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Category Archives: Kids

How we do birthdays a little differently

We have chosen to focus on experiences instead of presents for our kids’ birthdays. That means that the build up is for the trip of their choice, instead of gifts. We plan it, anticipate it and focus on that. In this post I’m also letting you in on why we do it this way, how much we spend and how I failed at packing for our last day trip!

Why do we do it like this?

The biggest reason we focus on doing something together is that we want our kids to have lots of rich experiences to remember and draw from. When they’re older they probably won’t remember what they unwrapped on their birthday, but they’ll remember the first time they pet a shark or fed a parrot sitting on their shoulder. These trips we’re taking as a family bond us together in amazing ways too!

Another reason we focus on memories has to do with our decision to limit toys. Our goal with less toys is to promote using their imaginations, to not value things and to have less clutter! For more on how I organize with kids see this post.

Because the child’s birthday will rarely fall on a day we can go on our trip, we also have cake and open their presents on their actual big day. A cake from a box, banners hung on the window and dance music playing loudly equals a party in this house!

If or when they start asking for birthday parties, we’ll use that money and turn the focus on planning a party instead of a trip.

Last week we celebrated Luca’s birthday by going to the Miami zoo. He’s a bird lover, so I was searching for something we could do with birds, but didn’t find what I was looking for. I gave him three options and he chose the zoo for his birthday present. It turns out the Miami zoo has the third largest aviary in the world! They also offer parrot feedings and he was able to be inside cages with the birds. It was such a beautiful gift to him from God.

How much did we spend?

To give you an idea of how much we spend on birthdays, we budgeted $200 for zoo tickets, gas, lunch, a snack and pizza for dinner. We could get away with this amount because the kids don’t eat that much yet so we could share lunches! But we’re about a millimeter away from being a two-pizza family though, which might not be such a bad thing since we can never agree on what kind to get. (Marcello, being the Italian that he is, likes the fancy thin kind with sparse cheese. The kids and I like thick, garlic crust with all the cheese that will fit on it!)

I also bought the zoo tickets online. Always search around to see if there’s a groupon or discount somewhere before I press that buy button. I found a package deal on a third party site for discounted tickets in addition to animal feedings and monorail tickets. I saved more than $50 by just googling “Miami zoo discount.”

In my experience, the best way to get the kids on board with the budget is to explain it in advance. Before we even got there I told the kids we had a budget and what it included. I explained we would have lunch and then an afternoon snack so they wouldn’t ask to stop at every vendor. I told them there would be a gift store and Mom and Dad weren’t buying things there today. If they want to spend their own money, they could. (They both bought lollipops with little tiger stuffies.) There were no meltdowns, like some of our past experiences, because I finally learned to let them know what to expect. By the way, I don’t tack on anything melodramatic like we can’t pay the bills or eat if we go over budget, I just tell them that we have one and that we want to be wise with our money.

So for presents, we spent about $75 this time. Luca will be turning six he has asked for Nerf gun darts and Playskool super hero figurines. In addition to these, I bought him a photo book of our day at the zoo (with a rewards coupon and only paid shipping and handling), kites for he and Adriano, basketball shorts and a little robotic swimming fish for the pool.

As they get older, the number of gifts will go down as they will inevitably get more expensive. They typically only get toys from us on Christmas and birthdays. Otherwise they can buy things with their chore money.

Consider age when choosing a destination.

I’d like to very humbly offer a thought about parks and zoos and fun destinations for kids: Start small.

A two year old probably can’t appreciate Disney World. In fact, it might just overwhelm her. She’d probably be just as content with a local children’s museum or even an afternoon in nature at the park. You’ll save some money and not be disappointed when it doesn’t go as planned. Because does anything go as planned with a two year old?

Build up gradually. Now, I’ll be honest, a lot of the reason we started gradually is because we had the kids so close together that a lot of things weren’t an option for us. Where can you sanely and safely take three babies? But now we’re seeing the benefit of starting small with things.

This might sound extreme to some, but the boys haven’t been to a movie theater yet! (Neither one would sit through one at home, so I didn’t want to pay to go someplace where I would have to tell them to be quiet the whole time!) But now they’re old enough and Adriano wants to go to the theater for his next birthday. I absolutely cannot wait to see their faces when they see the big screen! And we’ll do it up right with candy and popcorn and ice cream afterward. I’m already praying the perfect movie for him will be playing. It makes it a special experience to go with their age and capabilities instead of pushing the fast forward button.

