One handy little tip to keep clutter at bay

I love a bit of shopping as much as the next person – especially if it’s thrif shopping. In fact, it’s thrilling to know you’ve scored and got a quality item for a fraction of the price. I have a pair of knee-high genuine leather boots, which I got for about $20 in a second-hand store and wear almost every day, every winter.

But here’s the problem with shopping, even and especially when you get a great deal: we all have limited space on our shelves and in our closets, and no one wants their house to look like something that belongs in an episode of Hoarders.

Cue a simple but effective rule I’ve been implementing lately for purchases that aren’t absolutely necessary: one goes in, one comes out.

Here’s how I do this: if I consider buying a pair of shoes for myself or my kids, I challenge myself to go over all our shoes and part with at least one pair. It can be something that doesn’t fit anymore or just something that hasn’t been worn in a while.

This actually works great, because:

a) I put stuff in order as I go through it

b) I keep the house from being overrun by surplus items (does stuff breed when I’m not looking, or what?)

c) As I go over our things, I usually find more than one item we can do without, so it usually ends up being “one goes in, two or more go out”

These days, I apply this rule to pretty much anything: clothing, toys, books. With items that get used up, like art supplies and yarn, I adjust the rule to “finish one, then buy another”.

So that’s my current strategy. Rather than do one big seasonal declutter, just keep clutter from accumulating as much as you can.

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How I got over my plastic tablecloth addiction

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I’ve always considered myself a fairly eco-conscious person. I line dried, hand washed, repurposed, and tried to minimize the use of disposables. With one exception: plastic tablecloths for the Shabbat table.

I sort of felt I gamed the system when I spread out that transparent rustling sheet of plastic over my table. I didn’t need to worry about spills. Cleanup was a breeze. And I could still see my pretty cloth tablecloth through the plastic.

No, I didn’t feel too good about myself when it was time to shove that giant wad of plastic into the trash can. But I told myself, “You do enough laundry. You have tiny kids. You’re just surviving.” It was that word, “surviving”, which I used to justify a lot of lack of effort in many areas.

I could, of course, put on reusable waxed tablecloths, but there are limitations to cleaning on the Shabbat. For example, you can’t clean with a cloth and then wring it.

Then, one day, we switched to buying a long plastic roll rather than individual pre-cut pieces to save money. The problem is, you need to cut your plastic cover before the Shabbat, and if you forget to do that, too bad.

One such time, I nearly threw a fit when I realized that I’ll need to use cloth tablecloths and wash them. We lived in an area where we’d regularly get stuck without electricity or running water for days. But I still couldn’t help noticing how much nicer it was to eat without touching plastic with our hands and elbows.

I still wasn’t ready to give up on plastic table covers because of the aforementioned patchy utilities. There were many times when I delayed washing the dishes and was stuck with a full sink for three days. But when we moved, I no longer had to obsess about getting every load of laundry or stack of dishes done as soon as possible.

Then I started ghostwriting for one eco blog, which really got me more aware of how harmful plastic actually is and how important it is to minimize its use. I decided to lay my Shabbat cloth with no cover.

All in all, I needed three cloths for the three Shabbat meals. They took about half a load in the washer. And there was not a single stain, despite multiple spills of oil, wine, and tomato sauce.

For over a year now, I haven’t looked back. I just took my three favorite tablecloths off the line. They are perfectly clean and smell delicious – and they are ready to go on the table tomorrow night.

Do you work too hard?

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Not long ago, I told a friend that saying I’m tired is like saying the Titanic experienced a minor snag. True enough, exhaustion has been part of my life as a mom, spiking during periods like new babies, moving house, holidays, and other types of overwhelm.

I’ve been told it’s normal. Normal to want some quiet time. Normal to dream of moving to New Zealand.

Maybe you’ve just had your first baby. Maybe you have children with special needs. Maybe, like me, you are trying to juggle the needs of several different-age kids and your freelance writing business.

Either way, I’m going to share five questions I’ve asked myself to help myself let go of unrealistic expectations (pffft) and put mental health first.

One, do you work too hard? No, wait. That’s not a question. Start over.

Do you iron? Ironing is seriously overrated. A few wrinkles on a shirt haven’t killed anyone yet. Besides, wrinkles straighten up, more or less, while you wear the item.

Do you do too much laundry? Around here, clothes get tossed into the hamper when they are dirty. I separate darks and lights, but otherwise, everything gets shoved in the wash together, including underwear, bedding, and towels.

Do you cook too complicated? It’s best to choose dishes that request not just little prep, but little cleanup as well. Soup is a perennial favorite.

Do you delegate? Do you let people do what they can for themselves? If a toddler can pick up her toys, great. If a tween can clean her room, fantastic. So what if it’s not perfect? It fosters healthy independence and helps lighten your load.

Do you take the time to recharge? Do you remember when you last watched a movie? Read a book just because? Called a friend? When I realized that my answer to these was “I’m not sure”, I acknowledged I was on the verge of burnout. I began making an effort to eat and sleep better and to do more things that refresh and rejuvenate me.

5 places to start decluttering

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As I was putting the house in order before Pesach, I was amazed, like I am every year, at the sheer amount of stuff that was going out for donation or recycling. The holiday is over, but I’m still decluttering, because I’ve started to overhaul the closets for summer.

I’ll tell you a dirty secret: the reason why I love decluttering so much is that I hate cleaning. Or, at least, I hate spending a lot of time on cleaning. The less stuff you have to take care of, the easier and more straightforward cleaning becomes.

So here are my suggestions on where to start freeing up valuable space.

