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Does prayer make a difference?

 

It’s ironic that I, of all people, would write a post on prayer. My prayer life isn’t where it should be. My fear of praying in public is a work in progress. And I’ll be honest with you, prayer has largely been a vague mystery to me. But despite all of this, God is calling me to be a prayer warrior — and he’s calling you too.

I have recently started devoting one hour of my morning, several days a week, to God. Maybe you’re wondering what I’m doing for an entire hour. It’s not only prayer, it’s also doing a devotional, time reading the Bible, journaling, seeking others, doing things I feel God is asking me that I have put off. This is changing my life — my everyday attitude, my relationships, how I treat strangers, my goals. Honestly it’s the reason I’ve been walking around with a weird smile on my face that I see pleasantly surprises people.

Maybe you start at half an hour or even 15 minutes, but we have to find time to make with God, scheduled and unscheduled. And I’m speaking as much to myself as I am to you, believe me. We might think that we are too busy, but God controls all things.

He can make up supernaturally the time we make for him. He needs to be a priority, because when the creator is a priority, any and all things are possible. He is not bound by our clock or space. Your time on this earth is not your own, it belongs to God. He gave it to you. He gave it to you at your birth and he’ll take it from you at your death. Time is valuable.

The enemy wants to steal your valuable time and the ways that he can do it are innumerable. The things of this world that we spend our time on will fade away. Houses, cars, boats, clothes, jobs, sports, hobbies will not cross over with us into eternity, but a relationship with God will endure forever.

And if you have small children and you think I’m crazy, my best advice is to pray for the time to study God’s word. I ask him to give me the time and it’s uncanny how the kids play nicely together or by themselves during this time. Last week Marcello said, “It’s too quiet in there. What’s going on?” To which I responded “I’m doing my Bible study.” And when he went in to check, Adriano and Clara were sitting on his bed reading books together. This isn’t the case every day, but most days it goes like this.

When I finish this time with the Lord I feel a burst of positivity and motivation. Reaching out to others, getting outside myself, has been freeing and delightful. Less self-focus in a world of “me” and “do whatever makes you happy” is so very gratifying. We have no idea what we’re missing. There is no high like helping others and allowing God to use you as a part of his plan (which, by the way, will happen with or without you).

So often people think an answer to prayer means you get something, like a reward or healing or an obstacle removed. I am an over-thinker to my core and God takes mercy on my poor little brain. I ask him questions all the time. He answers me! My most specific example recently was a plaguing question about a passage in Revelation. It took months, but then I heard a sermon specifically on this one verse! (I can’t even fathom what the chances of this would be.) Were those months wasted? Absolutely not. I studied the Bible, talked to others more knowledgeable than myself, pondered the works of God.

Another example of an answered prayer I have had recently is in regard to my occasional bouts of anxiety. I asked one night that I be healed of the tightening in my chest, the pounding in my heart and swelling in my throat. Once or twice a year my anxiety reaches a height that brings about physiological responses such as these, which is absolutely not healthy. After my prayer that night, as I laid in bed, there were no obsessive thoughts or chest tightening or wondering what ifs. I fell right asleep with no trace of fear. That was the first part of his answer to me, the next part would involve him asking me to change.

When you pray for something, you better believe that you will most likely be part of that answer. I felt a stirring in my heart that it was not good to continue on the cycle that I was on that went something like this: take something over-the-counter to help me sleep, drink coffee in the morning because I was groggy from medicine, take ibuprofen because my back hurt, drink a glass of wine to start winding back down, a pill to to to sleep again … I don’t think any of these things in and of themselves are wrong, but the way I was using them was hurting me.

All these chemicals and lack of exercise were contributing significantly to my anxiety. And this wasn’t the first time he had given me this realization, but it was the first time I decided to obey. My mom came over the next day or so and wanted to tell me about a video she had watched about anxiety. I interrupted her to tell her exactly how I believed God wanted me to change and she said “Ok, well that pretty much sums up the video.” There were other confirmations as well, but for time’s sake I’ll stop there. In my own experience, when God is leading me in a direction, he gives me two or three confirmations — the same verse repeated, a word from a friend, lyrics to a worship song.

