Sanity-Saving Responsibility Chart for Kids

If you have children over the age of two, this might sound familiar. If you have younger kids, just you wait.

Mom: Okay, guys, it’s 7:30, you’ve got 30 minutes before the bus comes!

Kids: Ok! We’re ready!

Mom: Grant! You’re still wearing your pajamas, go get dressed!

Grant: Fine!

Mom: Isla, your lunch box is still on the counter, put it in your backpack.

Isla: I will!

Mom: Grant, it’s 7:43, go get dressed!

Grant: FINE!

Mom: Miles, why is your homework still on the table? Put it in the folder.

Miles: Got it.

Mom: Grant, it’s winter, you need socks. Go get socks!

Grant: But WHY?

Mom: Grant, seriously, you’ve got five minutes to get ready, go find some socks.

Grant: Geez, okay, I will.

Mom: Why are there still lunch boxes on the floor? Put them in your backpacks! Isla, you didn’t brush your hair. Miles, did you brush your teeth? Let me smell your breath. You didn’t brush them. Go swish some toothpaste around in your mouth and get back down here and put on your coat. Grant, you need TWO socks. One for each foot. Isla, the brush is right here. Okay, it’s 8:01, go go go! I love you guys! See you after school!

And… cue dramatic flop on the couch.

Every time we needed to leave the house at a specific time, I found myself stressing over remembering which kid still needed to do what, the kids were flustered because I was barking orders and we continually felt rushed no matter how far in advance we started to get ready.

So I made this chart. It’s not a chore chart and it’s not linked to money at all – it’s a responsibility chart with sticks for each kid describing one thing they need to do in the morning, after school and by bed time.

responsibility chore chart for kids children morning library cards popsicle sticks

I bought a large cork board and used up some of the scrapbook paper that’s been sitting unused in my office for years because I won’t have time to scrapbook until I’m 70 years old. Googled “library pocket template” and found one I liked, then Isla and I set about tracing, cutting and folding.

I made six pockets for each kid – Morning Done, Day Done, Night Done, Morning T0-Do, Day To-Do and Night To-Do. Super fancy. In each “To-Do” pocket are hand-written sticks with one task each, tailored for the particular child. For example, Isla and Miles have just “Get dressed,” as part of their morning reminders, but Grant always forgets socks so he has an additional “Put on socks” one. Jonah can’t read so only has one stick right now so he feels included.

Not enough time has passed yet to say whether this is a smashing success or not, but I can tell you this – it is a huge relief for me AND the kids if I simply refer to the chart when they look like they’re dawdling at any point. Miles turns on the TV? I ask him if he’s done everything on his list. This has helped Grant, in particular, because he seems to do well with routines and having clear expectations laid out for him.

I am planning to add a few more soon (we ran out of sticks, oops) but so far I can say this has made for much more relaxing mornings and outings.

What do you do to keep your kids on task? Or are they just naturally good at remembering what needs to be done?

School Paper Organization (or Lack Thereof) – An Update

Back in August I posted about my attempt to find a solution for storing school papers and keeping them organized. With three kids in school, the amount of paper that comes through this house is ridiculous, even after you subtract the few newsletters than come via e-mail. I suspect our elementary school is single-handedly killing billions of trees each year.

In the first post, I showed you a lovely and somewhat unrealistic photo of four magazine file boxes neatly lined up on my clean kitchen counter. I think that pristine look lasted six minutes.

I haven’t given up on the system, but we had to make a few tweaks. Here are some of the issues.

1. Location is iffy. The location is both perfect and horrible. It’s in the kitchen, where I spend the bulk of my day, so I can’t forget about the boxes easily. They are accessible to the kids. The problems are that the boxes are by the back door, but the kids come home from school through the front door, and that the counter is a dumping ground for all the other mail and junk and random papers than come through the house, as well. So those magazines I’ve been meaning to recycle, the coupons I clipped, and the bills we need to pay end up piled in front of the boxes. Which makes them less accessible. I now share with you an embarrassing cell phone photo of what these boxes looked like last week before I went on a mad organizing spree in preparation for a play date.

This was a particularly bad moment in my housekeeping history, but it shows that this spot attracts lots of paper. I suppose I need to find something to contain the non-schoolwork papers so I don’t end up with this unsightly pile week after week. In the meantime I’m keeping the school paper boxes because I still think it’s the best spot in the house for them.

