Saturday, May 26, 2012

Breaking It Down: Laundry, Simplified

For as many things as there are under my care that I'm continuously trying to improve on, there is one major category that I actually feel like I have a good grip on:   
The Laundry.

Now, my husband may be snickering even as he reads this, he does live here after all, and has witnessed every miserable fail there's been in the laundry department... but all things considered, I think we're doing all right.  When we got married 13+ years ago, I had never (never!) done a load of laundry.  It's taken many years to develop my current system, and trust me, there were years of empty drawers, indistinguishable piles of dirty and clean, moldy onesies, not a pair of socks to be found... you get the picture.  Years.  It's not perfect, but it's a working system that serves this big family well.  Here are five of the key elements:

1.  Limit dressers!

We have 8 (soon to be 9) people in this house, and we have exactly 3 dressers.  It took me a long time to come to this realization, but I finally figured out that they're just not necessary.  In fact, they make things a whole lot more difficult.  I had a dresser that I used for years for the kids that had 10 drawers.  I thought it was great for children's clothing because it had many small drawers for small items.  Then one day it hit me, exactly how many times I had to open and close each one of those little drawers each week!  It was an older dresser, as were all of the others in our home, bought used or inherited, and the drawers didn't slide too easily, making it quite tedious to put clothes away each day.  Then there's the fact that no child in my house could EVER properly close a drawer after opening it.  They always managed to look sloppy, with half-closed drawers with clothing peeking out of one or more of them.  And don't get me started on the tops of the dressers.  Can we say CLUTTER MAGNET?

So we made some adjustments.  I also knew that we weren't making good use of the space under the beds, so I picked up four under-bed storage bins on wheels, and designated one to each of boys #2, 3, 4 and 5 (ages 10 down to 3).  They're easy to pull out and drop clothes into.  They fit nicely under the beds, hold a season worth of clothes, and are out of sight, freeing up space in the bedroom for other things.

We even stopped bothering with the lids, it's easier.

For Mr. Smith and our oldest son (age 12), we have an open shelving unit in the laundry room in the basement.  They're both fine with getting dressed in the basement, and theirs is the bulkiest of the laundry, which I'm now saved from having to haul upstairs to put away.  We have a small dresser next to their shelves, to keep their socks, underwear, t-shirts, ties, belts, etc. in.  I'm able to fold their clothes as they come out of the dryer, and set them right onto their shelves immediately.

In our bedroom I have one large dresser for all of my clothes, and a smaller dresser for baby clothes.  It's handy to me to have the babies' clothing in my room, since I'm the one putting it away and dressing them each day.

Admittedly, we do not hang many of our clothes.  We don't own an abundance of particularly dressy items, and just have one section in the boy's closet for suits and dresses.

2.  Don't have too many clothes circulating at once.

I try to be really careful with each change of season, to take out only the amount of clothes necessary to get each person through a week.  We do keep a lot of extra clothing in storage in the basement (the frugal part of me won't let those go, knowing how many kids are up-and-coming to fit into those, and how quickly things get worn out), but I don't want the boy in a size 6 to have access to every article of size 6 clothing in the house at any given time.  The under-bed storage helps with this, as those bins can't hold much more than the basics.  Having just enough clothing out also keeps me accountable on laundry -- We can't let the piles of dirty clothes build or no one will have anything to wear in a week's time.  We just did the clothing switchover for summer, and each boy basically has:
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 2 long-sleeved shirts
  • 1 hooded sweatshirt
  • 1 pair of khaki pants
  • 2 church shirts
  • 4-6 pairs of shorts
  • 6-8 t-shirts
  • sports uniforms/clothes
  • 2-3 pairs of pajamas
Now I do totally get it that this may only be possible with boys.  Girls seem to have a need for more types of clothing, and tend to care more about what they're wearing and how often they change.  My boys are pretty easy this way.

*Note:  The younger the boy, the more clothing they have out.  My older boys can easily wear an outfit 2 days in a row, but the younger ones tend to get messy much faster.


Several years ago, I read a tip about sorting laundry and implemented it right away.  We've never looked back.  I got four hampers and wrote in permanent marker down the sides of them:  DARKS, LIGHTS, WHITES, TOWELS.  These are kept next to the washer and dryer.

We keep one more hamper outside the bathroom for all dirty towels, and dirty clothes go down the chute.  No dirty clothing on the main floor, and no wet towels down the chute to mix in with clothing and create the possibility of mildew.