My prayer journey so far

My prayer life really began with the Lord calling me out of comfort zone. None us like to be nudged out of our comfort zone, but that’s where all the good stuff happens! My friend, Ashby, started a small group in her home several years ago and I was extremely nervous to pray in front of the group. What would I say? I wasn’t as studied as they were. I didn’t have any practice. So I looked up some prayers to use as examples. I wrote a couple out in advance to get the hang of it. I started saying prayers out loud to my son, even though he was too little to understand. My popcorn prayers in front of my friends were getting slightly better, but still timid and lacking heart. And then something happened.

After putting in some effort learning how to pray, I actually prayed for God to lift whatever was hanging over me, preventing me from the prayer life I knew he wanted me to have. I told him I longed to speak freely to him in prayer in front of other people. And he answered me. Something truly changed in me instantaneously and the fear lifted. I’m not telling you that now my prayers are eloquent poems of praise, or even noteworthy for that matter. No, they are still on the shorter side, use plain English and get to the point — but they no longer involve fear. (You know, it’s just now occurring to me that I had to pray for the gift of prayer! That actually makes perfect sense. I see what you did there, God.)

I am a relentless question asker and these are the questions I have repeatedly asked God about prayer. I wrote down an extremely NON-exhaustive list of “answers” of sorts. They don’t go into much detail because I wanted to keep it as brief as possible (even though I know this is the opposite of brief). Many people more educated and wiser than I am have written huge, thick books on prayer, so I hope you’ll take this for what it is: my own layperson outline to ease my natural skepticism and have an effective prayer life.

Who am I to pose these questions and attempt to offer some answers? Nobody. I’m a sinner who’s looking for Jesus and if I kept these things I’ve learned to myself I’d be sinning all the more.

And then he told them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.’ ” — Mark 16:15

Why should I pray?

Why should we pray when God already knows everything? We tend to think of praying as asking God for things, but praying is so much more than bringing requests to the Lord. Here are some reasons why we should pray:

  • God commands us to pray.
  • Jesus prayed.
  • To develop a personal relationship with God and his son, Jesus.
  • To praise God.
  • To humble ourselves before the Father.
  • To give thanks.
  • To ask for forgiveness.
  • To forgive others.
  • To be prepared.
  • To get perspective.
  • To receive direction.
  • To receive wisdom.
  • To do his work.
  • To help others.
  • To intercede for others.
  • To fight spiritual wars in the spiritual realm. The battle we fight is not with flesh and blood, it is with our enemy who does his best to remain hidden.
  • And yes, also by “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” — Colossians 4:2

Does prayer make a difference?

  • There is a war being waged in the heavenly realms. (Even String Theory proposes at least eight alternate dimensions for those of us who want to remain focused on only what we can see.) Ephesians 6:12 tells us that the war we fight is not with people, but evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world. “Your problem is in heavenly places. Prayer takes you there,” says Tony Evans.
  • The game changer in saying prayers that make a difference is to start praying for the things that align with God’s will. That’s when things really move. How do you know his will? Read the Bible, get to know him.
  • Also beware that the thing prayer will change the most is you. “If you were on a boat and threw a boat hook to the dock and then pulled, are you pulling the dock toward you or yourself toward the dock?” asks Greg Laurie. Prayer aligns your heart with his.
  • The night before his death at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for a different way, but he bowed to the Father’s will. This act of obedience saved those who believe. Without bending to the Father’s will he would not have secured our salvation.
  • Prayer is a powerful weapon. “As [Daniel] clasped his hands in prayer three times a day he acted in civil disobedience against a tyrannical regime that had outlawed such prayer. What followed, after his arrest and confinement in a den of lions, proved who had the real power,” says Philip Yancey.
  • Pouring out our soul to God unloads our burden to the one who can handle it better, Yancey also says. We might complain to people to gain sympathy, but instead we should turn to the one who has answers.
  • Prayer helps us see our family, friends and world through God’s eyes.
  • Prayer can be powerful and effective.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” — James 5:16

Why are some prayers answered and others are not?