2. The kids didn’t know how to use them. This is my fault. They aren’t mind-readers, they can’t automatically know what they’re supposed to do with these boxes. In the beginning I wasn’t even sure how to use them. At first I had the kids shove any and all papers into their respective boxes, which they did. But it was too hard to quickly find homework or permission slips among the already-graded tests and worksheets that had been returned. So now the “House” box is behind the kids’ boxes, and that is where they are supposed to put their graded papers. The “House” box is intended for papers that don’t need immediate action and we don’t even necessarily need to keep. The boxes with the kids’ names are for homework that needs to be completed, permission slips or other forms that need to be signed or completed, and important information the kids need to keep, like class schedules or calendars. That way I know when I look at those file holders (if I can behind the pile of other junk) and see papers there I know something needs to be done with them now rather than later. Which makes it harder to ignore them, and that’s a good thing.

3. Zachary and I slacked off. Yes, we’re the final problem. We don’t do a good enough job of keeping the kids’ boxes cleaned up. We don’t always check it right away to see if there’s something we need to sign. So I’m making a more conscious effort to not just look at the boxes every day but also recycle the papers we don’t need to keep, save the especially cute or insightful completed homework (in clear totes stored in the basement, one for each child). The kids can’t learn to stay organized if Zachary and I can’t set a good example, and that’s one major thing I’m working on this year.

In the last week we’ve managed to keep the school paper area looking better. But it was spring break, so we had it easy. I’m thinking we may need one more file folder now. I’ll make the “House” folder for grown-up papers like bills and recipes I need to put away and such, and I’ll get another box dedicated to graded papers and artwork that Zachary and I need to review before purging.

It’s not perfect, but it’s working fairly well, and hopefully by the time the kids graduate from high school we’ll have it down.

What do you do to stay on top of school papers? I’d love more ideas and suggestions, so comment here or link to your own blog posts about managing the paper beast.

Photographic Evidence – The Case for a Laundry Room

Not long ago I wrote about goals I have for our house. One of them is to have a dedicated laundry room in the basement so we can stop having a combined laundry/mud room closet on the main floor.

I would like to share evidence to support why I think this change is necessary.

A drying rack. On our stair landing. That is all.

Goodbye, Old Toys! Farewell, Diaper Champ!

My Facebook groups are becoming a bit overwhelming. I belong to nine of them right now and sorting through the updates each day really clutters my newsfeed, turning my 10-minute Facebook habit into a 12-minute Facebook habit, and I just don’t have time for that.

One really useful group has been a local online garage sale, though. It’s a little like Craigslist, I suppose, only it’s just for my town, and the only people in the group have been added by someone else, so there’s a feeling that it’s a little more secure. For example, when I’ve met up with someone so they could have an unused toy, I can see through Facebook that even if I’m not friends with them, they’re friends with two other people I know. So not quite as anonymous.

Here is just a sampling of the things I’ve either given away or sold in the last week. Feels so good to have these unused items go to someone who can use them.

Search Facebook for your own local garage sale, I know a lot of communities have started them. If you don’t find one, start one yourself! You can find the directions here.

We donate a ton of outgrown clothing and toys each year, either to our local community resale store, Goodwill, other charitable organizations, or to friends, but sometimes it feels good to get a little money out of your things.  So you can buy more stuff, of course! Only kidding. Sort of.

You have to decide what is worth selling vs. donating, however. Donating is far faster, plus you feel good about your charitableness. Giving to friends makes you feel good, too, and I usually do that with items that other friends passed along to us, just to continue the good karma. I try to sell things only if I think I can get $10 or more from it, otherwise it’s not quite worth the hassle of photographing them, listing them, and arranging for pick up.

When you sell online to people you don’t know, I recommend meeting in public places. We use our Target parking lot, for example. I always feel a little like I’m conducting a drug sale for some reason, but it’s pretty safe and it works!

Lofty Home Organization Goals for 2012

I’m finally catching up on my Google Reader backlog (over 300 posts, scary – and no, I didn’t read even close to all of them) and was inspired by my friend Joanna’s blog at Questionable Housekeeping. She’s making a list of projects she’s working on, and it caused me to have a moment of panic over all the rooms and spaces that need to be overhauled in my own house.

So, for a bit of accountability I’m sharing some things I’d like to work on this year. Some are never going to happen due to time or finances, but a girl can dream, right?

1. My office. Oh, my office. The office is right off the front entry, and has become a catch-all for the homeless items that need to be hidden away when guests come over. It is a black hole of papers, old computer equipment, unused scrapbooking supplies, and did I mention papers? I’m not even going to dare show a photo. It’s been organized many times before, but it always seems to end up in this state again, which tells you a lot about by organizational skills. The plan is to replace a bookshelf full of books I never touch with a more functional IKEA shelf we’ve had for months but haven’t assembled yet. Move the bookshelf… somewhere else. Not sure where yet.

