors. Then wiring, insulation, and drywall. And THEN . . . we're off to start the nursery.

I cannot possibly explain to you how excited I am about that.

Also of note, there was a bit of decluttering and rearranging done. In an effort to stay away from the plaster dust during the wall destruction, my mom helped me clean out the upstairs bathroom closet. I weeded out a ton of old sheets, expired medicines, and toiletries I'm never going to use. Plus we got my makeup and other currently used toiletries moved into the closet and the vanity in the spare room/soon-to-be-nursery cleared out.

More importantly, we moved the towels and sheets to the lower shelves in the closet, and the toxic-if-ingested stuff up and away from tiny fingers. It's won't be important for another year or so, but I figured we might as well do it now while we're at it.

And then on Sunday, I went through my closet and the two dressers in the spare room and weeded out clothes I no longer wear. They are now packed up and in the back of my car to drop off at Goodwill. It's harder to do it at this point though, because I can't judge anything on the basis of what fits, as nothing at all fits me right now except the few new maternity items I own. But it's also easier to declutter in a way, because I have a reason to get rid of stuff and make room.

Still left to do: go through shoes, handbags, the storage boxes under the bed, and the dresser in the master bedroom. And really, the shoes and handbags are the biggest part of that (which isn't saying a whole lot--I love shoes and handbags).

With any luck, that will be done this week, because next weekend we're setting up our baby registry.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cloth Diapers: Financials and Figures and Shopping- Oh My!

I had been tossing around the idea of cloth diapering since my youngest was born. I have to admit, it’s only been three months, but in that time we have already spent far more money on disposable diapers than I could stand. At $17.00 per week, the expense adds up quickly. I realize that babies gradually start to need fewer diapers per day as they grow. Diaper companies realize this too; larger size diapers have fewer per pack. I’m still spending about $15-$17 per week.

My older two kids were in disposable diapers until they were a little over two, then I switched them to the disposable training pants. The training pants made cleanups simpler, but didn’t really do much to encourage potty-training because the children were so comfortable in them. The cost of training pants? About $15-$17 per week.

Josie and JR were both considered trained at 32 months. Multiplying 32 months by 4.3 (weeks in a month) brings us to an approximate age of 137.6 weeks. Multiply that by $16.00 (the average cost of diapers a week), and you’ve spent $2201.60 just on diapers. That doesn’t include wipes- $2201.60 on poop collection alone!

If that number does not seem staggering to you, I need to mention that I live in a tiny town in a not hugely populated area of the Western Plains. The closest WalMart is a 70 mile drive and the closest mall is 100 miles (sobs). Buying diapers in town is fairly costly, local retailers mark them up several dollars over discount chains. Running low on diapers invariably means a trip out of town to purchase diapers, wipes and a bunch of stuff we really didn’t need but couldn’t pass up because it was a good deal. Frequently, we also eat out once or twice. Suddenly, $75 for a month supply of diapers and wipes just quadrupled. I know what you are thinking, “Buy local, idiot”, but who wants to take the easy way out?

So after months of comparing and researching, I decided it was time to tinkle or get off the potty and I invested $150.00 into cloth diapers. It amounted to 15 prefolds, three covers, wool yarn to make a few of my own covers, 5 diaper liners for bedtime or excursions, a Snappi and a few cloth wipes. I had the weekend to experiment with cloth diapering and overall, it went well but I am still very much in the learning curve. I did decide that the diapers I had were a bit full to fit in the covers the way I wanted, I really wanted to fold the diapers in thirds and lay them in the covers, and then just secure them when I wrapped the cover onto my baby. Unfortunately, I got the diapers so big they would not fit well in that manner. I have since ordered a dozen smaller diapers, another Snappi and a wet bag. Total investment at this point is $200.00.

I have been using cloth diapers at home for the whole week. Since I work full time outside of the home, I have been using a disposable diaper at bedtime, just for the convenience of guaranteed dry sheets in the morning (providing my breasts did not leak in the night). The first few evening of cloth diapering were fraught with mistakes. There were several times all three of the purchased covers were in the wash because I didn’t manage to get enough coverage to the necessary locations. But it has been getting easier with every passing day.

My biggest recommendation is to get plenty of covers. I would have done less diapering laundry if I had gotten just a couple more covers off the bat.

