Category Archives: Simplicity

Simple ways to feel more organized

When Judah started bebopping all over the house a couple months ago, I felt like I lost a good chunk of useable time during the day. He suddenly started sleeping less, and he wanted to be moving constantly — which means I have to watch and chase him constantly. It’s hard to get anything done when he’s awake.

I’m not ashamed to admit that housework took a backseat. My to-do list took a backseat. And yes, this blog has taken a backseat. Eep.

I’m working on getting it together, though, and there are a few things I’ve implemented to make me feel and seem more organized — even on the days when I’m anything but.

Create a daily routine, and try to stick to it.

Things seem to go more smoothly when Judah and I stick to a basic routine. Play time, meals, naps, errands, and chores are all penciled into our day at roughly the same times every day, so we both know what to expect. Judah seems happier when we’re on a schedule, and I feel like I get more done when I adhere to a routine. There’s room for variation, but certain constants keep us running on schedule.

Keep things tidy.

Housework is one of the first things to fall to the back burner when I’m pressed for time, but a messy house makes me feel even more chaotic. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been cleaning a little every day instead of doing major cleaning on the weekends. By keeping our living areas (the kitchen, living room, and dining room) tidy, I just feel better and more organized. It also leaves more time for relaxation on the weekends. This same principle can be applied to your work space. Keeping your desk tidy will help you feel more focused and productive.

Schedule some downtime.

No matter how hectic things are, I try to reserve Judah’s morning nap time for quiet time for myself. I read, blog, email, or sometimes even nap during that time if we had a particularly rough night (ahem, teething). Taking an hour to myself every day helps me recharge and feel more focused so I can be more productive throughout the day.

Write it down.

I rely on my iPhone for pretty much everything. Appointments, reminders, and other odds and ends are programmed into my calendar, and I receive an alert to remind me of things. I would probably lose my head if it wasn’t attached to my body, so these reminders are crucial to keep me from missing important dates and appointments. If you prefer pen and paper, a planner or calendar can do the same job.

Know when to quit.

Sometimes after I finally get Judah to bed, I want to keep going and finish what’s left on my to-do list, but I know I’m too drained. When you hit a wall, tackle the last crucial things, but leave odds and ends that can wait until tomorrow. If you push yourself too hard, you’ll spend every day feeling exhausted, and it’ll lower your overall productivity. Instead allow yourself to quit when you know you’ve had enough. You’ll start the next day with more energy, and hopefully that’ll give you the bump you need to finish what you didn’t get to the day before.

What tricks do you use to fake it when you’re feeling unorganized?

Photo credit

Kicking the habit of using unnecessary household products

Habit has always been one of my biggest money drains. There are a lot of expensive things that I buy just because I always have, but when I really think about it, I could probably survive without them. I’ve already broken my habit for a few of them, but I’m still working on others. Here are a few of the things I came up with:

Paper towels

I’ve been trying to break my paper towel habit for years. They’re so expensive, and they’re bad for the environment, and yet I can’t seem to kick them. Over the past few months, I’ve tried really hard to decrease my dependence on them. I now use a dish towel to dry my hands, and I use a sponge for most household cleaning. For some messes (like sanitizing the counter after working with raw meat), I still prefer a paper towel that can be thrown away. But I’m saving money by reducing our consumption of this expensive convenience item.

Fabric softener

For years, I spent money on fabric softener sheets without really thinking about it. When we started using cloth diapers, we read that fabric softener residue can coat the washer or dryer and damage diapers, so we kicked the habit cold turkey. I was shocked to discover that I didn’t miss fabric softeners. At all. My towels are just as fluffy without them. My laundry may not have an artificial fragrance now, but I don’t miss that enough to warrant spending the money on them.

Individual cleaning products

There was a time when the cabinet beneath my sink was stocked with 20 different cleaning solutions. Kitchen cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, shower cleaner, mopping solution for the floors, and so on. Then I realized it’s all basically the same thing. I consolidated my cleaning supplies to a bottle of Lysol and a bottle of bleach. I’d like to kick the chemical habit all together and switch to vinegar, baking soda, and good old fashioned soapy water instead, but I’m working through the rest of these two bottles. I may still keep a bottle of bleach in the garage for really messy jobs, though.