  • If the prayer of a righteous person are powerful, then how can we be righteous? Start with removing the junk from your life that clogs your channel the most high God: negative thinking, gossiping, bad language, watching things you shouldn’t on TV, treating others unkindly and adopting our culture’s tendency of entitlement. The things that will happen in your life if you do your best to remove these poisons and other repeat sins will blow you away. If you question whether something is sin or not, ask yourself if you could ask God to bless it? Example: “God, bless this time playing a game with my family.” Yes, I think he could bless that. How about “God, bless this time on the computer looking at Facebook and making fun of ‘friends.’” Probably not. Or “God bless this time as we watch a graphic movie.” Hmmm.
  • Also, when you remove the sin I mentioned before, there is much less consequence raining down on our heads. How often we fail to see how our current mess is the direct result of our own choices. We cry “save me from this,” but it was all preventable. How much more valuable would we be to God’s kingdom if we clean up our own life so we can focus on helping and reaching out to others.
  • What are your motives? Selfish or pure?
  • Do you have faith? Do you believe he can do all things or do you continue trying in your own strength and on your own terms?
  • If you pray for something, chances are God is going to ask you to have a part in the answer. If you’re praying for hungry children, then what are you doing to feed them? If you’re praying for a better husband, then what are you doing to be a better wife? The answer to our prayers will often require our own action as well as his.
  • Are you only looking to him for prayer and answers for what you consider the “big” things in life? You have to trust him with the small things too.
  • Don’t let prayers act as an ultimatum: “If you do this for me, I’ll never ask for anything again” or “you didn’t heal my loved one so you must not care.”
  • God’s answers to prayer have no formula.
  • Are you praying for something against God’s will or natural laws he has set in order? For example, if you are praying for gravity to fail tomorrow so you can float about, he probably won’t honor that. If you’re praying for something outside his will, he won’t fulfill that.
  • Ask yourself if you have unforgiveness in your heart. Harboring resentment and bitterness results in a hardened heart and destruction in your own life. Christ forgave you, even died for you. You need to forgive as well.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” — 2 Chronicles 7:14

Why does God seem silent sometimes?

There’s a joke I think of quite often about a woman who is late to a job interview. She stressfully prays “Lord, please help me find a parking spot.” Shortly after a spot is free and she says “Thanks, God, but I already found one.” My point is maybe he is moving, but we’re not paying attention.

The Bible says he listens to us. He is faithful. Sometimes amidst trial we wonder if He is there. He seems silent to us, but the Lord is always present, always moving. An important way to remain expectant is to recall how he has been faithful in the past.

  • Keep a list of your current prayers so later you can look back and see how he has answered.
  • Keep a prayer journal. Things just didn’t “work out.” God was there, going ahead and after you.
  • What unrepentant sin do you have? God would rather forgive us than judge us. He loves a repentant heart. To repent literally means to have a change of mind. It endears us to him and doesn’t need to have the negative connotation we normally think of. It can be a sweet and intimate moment.
  • What are your idols? Tear them down.
  • God cares more about our spiritual health than our physical health.
  • Keep in mind that he often uses trials to draw us near to him. He longs for a deep relationship with us.

The LORD is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth.” — Psalm 145:18

How should I pray?

I find comfort in knowing that at least one disciple, even after spending ample amounts of time with Jesus, asked him how to pray. His response was the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours. Now and forever. Amen.