I’m still waiting for the smaller diapers to come in, and I’m getting more proficient with the larger ones while I wait. I will still use the larger ones as a back-up to be able to space laundry out an extra day and they really do make excellent burp cloths and changing pads! Besides, he will grow into them. They are still worth every penny. (Not to mention the fact that I'm not positive I'm done having babies and I will be able to use them for another baby later.)

I haven’t progressed to the point where I’m positive I’ll be doing this at daycare. I would prefer to switch over completely, but I want to have enough experience with it that I can present it to the attendants with more knowledge. I want to make it simple enough for them that it would be considered “just another diaper change” and not "a completely unfair task demanded by the dragon lady". Provided I make the switch, I would probably invest in some one-sized pocket diapers for their convenience. It would mean a pretty heft investment, so I want to make sure it will be a wise one.

Yes, I will still make occasional trips out of town. I would go mad if I didn’t! But hopefully I could spread them out a bit more and spend significantly less overall. If my predominant purpose for going were removed it would no longer be a “shopping excursion”, it would just be a happy family outing. We would have a lot more time for museums and events instead of trying to navigate a wobbly shopping cart through narrow aisles. My husband is already breathing easier.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New Ride

I just got a sweet new ride!

At various times in my life, those words would have evoked different images. In college a “sweet ride” would have made me think of my friend Doug and his shiny red Dodge Daytona Turbo Z. It was fast and it looked great with my hair. It was an incredibly cool car for college students in the mid-90s.

Several years later, in the mountains of Colorado, my friend Shannon had a “sweet ride” with her Audi Quattro. She also had a trust fund.

Doug’s mom is now the Lieutenant Governor of a certain state and Shannon still has a trust fund and I’m just grateful to be further up the food chain than the ’78 Ford Fiesta I drove fifteen years ago.

My newest acquisition is a used Chrysler Town & Country. I traded off my All Wheel Drive gas guzzler for a vehicle where my 9 year-old daughter would no longer complain about her brothers’ car seats taking up too much room. I would be free of my three year-old son yelling that his sister was touching him. I would have plenty of cargo space for the stroller for my 3 month-old son, with enough space left over for diapers, wipes, toilet paper, school supplies and bargain clothes. There would be enough room left over for weeks of groceries!

(As it turned out, “weeks of groceries” lasted approximately 5 days. I will be grocery shopping this afternoon. I can show off my vehicle locally.)

I love my minivan, which is good; I’m going to be driving it for a long time. I won’t even mind if they start complaining about the van. I will be able to drown them out with my steering wheel mounted audio controls!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Decluttering, Part I: Baseline Analysis

In my heart, I am a minimalist. I have only what is absolutely necessary. There is no clutter on my countertops or tables, there is only one bottle of body wash in my shower, and I don't have any clothes in my closet that I don't actually wear.

In my reality, things are a bit different. My countertops and tables are cluttered about 3 days after I make the effort to clear them off once and for all, I have about 6 types of body wash (most of which I actually use, but none of which I would call "absolutely necessary"), and most of the clothes in my closet haven't been worn in months (if not longer).

My heart leaps at images of clean, open spaces and sleek, crisp lines. My inbox is clear, my To Do list is short, and my desktop is as free from icons as I can reasonably make it.

My house, however, is inhabited by two large dogs, two fluffy cats, a packrat of a husband, and hand-me-down (i.e. not in any way minimalist-looking) furniture. Not to mention any number of remodeling projects and other assorted tasks.

And then there's me, somewhere between ready-to-throw-out-everything-I-own-and-start-over and I-don't-care-what-it-looks-like-I-just-don't-want-to-think-about-it-right-now. Throw in the standard allotment of not-enough-hours-in-the-day, work a full time job to which you commute 40 minutes to and from each day, add a baby girl due in December, and make sure that approximately nothing has been done to ready the nursery (which still needs such basics as wiring, drywall, and new windows), and you'll have a pretty good idea of where I'm at.

Yet I still read decluttering and minimalist blogs on a mostly daily basis. I still go through spurts of throwing out boxes and bags of stuff I don't need. Occasionally I even manage to convince my husband to get rid of a few tee shirts I've never seen him wear in the 4 years we've been together, or pants that haven't fit since his college days, or the rollerblading gloves he hasn't used since high school. And in those very rare moments where the longing for a minimalist abode is so great I'm willing to give up anything, anything at all just so I don't have to have it on my conscience any longer, I'll even clear a shelf of my greatest treasure: books.