Even if I don't have time to run loads, I try to keep up on the sorting.  I take the incoming laundry one piece at a time, and this is where I do anything it might need done to it:  Right-side-outing, stain treating, pocket checking, setting aside for mending.  Then it goes into it's designated hamper.  This way when I do have time to run a load, I don't have to put any thought or time into it.  If it's in a hamper, it's ready to hit the washer.  By having everything sorted into the hampers, I also keep a good gauge on what my next load should be.  For example, we don't have as many whites as the other loads, so I know that if that WHITES hamper is full, people are going to start complaining about no clean socks or underwear, and I better run that one next.

One more element to sorting, and this is key:

Hamper = Dirty
Basket = Clean

This is another lesson learned after many, many frustrations.  I used to use baskets exclusively, and sure enough, clean would at some point get mixed with dirty.  Of course, this means chucking the whole thing and re-washing everything in the mix.  Everyone in the house knows that hampers are for dirty, and baskets are for clean.

4.  Don't be fussy.

It feels presumptuous for me to advise someone else not to "be fussy", when I could be totally wrong on this subject and off-base in my thinking.  But then I think, I have been at this a long time and this is truly how I feel, so I'll say it, and anyone is free to take it or leave it.  

I don't lose sleep over stains.
I don't worry about my 4-year-old continuing to wear a cotton shirt that has a small hole in the belly.
I don't mind that we don't have a wide variety of clothing to wear, or that we don't always look fashionable or wealthy.

I always make sure we wear our best to Mass, family get-togethers, and field trips.  Other than that, my kids are kids.  I will not spend hours researching ways to get a particular stain off of a t-shirt.  That boy will probably still wear that shirt, just not to church.  We're home so much of the time anyway, and so much of their lives is play, I just don't worry about the everyday clothes.  It's one of those things I've learned to let go of, knowing that there's more to life.

5.  Get the kids to help.

Over here, the kids:

     -Put all clothing down the chute.
Each morning I have the 6- and 8-year-olds hunt around the bedrooms, hallway, and bathroom for stray articles of clothing, and put them where they belong.

     -Bring laundry from chute to washer/dryer area.
One flaw in our house:  The laundry chute lands halfway across the basement from the washer/dryer hook-ups.

     -Haul dirty towels to laundry room.
A couple of times a week, Blake brings the hamper of towels from upstairs and empties it into the TOWEL hamper in the laundry room, then replaces it upstairs.

     -Put their own clothes away.
Because I'm making an effort now to fold laundry straight out of the dryer as often as possible, I needed a good way to get the folded stuff from the laundry room to its designated storage.  If I folded it all into one basket, I was finding that once upstairs, it was easier for me to just separate each child's clothes and put them away myself, rather than asking them to go into the basket to retrieve their items which were mixed in with others.  So I had Mr. Smith hang a shelf next to the washer and dryer, above the sorting hampers, and we placed four small tubs there.  Each one is labeled for one of the boys who keep their clothes upstairs in the under-bed bins.  They are big enough to hold one boy's items from one or two loads, but small enough that they can handle carrying them upstairs on their own.  They put their clothes away, and replace the empty tub back on the shelf.

     -Carry all other clean laundry upstairs for me.
Especially now, since I'm pregnant, my big, strong 12-year-old is priceless for this.

     -Put all clean/folded towels away.
This is an easy job for even the smaller boys.

Blake can start a load in the washer, but I don't have him do it very often.  He switches loads to the dryer for me all the time.  I prefer to do all the sorting myself, since that is my time to catch anything that needs attention, and frankly, I don't trust anyone else to do that!

I haven't gotten into the bedding end of things here, but basically, I wash all the bedding at once, as often as I see fit.  Sometimes it goes longer than I'd like, but that's life.  On those days, the boys strip their beds, I strip mine, and it all goes to a big pile on the laundry room floor.  I work my way through that first, and then move on to the regular laundry.

I think that covers everything worth covering from my perspective!  It's important to remember that gaining a little bit of control over a big chore like laundry makes it a much more enjoyable part of our lives.  Again, this is not a perfect system, but it works for us, and I hope it might help someone else out there who's struggling with their own laundry!

This post is linked up at Real Mom Resources.  
Go check out more articles on this topic and many others!

When I Meet This Baby...

... if she's a girl, my life will change forever, in that very instant.  I imagine what that first night will be like, as it sinks in that I'm the mother of a daughter.  A whole new world.  I think about how overwhelming that might feel, and yet how exciting.  For every thought and emotion I can predict now, there are probably a thousand more that I couldn't even comprehend.  There's so much good in store for us, if this baby's a girl.