2. Move the laundry room to the basement. Calling the space a “room,” is a joke, I am not even sure it’s as big as my bedroom’s walk-in closet. It sits at the back entry of the house, where we have just a small closet that is supposed to hold all the shoes, coats, hats and gloves for six people. Because the closet is so small, shoe storage has spilled into my laundry space, giving me even less room to maneuver in. The doors on our washer and dryer can’t be reversed so they hit each other when open. We have a counter top over the washer and dryer, but it’s a chaotic mess. I attempted to corral all the cleaning supplies with cute baskets, but as you can see they are barely visible. And yes, I am particular about laundry so I use three different types of detergent (Dreft for Jonah’s things and delicates, then a Tide for warm water and one for cold water).

The goal is to move the washer and dryer into a space the same size, but which will not have to double as shoe storage. We will stack the washer and dryer and we already have cabinets to go into the space. We just need to save up some money so we can pay for a plumber, electrician and for my brother to do the finish work. Once the laundry gear is moved, we will turn that laundry closet into a mud room. I’m hoping for some sort of open locker system, but we’ll see.

3. Toys. We have more toy than four kids could play with in three years, I think. Now that Jonah is almost 2.5 (I don’t want to talk about that), we can really purge the baby toys. I have this hang up where I think I need to sell every unusable thing in my home so we can recoup some money, but the truth is I don’t really have time to deal with that. I’m going to sell a few big ticket items but I think the rest will need to be donated. A secondary goal is to decorate the play room a bit (the play room is actually supposed to be a dining room, but it is much better served as a toy room right now). See that frame on the wall? I used to have portraits of Miles, Isla and Grant on the wall. When we put together the IKEA cabinet I took down Isla’s and Grant’s to make room, intending to hang them back up, but never did. And I have never even printed a large images of Jonah. So right now if you walked into our play room you’d think we had just one child.

4. Powder room overhaul. We have one half bath on our main floor and it’s a pretty decent size, but it looks totally empty. One small pedestal sink, the toilet, and little cabinet placed randomly in the corner. The sink has a superficial spider web crack from one of the kids dropping a ceramic soap dispenser in it. The room needs a new, more proportionate vanity, a tile floor, paint, and something to fill the tall walls.

5. Basement. Another catch-all for homeless items – old toys; outgrown clothes I need to sell, donate or keep to pass on from boy to boy; furniture we don’t have room for but want to keep in case we finish the basement; my mom’s belongings that have been sitting in boxes, undisturbed, for five years; seasonal decorations; empty boxes; empty picture frames; and more. We need to do a deep purge and put up shelving.

6. Garage. We have a three car garage and currently only space for one vehicle. We need to move some of that stuff to the basement, and organize or purge everything else.

7. Kitchen cabinets. I hate them. I hate their generic shape and faintly orange oak color. I want to paint them white, but we can’t afford to hire someone to do it, and I don’t really have the time to do it myself, so I just dream about a white kitchen, instead.

Those are the main projects on my mind right now. I think the biggest issue is we just have too much stuff in every single room of the house. I have a sense of anxiety over all of the things that seem to do nothing but sit and taunt me with their clutteriness.  It is amazing how many possessions we own that we never use and some we never even see.

Time to make some serious cuts. I must be ruthless.

School Paper Organization Trial – Elementary School Homework, Forms and Artwork

I am nearly drowning in paper. I have paper all over my desk. Paper all over my office floor (it’s organized into piles that need to be put away, I swear!). Paper on the kitchen table. Paper on the counters. And school hasn’t started yet!

Last year I thought I’d try to be smart. I bought a wire organizer with four baskets and hung it by our rear entry door, where we usually come into the house. The problem? We usually kept the folding doors of the closet open, obscuring the organizer entirely. Total fail.

The before (with closet door, camera right, closed so you can see wire rack):

This year I decided to put organizers in a more intuitive location – where the papers tend to accumulate naturally. I bought Real Simple brand cardboard magazine files and labeled them with the other three kids’ names and then one for “house.” I intend to train each child to empty their school folders into their respective files so I am no longer hunting through half-foot-deep stacks of paper for math worksheets and permission slips the night before I think they are due.