Convenience foods

I used to spend a lot of money on snacks and frozen meals and other convenience foods. These items were one of the first things I dropped from our grocery list when we started living frugally, and I never looked back. They’re expensive, unhealthy, and I didn’t miss them one bit. We have fun crafting similar foods from scratch, and our grocery budget is much lower without them.

What household items have you learned to live without to save money?

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Crock pot cooking saves time & money

I’m suffering from a lack of inspiration this week. I’m tired. Judah is teething. Things have been a little rough lately. So forgive me for phoning it in a little on this one, but lately I’ve been having a love affair with my crock pot.

I’ve always thought of the crock pot as a fall/winter thing, but my love affair with mine started during this summer’s intense heat wave. We were having issues with our air conditioner, and the house just wasn’t getting as cool as we wanted. We couldn’t bear the thought of turning on the oven, and my husband (the cook in our family) didn’t want to stand over a burning stove top in the kitchen. Enter the crock pot.

We started buying large cuts of meat, slow cooking them in the crock pot, and using the meat in dishes throughout the week. Sandwiches, salads, soups, quesadillas. The possibilities were endless. Now as we enter the cooler season, I’m thinking about soups and stews and roasts and other winter comfort food that will be a snap to prepare in our beloved crock pot. It makes me wish we’d started using the thing years ago.

Here are a few of the reasons why I love it so much:

It’s easy.

Just chop and drop your ingredients in the morning (or before you go to bed), and when you get home dinner is ready to serve. Simple!

It uses less energy than the oven.

Even though the crock pot cooks for longer, it doesn’t use the massive amounts of energy it takes to heat an entire over to 300-400 degrees. So it will lower your energy bill (slightly).

It doesn’t heat up the kitchen or the house.

While most people think crock pot = winter comfort food, we started using ours in the summer time to avoid the heat generated by the oven and stove top.

It allows you to buy and cook cheaper cuts of meat without sacrificing flavor.

The process of slow cooking breaks down and softens up cheap cuts of meat that would otherwise be tough. That means you can stretch your grocery budget and still eat delicious meals.

It makes the house smell glorious.

There is nothing better than walking in the door to a house the smells of delicious roasted meat or soup. Trust me.

You can make more than you think with a crock pot.

I have an entire pinboard on Pinterest devoted to crock pot cooking, and I’ve been shocked at how many different recipes you can make. It’s not just soup and roasts. The crock pot can make it easier to prepare pasta dishes, casseroles, dips, and even drinks and desserts.

What’s your favorite crock pot recipe or web site? I’m always looking for new ideas!

Photo credit

3 simple things you can do right now to improve your state of mind

This post was originally published on July 16, 2009.

to do list

Sometimes when my to-do list is a mile long and I’m short on time and feeling overwhelmed, I feel like if I can’t finish everything right now I’m going to lose it. Don’t you hate those days?

Well, when I’m having a day like that, there are a few things I do to immediately make myself just a little calmer. That little bit of perspective is usually enough to allow me to get it together and get things done.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are some easy things you can do to get it together:

Clear your space.

Even if you don’t have time for full-fledged cleaning, take some time to ditch the clutter. I’m talking about the papers on your desk at work, the weeks of junk mail and magazines piled up on the table, and the breakfast dishes in the sink. My husband uses the dining room table as an office, which doesn’t bother me, until he gets a few days worth of papers stacked up all around him.

Take five minutes to clear the space around you. Get rid of the clutter, throw the papers into the recycling bin, and put the little nick nacks back where they belong. This includes your email inbox. Go through your emails, tackle the easy stuff with a quick reply, and add more involved tasks and responses to your to-do list. You’ll feel better instantly.

Make a list.

Now that your space is clear, take a few minutes to prioritize your to-do list. If you’re anything like me, your to-do list is scrawled in no particular order or, worse, stored in your brain. By making a physical list, you can not only prioritize and visualize what needs to get done, but you’ll get the satisfaction of crossing off your accomplishments.