I’ve also noticed that because things happened this way, Luca and Adriano are more likely to explore the simple things in the zoo or museum that other kids might easily pass by. The boys played on the animal statues in the photo above for 25 minutes! If we give them more and more, they’ll need more and more to entertain and keep themselves occupied. If your children are widely spaced apart, I understand this changes things and makes this idea hard to adhere to.

Did I mention I’m very humble about saying this? Especially because we basically did it on accident!

Day trip

(That’s a typical family picture for us, above. Sorry about the poor quality of these iPhone photos.) I did not do a good job packing for this day trip. I didn’t take my camera and realized half way there that Clara didn’t even have shoes! Yeah. I think I’m so excited about the kids getting bigger and not needing fruit pouches and bottles and diaper bags that I am kind of winging things a little too much!

Next time I will consult one of my own handy, dandy travel with kids checklists! Shoot.

How do you do birthdays? What are your traditions?

More birthday posts

VIDEO: A day in the life of a stay-at-home mom

Here’s a video glimpse inside our daily life — complete with a 4 a.m. wakeup call, a frog in the house, crying (mostly from the kids), fighting and cuddles. I did miss the part when Adriano spilled his entire glass of milk on me, but managed to fit a few tips and recipes in there.

If you’re a mom of little ones you know the phrase “enjoy this time, it goes so fast” extremely well. I happen to disagree with it — it seems like my kids should be 25 by now! — but because so many people say it I wanted to make a video of a typical day for us. I want to remember how crazy staying home with three kids under the age of five actually is.

As I edited the video, I wondered if parents of older kids say this because they tend to remember the highlights, the best moments. For example, will I remember sweetly cuddling all three kids at the same time while watching a movie, or will I remember how exhausted I was and how I was counting every single minute until they went to bed? My game plan is to love and live in the present, document it as best I can and look forward to what the future has in store.

At first I thought I would do a video just for future me, but then as I got going I decided I would post it even though the quality is terrible and my videography skills are the worst. I would encourage you to do your own video too! It will be so fun to watch when the kids are grown and you think you long for “the good ol’ days.”

I’m glad I shot it on this day too, because by the time Marcello got back from his business trip I was a frazzled mess laying on the couch catching a cold. Nothing like your spouse leaving for a few days to make you see all the little things they do. I told him I’ll never leave him, I can’t handle these kiddos by myself!

Ok, here’s the video. I’m nervous to show you! It’s terrible quality and now I think I need a makeover, but it’s still accurate.

How I organize my house with kids

I am a stay-at-home-mom and also work from home. Marcello does all his office work here as well. For awhile our house looked like a daycare blew up, but because we eat, sleep, play and work all in this one space, we had to simplify and get organized!

On top of spending loads of time at home, our house has a very open floor plan — meaning our living room, dining room, kitchen, office area/playroom is all in one space! It is impossible to relegate kids’ stuff to one area. With three kids ages five and under, it all ends up colliding into one disaster.

Perfect is not my goal, but simple is! The more we simplify our life, the faster we can get to the good stuff — spending time together. There have been so many benefits to getting serious about purging, simplifying and organizing the kid world in our house. Here are a few:

  1. It makes routines run smoothly — especially school and homework.
  2. Picking up toys takes half the time with half the toys.
  3. Laundry can be done in a day with less clothing.
  4. We can have people over last minute with less clutter.
  5. A chaotic life with kids feels a little more in check when the space around me makes sense.

The biggest factors in keeping kid stuff from overwhelming the house is to:

Minimize things (toys, clothes, school stuff).

  • I went through the toys and donated or gave away about half. I went through them again and even again.
  • If there are toys that do not get played with now, they will not be played with in the future.
  • If you are constantly picking up the 20 pieces to that one set and trying to keep them together, it’s probably time to say goodbye.
  • I let my kids make some choices about what to keep, but for the most part I did my dirty work behind their backs. Shady, I know, but kids are hoarders.
  • I donated the clothes that don’t fit or they don’t wear. They have limited wardrobes and now (as for myself as well) I only buy clothes we love. I don’t want to spend time arguing about an “itchy” shirt.
  • After all that work I am very conscious of what I bring into our home. I don’t buy a bunch of little plastic toys for Valentine’s, Easter or Christmas that will be played with for two minutes. They always just end up on the floor. Or under the bed. Or under the seats in the van. You get the idea.
  • For birthdays, we focus on doing things or a party instead of lots of gifts.
  • I organize and edit the toys every few months. It’s a continual task, but gets much easier once you and the kids get the hang of it.