Here are some very basic ideas that can be drawn from his prayer to apply to our own prayers:

  • Pray with intimacy. We may call him Father. (“our Father”)
  • Pray with an eternal perspective and look for Christ’s return. (“Your kingdom come”)
  • Pray for God’s will, not our own. (“Your will be done”)
  • Earth is not perfect as it will be one day. (“on earth as it is in heaven”)
  • We need God and prayer daily. (“our daily bread”)
  • Ask for God’s forgiveness. (“forgive us our sins”)
  • Forgive those who have hurt us. (“as we forgive those who sin against us”)
  • Pray against temptation. (“lead us not into temptation”)
  • Pray to be saved and freed from evil. (“deliver us from evil”)
  • Pray with reverence. (“kingdom, the power and the glory are yours”)
  • Praise him. (“the glory”)
  • Recognize that even when the world seems upside down God is and always will be in control. (“now and forever”)

In addition to the Jesus’ prayer example for us, the Bible tells us even more on how to pray:

  • Jesus tells us he will intercede for us. Think of it like knowing a guy who can get you in. (Hebrews 7:25)
  • Pray with thanksgiving. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
  • Pray continually. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
  • Pray expectantly. (Psalm 5:3)
  • Pray watchfully. (Colassians 4:2)
  • Pray specifically. (John 14:12-14)
  • Pray humbly. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
  • Pray together and for each other. (Matthew 18:19-20, Job 42:10)
  • When words escape us, groans will do. (Romans 8:26)

 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

How can I distinguish God’s voice?

  • The best way to hear God’s voice is to spend time in the Bible. Does what you think he is saying to your heart line up with scripture? He cannot contradict himself. So if it doesn’t jive with the Bible, that’s not the answer. Actually, anything you would ever want to know is all there: why we exist, how to have a happy marriage, the secret to happiness, even a good diet!
  • In addition to the Bible, listening to sermons in the car and worship music on the radio has increased my sensitivity to his voice tremendously. By the way, if you think listening to sermons is boring, you are wrong! I consider people like Alistair Begg, Chuck Swindoll, Tony Evans, Priscilla Shirer, James Macdonald philosophers. Sometimes I loose track of what is going on around me because I’m so caught up in thoughts provoked by them.
  • Keep your feelings out of it. “We cannot trust our five senses,” says Priscilla Shirer. “We need an unchanging, objective source outside ourselves — God’s light. Do not trust your feelings or your own understanding. Feelings do not have intellect.”
  • When we ask and expectantly look for answers he tells us he will give them to us. He speaks to everyone differently, but for me it usually starts with a pull of my heart, a truth that I need to pay attention to. Then I will hear the same verse — related to what’s in my heart — more than once. I’ll hear the same thought or story three times from multiple sources: 1) bible 2) sermon 3) friend 4) song, etc.
  • Live a pure life and it will be easier to hear from him and distinguish his voice. Keep your head clear and don’t cloud it with junk of this world. Think about what your eyes see and your ears hear. Examine it and ask yourself if it is glorifying to God.
  • Being quiet and sitting in his presence is a very important aspect of hearing from God.
  • Ultimately God will answer prayer one of three ways: No, go or slow. Sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes it is yes. And sometimes it is go slow, or wait.

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” — Jeremiah 33:3

I know I’m missing so many aspects here. Forgive me, I’m still a baby on this journey of prayer and have infinity to learn. But one thing I am sure of, if you want to hear the voice of God among the chaos of this world, if you want to know his will for your life, you must spend time in a relationship with him. And this includes studying his word, feeding yourself constant biblical truth and listening for his quiet voice.

So, back to my original question: Does prayer make a difference? Well, it unlocks access to the wisdom and love and mercy and holiness of the Lord God Almighty himself. So yes, it does makes a difference.

Resources

If you’re just starting your prayer journey, here are some resources I find incredibly valuable:

  • Bible study: Being involved in a weekly women’s Bible study is one of the biggest motivators I have to get in the word. We work through a book together that has four or five devotions to do during the week. It doesn’t take long and keeps me learning, growing and developing intimate relationships in Christ. The study that has opened my eyes the most is Armor of God by Priscilla Shirer.
  • Sermons: I listen to Moody radio all the time in the car and now on my computer as well. The information I glean from even five minutes of a sermon still amazes me.
  • Worship music: K-LOVE and WAY-FM are my go-to local worship radio stations.
  • Roku channels: I know of at least Greg Laurie and Joyce Meyer channels on Roku. If you know of more, tell me! When I’m in a bad mood or upset, I watch them and hearing God’s word turns me in the right direction.
  • Books: The most influential prayer book for me has been “Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?” by Philip Yancey, though I understand it’s not for everyone. It’s for skeptics, not those looking for warm, fuzzy feelings. In my Amazon cart right now is Priscilla Shirer’s “Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan to Serious, Specific and Strategic Prayer.” I’ve heard great things about it.