I usually try to tackle the most difficult tasks first, but if you’re already feeling burned out, it may help to start with something easy to help you recharge. Find an order that works for you, and take a moment to evaluate your list and determine the best way to get everything done.

Take a walk.

I know, it seems counterproductive to take a break when you’re already short on time. But sometimes you just need to remove yourself from the stressful situation and take a time out to gather your thoughts and your sanity. I write a lot in my job (and of course for this blog), and sometimes I’ll spend two hours looking at a blank screen before I get up and take a break. After a quick break, I often come back and finish the project in 30 minutes because I’ve had a chance to gather my thoughts.

If you can’t take a walk, at least take a few minutes to take some deep breaths. If you feel tied to your to-do list, it’ll only make you feel resentful and you won’t be as productive. Remind yourself that you’re in control of the situation, and you can take a break if you need to. When you return, you’ll likely be more focused.

What do you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed?

Making the holidays as simple as possible

I hardly ever do stuff like this, so bear with me, okay?

Unless this is the very first time you’re reading my blog, then you know I’m having a baby very soon. Literally, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’ll be welcoming an adorable, pooping, crying, time-consuming bundle of joy into our home.

Some of my blogger friends who are in this position are very organized and motivated, and they’re getting their holiday shopping done early. For a number of reasons, though, I’ve decided to take Christmas off this year. Not only are we short on time, but our budget is very tight. As much as we love shopping for our families, we’ve asked to be excused from any holiday gift exchanges this year. We typically only exchange gifts with our parents and buy toys for our nieces and nephews anyway. The way I see it, our parents are getting a grandbaby for Christmas. It took me 9 whole months to make this baby for them, so they better like it. :)

For a hot second, I thought about baking instead of buying gifts. Or the old frugal standby — making gifts. Then I remembered that for the entire holiday season I’m either going to be very pregnant and preparing for baby, or I’ll be caring for a newborn. It’s just not happening this year. And that’s okay.

So what about other holiday traditions like holiday greeting cards? I usually send handwritten notes to friends and family wishing them a happy holiday and letting them know how we’re doing. This year, I’m simplifying our greeting cards by sending holiday photo cards from Shutterfly. With any luck, the baby will be here in time for us to include a photo of him on our cards along with a printed greeting. I’ll just pop them in an envelope, address them, add a stamp, and I’m done.

If you’d still like to add a handwritten message, there are plenty of stationery cards available with blank space for writing. I’m choosing to send photo cards with a printed message to make things as simple as possible.

If you want to make things even simpler, Shutterfly also has Christmas address labels and Christmas gift tags.

How are you simplifying the holiday season this year?

In exchange for this blog post, I’m receiving 50 free holiday greeting cards from Shutterfly. If you’re a blogger and you’d like to participate in this giveaway, you can get more information here.

Break for gratitude

Now more than ever I need to remind myself that as challenging as my days can be lately, I am very very lucky. Instead of complaining today, I’m affirming all of the reasons that I have to feel thankful on the day after my 26th birthday.

  • A medically uncomplicated pregnancy, and the healthy baby boy who will result from it (eventually).
  • My wonderful husband, who is working so hard to provide for us and take care of me on the days when I’m feeling particularly ill.
  • The incredible kindness and generosity of the friends and family who attended our baby shower this weekend, and the bounty of much needed baby items they brought for us.
  • Central air conditioning to keep me cool despite the 85-degree heatwave we’re experiencing in Indiana. (If I wasn’t pregnant, I would tough it out with fans and open windows. Sorry, electric bill. You’re just going to have to deal with a couple days of air conditioner use in October.)
  • The imminent and much anticipated arrival of fall and winter in the Midwest. I’ve missed it so much for the past three years, and I’m so glad I’ll finally be here to enjoy fall foliage, crisp air, and snow.
  • My parents, my sisters, Tony’s family, and our friends for providing us with the support network we missed so much when we were living 800 miles away.
  • Howie, the best dog in the world.
  • My blog readers, who have been so incredibly helpful with tips, encouragement, and inspiration over the past 2 years.
  • Generic Zantac, the midwife-approved medication that is keeping my reflux (somewhat) bearable in the final weeks of this pregnancy. I don’t like taking medication while pregnant, but the Zantac is much more effective and much preferred over 20 Tums a day.
  • Plentiful freelance work that will help us replenish our emergency fund.
  • Pumpkin-shaped Reese’s peanut butter cups.
  • Mid-day naps.
  • Thanksgiving, which is rapidly approaching.
  • Only 58 days until my estimated due date. I don’t know for sure that he’ll be here by then, but it feels good to know the end is getting so close.