A place for everything.

  • I think the number one tip to keeping toys picked up and kids’ rooms clean is to have a place for everything. A place for games, a place for books, a place for toys.
  • Show the kids where things go. Expect that they put things back when they’re done with them if they’re old enough.

Stick with neutral colors when you can.

  • I didn’t go through our house and throw out anything with color, but I did make a conscious decision to start buying neutral items when things needed to be replaced. I’m talking about things like dishes, baskets, furniture and some toys.
  • Most things for kids are sold in bright colors, but I found that with a little bit of searching, there are more neutral options. I don’t have anything against color, it’s just that when I’m bombarded by plastic primary colors all day my eyes hurt.

Minimizing and choosing neutral colors have really made a difference visually in our house. Here’s a tour of how I organize things:

Toys

The kids don’t have a lot of toys. Not because I don’t want to give them everything, not because we can’t afford them, but because I believe it’s best for them. Here’s what I would like to teach with fewer toys:

  • To use their imaginations.
  • Not to value things.
  • To appreciate what they have.
  • There is space for each toy to have a specific spot to be put away.
  • To feel free in a clutter-free environment.

I’ve gone radical eliminating toys. What you see in this picture is about all the boys have besides books, games and Legos that are in their room. They spend most of their time making little worlds with their animals and Star Wars figurines or playing outside. For how I organize my office space here, see this post.

One thing we do have a lot of are animal figurines because they are always into different animals. I keep a bin in the garage with most of them and they bring their favorites inside.

As a visual person, who also does creative work in this space, I need a break from primary colors in the form of plastic. This sweet baby buggy my parents got Clara for Christmas is so pretty and neutral I don’t mind seeing it in middle of the living room.

The desk beside mine is usually filled with some sort of “world” set up by imaginary director Adriano. Fits and screams ensue when I disrupt them, so I bought a cute wooden barn for Christmas.

I love this large wooden doll house because not only is it pretty to look at, but also works for boys and girls. It can be accessed from any side, which helps when two boys have a hard time sharing anything.

I love that the Dollar Tree has puzzles for my little puzzle lover. The only problem is that they don’t stay in the flimsy boxes that all come in different sizes so they’re difficult to stack. In just 10 minutes I organized them into Ziplock bags and taped the picture on the front with packing tape. I chose the sliding closure option so he can close them himself.

My boys aren’t obsessed with Legos, but my best friend Ashby’s son is crazy about them. Check out the genius idea her husband, Dominic, came up with. They keep the bigger pieces in clear drawers, but these tool box organizers work perfectly to organize the tiny pieces.

Another way to cut down on toys is to limit them to birthdays and Christmas. Our kids get a few toys for their birthday and Christmas, otherwise if they really want something they have to earn the money doing chores. I really don’t get much sass about it because I stay consistent. They saved $13 each a few weeks ago and we went to Target so they could each pick a toy. God was smiling on them because there was a whole clearance aisle of toys! They spent a lot of time picking the right toy and were very proud of buying it themselves. They take better care of those toys too. Get the printable chore chart and more info on how it works here.

Kids’ rooms

Clara has graduated from baby to toddler and I desperately needed to clean out her closet! She doesn’t need a diaper bag or Jumperoo or all those cute clothes she grew out of too fast. I took everything out and started over.

Here is the before and after of her closet. I couldn’t even open the door all the way! When I took everything out I sorted the piles into: 1-Donate: Clothes that are too small, toys they don’t play and baby things they don’t use. 2-Trash: Be ruthless. 3-Keep: I keep only a few outgrown outfits from each child. I made myself fit sentimental keeps to a small Winnie the Pooh box, top right. Be so very selective.

I got lucky because last week she fell asleep in the car, so I worked like mad to get this done before she woke up! This is what I pulled out. Shown in this picture are trash, clothes to give away and bins with items I will sell at a consignment shop. I will then use that money toward Clara’s next size of clothing and shoes.