Here is a desktop wallpaper I made of as I memorize this verse:

And finally, if you don’t know Jesus and you want to talk to someone about it, I am here for you. Don’t hesitate for a moment. Email me at Kate@housemixblog.com. Also, if I can pray for you in some way, please tell me how. It would be my privilege.

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.

Ideas to organize your home office & budget

Last week I worked to get our finances, office space, computer, calendar and school papers in order for a clean slate in the new year. Here’s what went down:

Purge

The first step in getting my little office space organized is to go through the year’s accumulated papers. I file what we need to keep and recycle what we don’t. After all, the easiest way to organize is to have less.

I also take this opportunity to declutter drawers and baskets of random pens, cards and other things that get thrown in them.

 

Assign papers to a folder

Next comes what to do with the papers that go in the save pile. I keep folders in two places to avoid that annoying pile of random papers on the kitchen counter (you know, the one that has junk mail mixed in with important documents so you can’t throw it away, but it keeps growing):

Easily accessible folders on my desk

The folders in the basket beside my computer have the following labels:

  • One for each child’s class, papers I need to reference
  • The current year’s medical receipts
  • The current year’s home and car repair receipts
  • A folder for tax documents that filter in after the first of the year
  • And one for miscellaneous papers we need to revist

TIP: Keeping folders like this makes it simple to gather necessary documents when it’s tax season. And after tax season, I sort through my white folders and add what still needs to be saved to my file drawer, below.

File drawer folders

My next office project will be to get some white file folders in this drawer and some new labels. But for now, this is the scene.

In my file drawer I keep a folder for each of the following:

  • medical (one per family member)
  • house
  • cars
  • past five years of taxes (one per year)
  • financial (investments, accounts, etc.)
  • pets
  • manuals
  • receipts for purchases under warranty
  • scrapbook (for things like our family Christmas card, a magazine clipping a family member was in …)

 

Replenish supplies

  • Stamp prices increase on January 22, so stock up now if you want to save a few pennies.
  • Check ink levels in the printer and copy paper supply.
  • See how many checks you have left and order more if needed.
  • Restock envelopes, post-its, pens, paper clips, staples. (You know I head to the dollar store for these.)

 

Put kids art and school work in one location

While I’m still in charge of making sure the kids get their homework done and library books returned on time, I put everything that needs to be completed or returned in the basket on the left.

They each have an Ikea magazine box beside the basket where I keep the artwork they bring home.  For more on what to do with kids’ artwork, check out here and here.

 

Fill out the calendar

While I have my kids’ school calendars out with fundraising events, homework and holidays, I plug them into my phone. Is it just me or do they really kick it up a notch after the long holiday? Some of them I put on our family calendar, above, for my husband to see as well.

Marcello travels a lot, so for us a family calendar is necessary so I know when to expect him to be home or away. (Read: Should I make dinner or pour cereal in a bowl?) We prefer the old school paper method and I keep it hanging by our back door with our menu. I print out all the months for the coming year and stick them in the clip board.

Get the printables here.

 

Clear out photos and video from last year on desktop

I know this is a touchy subject. Some people feel panicked about deleting pictures off their desktop or phone. Some feel overwhelmed about what to do with all the photos they’ve taken over the years. As a graphic designer, I have large files I need to save and the space is just not there for me to keep every photo and video I’ve ever taken. This is how I clean up my computer, phone and camera for the new year:

  1. Upload photos and videos from my phone and camera to my computer.
  2. Select my absolute favorites (be ruthless) and color correct them if needed.
  3. Save my favorite photos onto an external hard drive with the labeled year. Make a DVD with the same photos. And finally upload them to Flickr. (That oughta keep ’em safe!)
  4. Make a yearly photo book.
  5. Put all the year’s videos into a one-hour video.
  6. Save the video to my external hard drive and on a DVD.
  7. DELETE all of them off my desktop, cell phone and camera for a fresh start.