... if he's a boy, I just might die of happiness the moment I lay eyes on him, knowing already the awesomeness that is my sons.  In him I'll see the simple beauty of boyhood, the special bonds of brotherhood that are already waiting for him, as he takes his place in our stair-steps of life.  The comfort and security of being what I already am, and having the chance to begin again.  There's so much good in store for us, if this baby's a boy.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday


Isaac has a new word that I'm quite fond of:  Sorry.  Except he can't pronounce an "s" yet, and he struggles with "r", so it sounds like yah-wee, and it's the cutest darn thing ever.  "Yah-wee Mama!" when he bumps into me.  "Oh.  Yah-wee." when I tell him he shouldn't have done something he did.  "Ahhh (sigh) yaaah-weee..." when he's forced to apologize to a brother.  
Love this budding vocabulary.
(side note:  I know all baby talk is cute when a little one is learning to use words.  I make exceptional note of Isaac's milestones because he has apraxia of speech with a severe expressive delay.  He's almost four, so we've been waiting a long time and working really hard for these words!)


Well if it's not one thing, it's another.  It seems we just can't keep ourselves from doing project after project lately.  I do feel like it's a natural part of life for people in our situation -- homeowners and parents -- but sometimes I question our sanity.  Now we're looking into putting an addition on our home.  It's something we will do, God-willing, at some point.  We've known that since we moved here almost two years ago.  It's just a matter of figuring out when and how, and how big of an addition.  We're not rushing into things, just doing some research.  It may still be a year or longer before we begin.
Or maybe we'll hire someone next week and have it finished before this baby comes ;).
More on this later, to be sure.


Speaking of spending enormous amounts of money... I recently checked a book out from the library about saving money on groceries.  I didn't touch it for awhile, because frankly I didn't think there'd be much there that I haven't already thought of or don't already do.  I finally picked it up and haven't been able to put it down!  It's called Family Feasts for $75 a Week.  I know someone somewhere must have recommended it, but for the life of me I can't remember who (and I'm slowly realizing that I've seen Mary Ostyn's blog before...).  Even the title didn't grab me much, since the idea of feeding this crew on anywhere near $75 a week is quite a joke.  I was kind of picturing a menu of skimped down, unhealthy meals for four, which I would then have to triple.  I was so wrong!  The author actually has 10 kids herself, so I know she understands my perspective on feeding a crowd.  I've already gotten several fantastic ideas that I'm going to start implementing right away, and I'm only about halfway through the book.  She really speaks my language, and there are even some great recipes.


I realized that I posted about Peyton's First Communion, but never about his First Reconciliation back in March.  I had drafted a partial post about it, and want to include it here, so I can remember these little tidbits of sweetness that are my blessed life:

Peyton had his First Reconciliation on Saturday.  He was so nervous!  He wrote his sins down on a scrap of paper so he wouldn't forget them (we burned it when we got home), and at one point while writing them out he asked, "Can I just hand this to the priest when I get in there?"  So sweet.  It went well, he was happy, and he ran all the way home, telling us he had been able to run faster than ever because he felt so light.  We celebrated with new shoes and ice cream sundaes.


 This will be the first Memorial Day weekend in years that we're home instead of out-of-town.  We briefly considered making plans to go camping, and now I'm so glad we didn't.  It's supposed to be hot, hot, hot by the end of the weekend and I'm looking forward to hanging out in my nice cool basement family room.  (with my hubby if he can tear himself away from work at some point.)  I plan to revisit Large Family Logistics, cover to cover, with my Mother's Handbook binder and some pretty pens in my hands, and give these nesting instincts some structure and direction.


Boys and toads.


I passed the 30 week mark this week!!  I am getting very, very excited to meet this baby!

Visit Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

Getting Crafty: Birthday Crowns

My niece and nephew (from two separate families, my brother and my sister) were both turning one this month, and I had promised both of their moms that my gift to them would be a birthday crown.  We had seen them at a craft show back in the winter and I considered buying them, but I'm so glad I didn't.  By making them myself I saved a lot of money and had so much fun designing and creating them for these two little loves.  They're made from felt with a layer of batting in between two layers, and mostly sewn with hand-stitches with embroidery floss.  The numbers have velcro on the back so they can be changed for each birthday year.

For my niece:

For my nephew:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Quote of the Day

Me:  "Peyton, did you brush your teeth?"

Peyton:  (exasperated)  "Yes!"

Me:  "Did I already ask you that?"

Peyton:  "Three times!"

Me:  "I'm sorry honey, Mama's getting old and old people forget things."

Peyton:  "I know.  Like that one time you forgot to get up.  You were in bed until like 10:00!"

I still have no idea what he was talking about, I don't recall sleeping in until 10:00 since I was a teenager, but he's convinced.  I feel like maybe I should start forgetting to get up though, just once in a while, it's kind of appealing.