I wish I hadn’t bought these baskets in bright coral pink because all together they’re really bold! And I can’t put them anyplace else except Clara’s room. Things are always being rearranged and repositioned to work with their stages, so now I only buy neutral baskets and always in multiples of two — usually 4 or 6. In the baskets from the top down are: 1-clothes that are too small, 2-sweaters, 3-socks and bloomers, 4-clothing not worn frequently (tutus, Fourth of July outfit …), 5-swimsuits, 6-clothes that are too big.

Hopefully we will be done with a changing table in the next six months. High five! Marcello and I have been changing diapers for almost six year straight. This desk was mine when I was a little girl.

When Ashby told me about putting clothes away as outfits, I didn’t try it right away. My boys basically have green or blue shorts and T-shirts and that’s it. They’re all pretty interchangable. But now that I have a girl with much more variety in clothes, this is working like a dream. It’s even dad-proof! Although I actually love to see what Marcello comes up with. Tights as pants are my favorite. Should have listened to you sooner, friend!

As I mentioned before, we’ve been changing diapers for quite some time with no break. At this point, we just put the whole package of diapers and the entire big bag of wipes in a basket by the changing table. We sloppily fold the top of the wipes bag over so they stay wet. These tall basket are from Target. The diapers are the Kirkland brand from Costco. When they’re on sale, I stock up. You can’t beat the price and the quality is fine. I wish I would have done this before baby number three!

I got it right the second time I bought baskets for her room. I found these on sale online at Target for $7 and snatched them up. The white blends easily into the background, unlike the neon coral. Now they will be able to switch out with other places in the house when we need them to. Nothing ever stays the same here for too long.

Clara’s favorite place at our local children’s museum is the play house. It has a kitchen, table, high chair, ironing board, food. She could play there for an hour, but her brothers never let her. So I thought I would try to recreate that space in her room with things we already had. And she loves it! (Actually so do the boys!) To see more of Clara’s kitchen, go here.

The boys share a room. I don’t bother with bed-making. They fold their blankets in half at the foot of the bed. It’s something they can do by themselves and looks tidier than a messy, made bed. (P.S. Don’t look at my bed. I’m not typically a bed-maker. Gasp!)

My kids don’t have huge wardrobes. I only keep clothes that fit and will be worn in their closets and drawers. (Though I needed to do laundry when I took this picture. They have more shirts than that.) I keep their everyday clothes in these shelves, but the clothes are getting bigger so we’ll have to get dressers soon! I keep a box for them to put their pjs and such in so I don’t have to do extra laundry and they won’t end up on the floor.

I buy all the same socks. This is a big laundry timesaver. No worrying about a lost mate. No pairing while folding laundry. Just toss them in the drawer. They each have two pairs of fun dress socks, but I don’t even keep them in this mix.

Each kid has their own laundry basket. As of now I just dump their whole basket in the machine, run it in cold water and TRY to put it back right after it’s done. In other words, I don’t mix the kids’ laundry. I like to keep their clothes separate from one another.

The top two wooden boxes are for Luca and Adriano’s favorite things. I consider most of the things in there trash, but those are things they don’t want to share and think are special. I don’t throw things out from their boxes.

When your brother gets home from school and takes off his shoes.

I bought these twin bed frames that don’t use boxsprings so we can use that space for storage. I keep a bin under the bed for clothes that are still too big. I like to buy a year ahead during winter and summer clearance sales. I put the clothes that are too small for them in the top bin in Clara’s room with her too-small clothes — but after going through two boys, there’s not too much that makes it past the trash! We live in southern Florida so we don’t have winter, but you could do something like this up north when you change out clothes for the seasons.

Kitchen

Next up is the kitchen. Tired of mismatched sippy cups and a variety of dived trays, I did a serious purge of kid dishes in here.

How many years can you use the plastic sets of bowls and plates from Ikea? Don’t answer that. I finally had to toss mine and I made a conscious decision to buy these soft aqua plates and bowls instead. You know, because neutral colors look less obnoxious piled around my sink rather than a rainbow of plastic.

A few years ago, two babies deep, I finally started putting sippy cup lids in a separate basket. And I’m still doing it. It’s just not likely that I’ll put them away dry, with the lid on.

When I had to get new plastic silverware for baby girl, I went ahead and got white forks and spoons this time around.

Keeping things neutral and light, I ordered these Corelle divided plates for my boys who do not like their food to touch. The horror. I like the idea of moving away from plastic, but they’re not quite there yet for everything. We mostly use these for dinner. Also, this white, foldable picnic table has been great. I like it better than a table and chairs because not only does it fold down flat, but the kids can’t use chairs as stools or weapons.