Here is my back up system in more detail.

 

Desktop style

This year I ditched my bold colors and patterns for clean, white folders and binders. I’ve got enough color and clutter going on here from sharing the office space with the playroom, so opted for simple. And as a bonus, the plain white office supplies are the cheapest!

The binders I keep on my desk are for all my checklists and favorite recipe printouts. I have also included the printables for the spines if you’d like to do the same. I added some other options in case they’re useful too — budget, family and calendar.

Budget

After your desk and computer are all cleaned up and organized, you will be much more motivated to work on your new budget. I wrote more than I was originally thinking when it came to budgeting for the new year, so I’m making it a separate section.

Draft an updated budget

If you have a salary, you might need to adjust your income to a different amount in accordance with new insurance prices or 401K contributions. I tend to wait until the end of January to update our budget so I know what our exact income will be.

If you do not operate on a salary and income varies month to month, look back on the previous year and take note of any trends and add up your overall cost to live. How much do you need to save to live for the entire coming year? Where exactly will anything above that number go?

Go through each expense you have with your spouse and question if there is a way to eliminate it or lower it. It is important to 1) be realistic with your budget so that you can meet it and 2) assign each dollar that comes in. Dave Ramsey says: Give every dollar a name — mortgage, credit card bill, groceries, car repairs. Name them all.

TIP: To stay on top of our monthly budget I sit down and update it every Monday with what we have spent and calculate how much we have left to spend. It’s not enough to only evaluate at the end of the month when the money has already been spent.

Make a file of irregular expenses

One thing that has helped our family significantly in meeting our monthly budgets is to make a list of irregular yearly expenses and the dollar amount. I’ve added to it over the years and without it I know I would miss half of these things and go over budget. I’ll share with you my current list of irregular yearly expenses:

  • JANUARY: homeowners association fee, flood insurance

  • FEBRUARY: family member birthday, car registration, taxes, end of winter clothing sales (I buy them now for next year), Valentine’s day

  • MARCH: family member birthday, Easter

  • APRIL: family member birthday, car registration, homeowners association fee, Amazon Prime membership

  • MAY: auto insurance, Mother’s Day, AAA fee

  • JUNE: Father’s Day

  • JULY: homeowners association fee

  • AUGUST: family member birthday, school supplies, end of summer clothing sales (I buy them now for next year)

  • SEPTEMBER:

  • OCTOBER: homeowners association fee

  • NOVEMBER: capital one member fee, auto insurance, kids Christmas PJs

  • DECEMBER: Christmas, Christmas cards

Establish your financial goals for the year

Set your family’s goals for the year, and write them down in order of priority. Be proactive and realistic about them. The more you pay off, save and contribute when you are younger, the more you will have when you are older. When you start this habit, it’s important to check on last year’s goals for encouragement (Yay! You did it!) or to reinstate some old goals (Well, we’ll rip it apart this year!)

This year our goals are as follows:

  • Pay off one car.
  • Pay an extra mortgage payment a year, spread out over 12 months.
  • Contribute more to our 401K.
  • Give above our 10 percent tithe.
  • Save for a new camera.
  • Save for a vacation.

I’m not sure if we will be able to meet all of these, but we’ll never know if we don’t try! If you need help determining where to start with your financial goals, check out these 7 baby steps.

Here is a printable checklist to summarize the points discussed:

Checklist photos:  file folders  |  DVD  |  paper clips  |  pen  |  stapler

Do you have any specific financial goals this year? Did you meet your goals last year? Is your office chaotic, organized or chaotically organized?

This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting this blog!

Also:

Money-saving ideas and how we live on one income
How I put together this office for $400