I’m trying really hard to focus on the positive today. Why are you grateful?

Photo by wenzday01

Tick tock

This week has been … challenging.

After several weeks of feeling relatively okay (compared to the first 6 months of my pregnancy), I was suddenly stricken with nausea the likes I haven’t experienced since early in my first trimester. My midwife says it’s perfectly normal for some women to experience a resurgence of “morning” sickness in the final stages of pregnancy. And of course after my 6 months of nausea in the beginning, I’m one of the lucky women who gets more nausea at the end. Yay me!

All I wanted was to lie around listening to sad music and feeling sorry for myself. But unfortunately, I was up against a deadline for a huge freelance project. So this week has been full of stress and sickness and working anyway. Boo.

This week also marked the beginning of our hospital childbirth class. Since I’m planning an unmedicated birth, I was really nervous about the hospital class. Several natural birth resources advised me to skip it, saying it would only pump my head full of fear with talk of pain and pain medication and C-sections. We decided to take the class anyway, because I wanted to know what I’m up against. If my hospital wasn’t going to be natural birth friendly, I wanted to prepare myself.

I was so relieved to discover that everything I heard about hospital birth classes couldn’t be further from the reality of this class. The hospital I’ve chosen is incredibly natural-birth friendly. One of the few in my state certified baby-friendly based on guidelines set forth by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, the hospital I chose has an astonishingly low epidural rate (under 40%!). So far the class has focused on natural pain management techniques. I’m sure we’ll discuss medicinal approaches at some point, but they don’t seem to assume that every woman will show up looking for the drugs.

Because they’re baby friendly, most of the hospital’s standard policies are also very natural-birth friendly. Their policies combined with my midwife’s low-intervention approach makes me very optimistic about my birth.

My friend Kacie, who’s due with her second baby in December, posted her to-do-before-baby list on her blog today, and it reminded me just how little time I have left. My due date is in roughly two months. I still have diapers to buy, freezer cooking to do (thanks for your suggestions, by the way! I’ll be writing more on that later), deep cleaning in my apartment to tackle, and a baby quilt to finish.

Oh! And then there’s the tiny little task of setting up the nursery, which we haven’t even begun. It’s going to be a busy couple of months, for sure. Once I finish a major writing project that I’m working on, I’m thinking I’ll take some time off from freelancing to prepare for baby and rest up. I just hope my body cooperates, and I don’t lose too many days to nausea.

Despite the long, grueling week that’s almost behind me, there’s a light at the end of it. This weekend we’re headed to my parents’ house to celebrate my baby shower and my birthday on Sunday. I’ll be 26 years old. Eep. The second half of my 20s! Where has the time gone?

Photo by faerie-dust

Luxury vs. necessity: Are Americans confused?

Over the weekend, I found this interesting study from Pew Research on a blog I read. Survey respondents were asked to rate how necessary different household devices are to their lives and whether or not they consider them to be luxuries.

Respondents answered the question “Do you pretty much think of this as a necessity or pretty much think of it as a luxury you could do without” for the items on the right. I find the results shocking.

I wasn’t surprised to see that 86 percent of people consider their car to be a necessity. Depending on where you live, it can be pretty difficult to get around without a car. It’s sad to me that more communities haven’t embraced public transportation, but since I now live in one of them, I have to admit that our (one) car is pretty much a necessity for us. Without it, my husband wouldn’t be able to get to and from his job, which pays the rent and buys us groceries.

I was surprised, however, to see that more than half of respondents rated their home air conditioning and clothes dryer as a necessity. Really? Don’t get me wrong, I love air conditioning as much as the next person (especially now that I’m pregnant), but I also recognize that it’s one of the most decadent luxuries we enjoy in this country.