The after (much better spot, I think):

I obviously can’t comment yet on whether this system works, but I will be sure to update. In the meantime, it looks decent on the counter

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Easy Jewelry Shadow Box with Pretty Fabric – Home Organization

Yes, yes, it’s been ages since I posted. I am horrible at noting the passage of time – what feels like just thirty minutes will turn out to be an hour and a half, and what feels like just two weeks is, apparently, really more like two months.

I’m not a huge jewelry wearer, but I’ve accumulated a decent sized collection of adorable necklaces and a few bracelets. One of my earlobes refuses to stay pierced, so earrings are at a minimum until I figure out how to re-pierce it in the same place again.

Previously I’d strewn my necklaces all over my dresser, which wasn’t the best organizational method. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make this idea up, but I also can’t remember where I saw it – but I liked the thought of being able to easily see all of my necklaces and access them without having to untangle a knot of chains each time I wanted to wear one.

So I found a nice and relatively inexpensive shadowbox at Michael’s. The fabric that came with it was dull, so I headed to my favorite local fabric store and chose a much cuter pattern.

There were no scientific measurements here – I laid the fabric over the backing (foam) and cut it about 1/2″ around the edge of the backing., then affixed it with straight pins. Then I used quilting pins (which were thicker and also had the cute little yellow ends) to arrange the jewelry in the shadow box.

So now I have a pretty way to display my necklaces, plus my dresser is clear.

Oh, who am I kidding? The necklaces just made way for more clutter on the dresser. But at least the jewelry is safer!

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A Real Life Room Organization Before and After – The Boys’ Room

I subscribe to a lot of magazines. I love that I can sit down for five minutes and read five entire articles; I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

My favorite is Better Homes and Gardens. I’m not much of a decorator but I aspire to one day have a completely pulled-together home, though probably in an eclectic way. Right now our decor is hand-me-downs meets early-family-budget-conscious meets kid-friendly-and-kid-resistant.

We don’t want to spend much money on furniture that the kids will destroy, because so far they’ve destroyed, well, just about everything. But I am trying to get the house in order – purging unneeded things, prettying up where I can, and trying to rein in the toys and clutter.

Miles and Grant have shared a bedroom since just a few months before Jonah was born. At first we didn’t allow any toys in the room at all, preferring to keep them confined to the jungle that is our play room. But as the kids got bigger their toys got smaller, things migrated to their rooms for safety reasons, so the baby wouldn’t eat them. Then the kids started to choose to play in their rooms, so more toys found their way under beds and in closets.

I used a slapped-together approach to organization. I’d find a bin and tell the boys to use it. We had nice bins under their beds. Nice bins in the closet. It worked for a while, but soon it became clear my shoddy system wasn’t enough.

After a couple more Christmases and birthdays, their rooms were overflowing. Zachary and I couldn’t even tell the boys to clean their room because we didn’t have any idea where they should put their toys, either. Mass chaos.

We finally decided that despite their accident-having tendencies we’d bunk their beds to make more room. I have so far resisted the temptation to hang an OSHA -style poster in their room stating, “We have gone X amount of days without a recordable injury!”

We bought a big, 16-square Expedit shelf from IKEA for the play room and moved the old 8-square one to the boys’ room, plus bought another 9-square one. We dumped all the toys out of their imperfect bins onto the floor and I spent two days sorting every Lego, Playmobil set, Tinker Toy, Lincoln Log, Transformer, Bionicle, spy gear contraption and book that they owned. I had to enlist their help to identify the smaller pieces. Amazing how children can look at a 3mm piece of brown plastic and immediately know which specific toy or game it belongs to. I hope this is a skill that will look good on their college applications.

Here are a few before and after pictures of the transformation. Unlike room renovations in Better Homes and Gardens, there is no gorgeous paint job, no adorable artwork (except the “No Bad Guys” sign on the door), no matching bedding. The walls are still moderately dirty and you can see in one of the before pictures that I had to employ a stain lifter contraption to only somewhat successfully remove a red makeup stain from their carpet (I have yet to figure out how that red makeup got on the floor – no one is talking).

But so far the boys have done a fairly good job keeping things picked up. Now the “Go clean your room!” command doesn’t leave them confused – there is a designated spot for everything they own.

Please note that these “Before” photos are a little dramatic and not indicative of how they lived all the time. In the first Grant had dumped everything out looking for some 3mm piece of plastic, most likely, and in the second and third we dumped everything out before organizing the toys into the new cube organizers.

Before – dun dun dun dunnnn.

And after – ta da!

P.S. Why are there no doors on the closet, you ask? Because the boys somehow so badly bent the track we had to remove the door. Another mystery that will never be solved.

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