Yeah, now that looks about right. My usual kitchen view.

Bathroom

In the kids bathroom, I focus on trying to help them be as self-sufficient as possible. I want them to be able to brush their own teeth, wash their own hands and hang their own towel up without my help.

They don’t normally all bathe together, but it sure is efficient! We used to have massive amounts of toys in the bathroom, but now the boys are starting to take showers and Clara just brings one or two toys with her. I can’t say it hurts my feelings at all.

We have an faucet extender and stool to help them reach.

Towels, washcloths and toilet paper is under the sink where they can reach them. Keeping things minimal and in the same spot where they can find it helps them — especially toilet paper. It’s true, kids can actually replace the toilet paper roll by themselves!

I took up stock in sunblock. Just kidding. Costco had a great sale on this chemical-free brand and we live in Florida, so that’s what going on here. I don’t want them messing with medicine and stuff they shouldn’t, so I keep it simple here — toothpaste floss, hair brushes.

In my experience kids are a million times more likely to hang their towel on a hook rather than a bar. Pretty sure that’s an accurate statistic.

Instead of taking down our towel bar, I got tricky and used shower hooks and small rubber bands (from the dollar store that I normally use in Clara’s hair).

In the linen closet I keep sheets, humidifiers, first aid things (in the green baskets) and Clara’s potty (which we’re not really using yet, much to my dismay).

I keep the kids’ medicine in a cabinet in the laundry room. It’s all in that top box conveniently labeled “kids.” For the contents of the box and printable checklist on what do do when kids are sick, go here.

School

In the other cabinet (beside the medicine and vitamins) I keep the kids’ art supplies. I’ve heard amazing things about keeping all art supplies in a movable cart from Ikea. I absolutely love that idea, but my kids cannot be trusted. They still color furniture with markers, break and eat crayons and stick stickers where they shouldn’t be stuck. So the supplies and crafts stay in this cabinet where they can’t reach them. I use a utensil caddy for scissors, glue, flash cards and pencil holders. And I have a folder of stickers for rewards or projects.

I’ve written about this before, but it works for us to use magazine holders for artwork, one per child, and a box for homework to be completed and items to be returned to school. Here’s what I do with the art at the end of the year.

This is our lunch packing station. I use these divided containers and keep the water bottles and lids in separate boxes from the Dollar Tree. Behind them are popsicle molds that I like to put leftover smoothies in.

Right now I do my grocery shopping on Mondays, so Luca’s lunches on Monday are a hodgepodge, but on Mondays I make his lunches for the rest of the week. (Adriano is only in preschool and still home with me for lunch.)

Having a hook for each kid’s backpack keeps it from getting lost or ending up on the kitchen counter. Usually.

This idea has worked very well for us. Each kid has a color-coded basket for their shoes in the garage by the door. They are responsible for making sure they end up there. Luca has sand on the playground at school and it ends up everywhere so I don’t want his shoes inside. Sand! Florida can be so weird sometimes.

Tuesday is laundry day and since we all have to be very, very close together, all our messes merge. Also, I’m pretty sure the little one is eating Play-Doh in this picture. For cleaning scheduling ideas go here.

* * *

The place I have the most trouble is in the car. I think until I make a no-eating-or-crayons-or-stickers-or-taking-your-dirty-socks-off-or-bringing-random-toys rule it will remain in some state of chaos. And why do kids love shredding paper so much?

Once you have a game plan, talk about what is expected of the kids and make it a routine. Give some grace if you’re just now beginning. It can take kids some getting used to and friendly reminding. Here are our basic rules around here. They’re not major things, but they help keep things in order.

  1. No leaving clothes or towels on the floor. Put them in the hamper or on the hook.
  2. When you get home from school, put your shoes in your basket in the garage and hang your backpack on your hook.
  3. Bring your plate to the counter when you are finished eating. (But this one is not sinking in around here!)
  4. If you have toys in the living or dining room, get it back to the toy room when you’re done.

I don’t have a perfect house. I don’t want a perfect house. I want a simple, cozy, lived-in house with lots of people and laughing. I would rather spend time with my kids than cleaning and picking up. Organization helps that happen.

What about your family? Do you have a secret organizing weapon for kid stuff?

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See how I organize the rest of my house in this post.