Today is significant in that we've had to clear most of our dining room in preparation for remodeling. We're replacing a set of windows with sliding doors and adding a patio and stairs outside (so we can actually get into our yard without having to walk all the way around the garage), updating the wiring, and replacing the cracked plaster walls with drywall. I'm still undecided on whether or not to refinish the floors (they need it, but we can't really do the living room at the same time, so they won't end up matching).

The problem with all of this is, what do we do with all of our stuff? There is simply too much of it. Our house, while not huge, is a decent size (about 1650 square feet plus a full basement), and yet there is more clutter than two relatively young people would ever have a need for. We did manage to get rid of an extra desk (technically, it's sitting on the front porch until we can figure out exactly how to get rid of it), but everything else just got shuffled around. And the china cabinet and buffet are still in the dining room because I don't have anywhere to put them in the meantime. I could not, however, manage to convince my husband to let me get rid of the "puppy couch," or the torn up, stinking, 1987-patterned bachelor couch he had long before we met that the dogs are allowed on (hence the term), even though my grandmother recently gave us a perfectly decent sectional. Both of them are still in the living room. Along with all of the furniture from the dining room.

I'm blaming my current mood partially on my pregnancy. I'm over halfway through (22 weeks), and I feel like I haven't accomplished a single thing. Sure, I've got about $400 worth of baby clothes that various people have bought me (I myself spent only about $23 and bought exactly ONE dress), and my mom has crocheted 4 afghans and unearthed a bunch of stuff from my own babyhood, and we have finally secured the financing to start the remodeling which will start with the dining room and eventually include the nursery. But as of right now, I have not cleared a single item of my clothing from the dresser that will be the baby's. I have not begun to clean out the bathroom closet that will house my toiletries instead of the desk in the spare bedroom, which will be the nursery. I haven't bought a single diaper, or chosen a fabric or pattern for the diaper bag I intend to make, or selected a crib, or anything.

It's all so overwhelming, and I don't know where to start.

So I'm just picking something. Obviously, the dining room, which is waiting for the hired help (i.e. my father and brother, who actually are professional construction-ers) to show up and do their thing, is one step. As for the nursery, it will begin with the cleaning of the bathroom closet to make room for the rearranging I have to do.

Step 1: declutter (i.e. get rid of junk I don't need).

It begins tonight.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

And me too.

I'm the other one. I'm Elisha, and I'm new to this whole parenting thing, or perhaps not quite there yet, depending on how you want to look at it. I'm currently pregnant with my first child, and due in December. (The speculation says Baby's a girl, and no, we have not yet agreed on a name.)

I'm married to a mostly wonderful guy, Steve. We live in an ongoing remodeling project in the mountains of beautiful West Virginia with our two dogs and two cats. He's a city boy, and I'm most definitely a country girl, and right now we live within the limits of a relatively small town, so sometimes things get interesting, but we're doing our best. As an added bonus, I also work full-time outside the home.

My primary intests, considering the impending baby, are parenting and homemaking, but occasionally I'll wander to topics anywhere from health and nutrition to designing handbags. I'm often torn between the convenience of modern options and the natural, organic, minimalist lifestyle I would love to be living. In my dream world, I would be the apron-wearing, "Leave It to Beaver"-type stay-at-home-mom, and I'd do it all while saving money and staying "green."

But this, unfortunately, is not my dream world, so I'll just have to make do with what I've got.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Have we met?


Well, come on in, sit down and let’s visit for a while. My name is Theola. I have three kids and I’m married to my best friend, Jeff. After life in the mountains of Colorado, we moved back to the Midwest and we now live in Jeff’s hometown in Kansas. In addition to being a wife and mother, I also work full-time outside of the home.

My primary interests are parenting and homemaking. When I say homemaking I’m not speaking in terms of the apron-wearing “Leave It to Beaver” lifestyle. I mean juggling the cooking, cleaning, laundry and decorating on top of any other obligation you have. Martha Stewart makes it sound simple and easy. Love her or hate her, I think Martha Stewart has super powers that cannot be matched by mere mortals such as myself.

I can’t maintain my house, husband, job and children and still have enough time left over to bake bread from scratch then slather it with freshly churned butter from an organically fed dairy cow. Yesterday I didn’t even remember to remove the burp cloth from my shoulder until a co-worker commented on it, 15 minutes after dropping my kids off at daycare!

So forget Martha Stewart. (Hey, I’m not bagging on Martha Stewart, like I said, the woman has super powers. Quite frankly, I’m scared of her.) Let’s make life a little more attainable so we can actually sit down and enjoy it. At the very least, we can get a laugh out of it!