I’d say the same for my clothes dryer. Is line drying convenient? Not always. But it is something that everyone can do. And if you’re not willing to line dry, chances are you live near a laundromat.

I’m equally shocked that 47 percent of people think their cell phone is a necessity, 45 percent of people don’t think they couldn’t live without a microwave, 42 percent think their television is a necessity, and 21 percent even consider their dishwasher a necessity. And don’t even get me started on the 23 percent who think cable TV is a necessity or the 10 percent of people who can’t live without a flat screen TV. That is insanity.

These numbers show just how confused a lot of people in this country are when it comes to what they really need. I’d consider pretty much everything on this list a luxury. Do these things make life easier for us? Yes. By definition, that’s what luxuries do. They make life easier and more comfortable. But we don’t need them to survive.

It’s scary to think that so many people are confused about the difference between what’s necessary and what’s convenient. For necessities, we have no choice but to find a way to afford them. Things like food, clean drinking water, shelter, and medical care. But when you believe that things like air conditioning and clothes dryers and cable television are necessities, it’s harder to give up these luxuries when money is tight.

What do you think? Do you find this poll as shocking as I do?

Chart courtesy of Pew Research

Baby “stuff” sure does add up

This weekend, Tony and I started the arduous process of baby shopping. Our families are kindly planning a couple of baby showers, which means we should have a little help when it comes to acquiring what we’ll need, but I was still hoping to keep things to a minimum. We are living in an apartment, after all, and we’ll eventually have to move all this stuff.

So Sunday morning I began pouring over all of the baby checklists available and trying to decide what exactly I needed to have, and what I wanted to have. I finally condensed it to a list of essentials — for now anyway. I’ll be breastfeeding and cloth diapering, so our feeding and diapering needs will change as the baby grows.

We also made the decision to start with an infant car seat that doubles as a carrier since he’ll be born in the early winter. It’s true that convertible car seats will hold the baby for longer, but the thought of waking a sleeping baby to carry him out into the cold in the middle of January does not appeal to me. So we’ll worry about getting him a new seat when he hits the weight limit. For now, I’m focusing on getting us through the first year (or so).

There are some items that I’m not sure I even want, but I’ve been urged by many moms to suck it up and get them (ahem, I’m looking at you bulky, space-eating stroller). Two of the biggest items, the crib and the car seat, have been promised as gifts from our parents, so registering involved choosing a lot of little stuff.

All of this shopping is fun, but overwhelming. It may not seem like a lot to moms who’ve spent the past year (or several) acquiring baby things, but it sure does look like a lot of new stuff to someone who’s starting from zero.

Despite all that, I’m looking forward to actually getting some of it. This baby feels more real every day (especially now that I can feel him bopping around in there), and I can’t wait to get his room all set up and ready for him to come home.

Here’s the list I brought with me to the stores. I was intentionally vague about things like clothing. It seems every time we see our parents, they’ve bought some new clothing item for the baby, and we’re guilty of picking cute things up here and there when we see them. I suspect this will only get worse now that we know it’s a boy, and it will probably get even worse in the fall when stores begin carrying warmer baby clothes. So I don’t think we’ll have to worry about the baby running around naked for at least the first, oh, 8 years.

Big stuff

  • Crib
  • Pack and play
  • Infant car seat
  • Stroller
  • Swing
  • Baby carrier/sling
  • Bassinet (donated second-hand from my sister)


  • Crib mattress
  • Quilted mattress pad
  • Waterproof mattress covers
  • Crib sheets
  • Receiving blankets


  • Bottles
  • Pump (currently seeking suggestions for a good one under $100.)
  • Burp cloths


  • Baby wash
  • Washcloths
  • Nail clippers


  • Diaper covers (4)
  • Prefold diapers (24)
  • All-in-one/pocket diapers (12)
  • Cloth wipes (24)
  • Diaper bag
  • Diaper pail


  • Sleep sacks/swaddlers
  • Onesies
  • Pants
  • Socks
  • Snowsuit/coat

Now it’s your turn. What did you find indispensable in the first year of your baby’s life?

Photo by photoann