(I'm really not kidding about the teenager thing, now that I think about it.  Keep in mind, I was still a teenager when I was married with a baby!)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Peyton's First Holy Communion - April 29th, 2012

It was really a  perfect day.  The weather was beautiful, the company cheerful, the food tasty, our family blessed.

The Mass was celebrated by a retired bishop, who is the great uncle of one of the First Communicants.  I thought we would miss our Monsignor terribly, but Bishop Harrington was delightful.

I can only think of one word that summarizes Peyton himself:  Special.  Our dear Fr. Joe was at their practice night earlier in the week, and he told me that Peyton stood out from the other kids because of an intensity and focus that clearly showed he understood the significance of what they were doing.  I believe him.  During his preparation, Peyton was just the right mix of nervous and excited to let me know that he got it, as well as any 8-year-old does.

At the end of the day, I asked him what the best part of the day was.  We were hours past Mass, and I was prepared to hear about a certain gift, or having lots of people at his party.  He thought for a second and said, "The Body.  It tastes better than I thought it would, and It melts in your mouth."  It was very much a little boy's take on things, but his response showed me that receiving our Lord for the first time was still fresh in his mind, and at the forefront of his day.  Love that boy.

He did receive some beautiful gifts, my mom was a huge help with dinner, and Father Joe came by for dessert, completing the day for us.  We are so blessed.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Project: Swingset

So we got home from Tennessee late on a Friday night.  The boys had a solid day of activities starting bright and early on Saturday with Blake serving Mass.  A track meet, a baseball draft, a first soccer game, etc... we didn't have a moment to stop and gather ourselves before we were tossed back into this crazy life at full speed.  My mom invited us over for dinner that day, and I took her up on it, grateful to have one extra day of not cooking dinner :).

We were sitting there, eating our pizza, when someone brought up Peyton's First Communion.  In my head, I had at least a month to think about that before it happened.  In reality, I had 14 days.  I had had no idea how close it was to our vacation!  I also hadn't realized how exhausting that vacation would be for this pregnant mama, and how long it would take me to really recover.

I was still processing that when I went to get groceries early that week.  We walked by Costco's in-store swing set offering for this year, one of the two we've been eyeing, and I saw that it was $300 off.  We'd been saving for a year and were just about ready to take the plunge, we just needed to decide which model we were going with.  I snapped a picture of the sale tag, texted it to Mr. Smith, and immediately received a response:  "I'll go pick it up tomorrow after work."

Yay!!  I love making decisions, saving money with a sale, and new things that will keep my kids busy, so it was my lucky day.  I was excited that Mr. Smith was game for it, and that we'd have a new swing set for the Communion Party.

Little did I realize it would consume us for the next 10 days.  First we decided that we would have to raise the ground around where the swing set would be.  We have major flooding issues in our yard, rendering it unusable during significant portions of the year, and we didn't want that to keep the kids from being able to use the swing set.  We plan to fix the grade and drainage problems anyway, and the cost of that keeps us from being able to do it all at once, so we figured this was as good a place as any to start.  We had several yards of dirt and sand delivered by mid-week.  Mr. Smith tilled up the top layer of grass and dirt, and added in the new stuff, raising the whole area by a couple of inches. 

Then he spent every waking hour that weekend (that we weren't at an outside obligation) putting it together.  It wasn't that it was difficult or designed poorly, we were very happy with all of that, it's just that there were about 200 steps to the process.  It was a huge job.  At one point, late on Saturday evening, I called out to him, asking if he might be planning to take a break soon.  The kids were well on their way to bed, and I thought we could, oh I don't know, sit down together for a minute or something.  "There's still some daylight," he called back.  An hour later I looked out and he was working by the light of a flashlight, the sun completely gone.  When that man has a task to complete, watch out.  He was finished by Sunday night.

Then came The Week of Dirt.  The swing set was assembled and ready to go, but all we had around it was all that dirt we had churned up!  We were researching different mulches and pricing out companies for a couple of days, and in that time my little ones were convinced they had been gifted with a giant, dirty sandbox.  I gave up and stopped sweeping by the second day. The resulting laundry was hideous, and I don't know if the finger nails are even clean yet now.  You should have seen my mop when it was all over.  Thank Goodness it was only a few days before we had our soft bed of sweet-smelling cedar chips delivered.  Mr. Smith and the big guys wheelbarrowed them in and we were set.  (The only problem being, of course, that every other household chore/task/project that I would have liked to be working on in preparation for Communion Party guests had been neglected and my house looked worse than ever with only 3 days until the event.  But who's keeping track of that stuff, right?)

Boy Heaven.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Family Vacation - Tennessee - April 2012


Cades Cove - Smoky Mountains

Last day at Grandma and Grandpa's...

...practicing raising one eyebrow.