  1. Closets. Most of us own stuff we’ve forgotten we have. Some of it can actually be put to good use. Other items go in the donation bag. Kids have things they have outgrown, socks with holes, and that shirt with paint stains I can never get completely clean.
  2. Kitchen cabinets. I’m a secret container addict and can never resist buying pickles in a pretty glass jar, then washing it and stashing it away for future use. While recycled glass is frugal and eco-friendly, at some point my jar collection threatens to take over my kitchen space.
  3. Toys and books. From my experience, only a handful of toys and games are worth keeping longterm. We get more gifts of toys and books than we can use, some of them double sets, and while I cherish every gesture of friendship, there’s only so much we can keep.
  4. Yard. For me, it’s extremely easy to forget everything that isn’t actually in the house. This includes cracked flower pots, broken tiles, and various odds and ends.
  5. Storage. It’s easy to forget about items that have been sitting in the depths of my storage shed for years. But storage isn’t supposed to be a “shove inside and forget” concept. It should be a convenient place for useful things that simply aren’t used regularly, or seasonal items like rubber boots and umbrellas.

With every trash bag that leaves my home, I feel like I can breathe a little easier. I hope I can stay in the momentum and keep gaining space, peace, and order.

5 Game-changing laundry hacks

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Laundry is the kind of perennial chore I always try to make more efficient. I have four children and line-dry all our clothes, so you can imagine I always have a load either to hang, fold, or put away. Still, with a few handy hacks, I keep my laundry basket from overflowing.

1. Baby wipes for small stains.

Many stains will disappear miraculously if you treat them quickly by rubbing a baby wipe over them. I know there are wipes made specifically for this purpose, but I have found baby wipes to be quite efficient – and much cheaper.

2. Air rather than wash.

At the end of the day, if the clothes I’m wearing are not exactly dirty but could use freshening up, I will often hang them up on the line (not over the back of a chair). Often, a bit of time in the sunshine and breeze will leave the clothes crisp and fresh as if they had actually been washed.

3. Use vinegar.

In lieu of fabric softener, combined with water to soak particularly smelly clothes, or with baking soda to clean your washing machine.

4. Pre-treat sweat stains with shampoo.

Works a treat on those pesky underarm areas and soiled collars. A paste made of baking soda and vinegar is another treatment option.

5. Pre-sort the laundry by having two different hampers.

I thought everybody does that, but was surprised to find out that some people have one big hamper for everything and sort right before washing. It’s a lot less hassle to keep darks and lights separated in the first place.

 

 

Sanity saving tips for stay-at-home moms

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At the time of writing this, I have four children aged 11, 9, 5, and 2, which means I have been a mom for over a decade – and during all this time, I have been at home with my children, whether “just” a stay-at-home mom (more than a full-time occupation in itself!) or, in recent years, also a freelancer juggling writing and editing jobs and publishing her own books.

I have home educated and done crafts, started a garden and changed a gazillion diapers, milked goats and potty trained, nursed four babies and broke up countless fights, treated children and chickens for lice, kissed boo-boos and wiped noses. Now that I have preteens, I constantly find myself having conversations with kids who are convinced they are infinitely smarter than I am.

It has not always been easy. There were (and are) days when I just wanted to get away for a bit. There are frumpy days, dragging days, tear-my-hair-out days.

But I still wouldn’t trade it for anything, and with time and the gift of perspective that comes with it, I have learned to lean on a few strategies that help me keep (somewhat) sane.

1. Be realistic. I know that there are going to be all kinds of days. Sometimes we are all sitting in peace and harmony around the table and I’m doing fractions with the older girls while the little ones are coloring. Sometimes my kids are doing their best to get the house demolished. Sometimes I have plenty of energy; sometimes I’m down with a stomach bug or just feel blah. But whatever happens, you get to have a fresh start the next day.

2. Focus on the basics and prioritize. I used to iron. I never do that anymore. I don’t do labor-intensive recipes and I don’t wash my windows from the outside. I know that I do a staggering amount of work each day and I refuse to feel guilty about not cramming in more.

3. Don’t let things pile up. If at all possible, wash those dishes before you go to bed. In the morning, you’ll be glad you did. The longer you leave things to pile up, the harder they are to tackle eventually. I keep laundry manageable by sticking to throwing in a load every other day and having it folded and put away before the next load is due to wash. I do a tidy-up several times a day and try to clean messes (such as a dirty stove) as soon as they pop up. I don’t do it because I love to clean (ha!), but because I hate being overwhelmed.

4. Delegate! There is absolutely no reason your children should expect you to do things for them which they can do for themselves. Insist that everyone picks up after themselves, serves themselves, and helps out with age-appropriate chores. Very young children can learn to pick up after themselves, keep their play area tidy, and wash their glass after they have a drink. No, it isn’t always easy, and yes, I struggle with this, but I refuse to raise little entitled layabouts who expect full room service.

Don’t forget to enlist your spouse if possible – just because you are the one who stays home, it doesn’t mean you have to do everything by yourself. You are always on duty and deserve a break (more on that in a bit).

5. Don’t compare yourself to others. We all have that friend with the immaculate living room and the kids who all play cello. But guess what? We are all different. Be kind to yourself. Think about what would happen if you stopped, for just one day, doing all the myriad of “nothings” that accumulate during each 24 hours – mopping up spills, keeping everyone clean and fed, tackling the garbage and all those little “insignificant” jobs your family only learns to appreciate when you happen to fall sick. Yeah, you see my point. Don’t judge by performance – evaluate by work performed, and you’ll likely see you’re already doing awesome.

6. Take some time off and break the routine. When was the last time you read a good book? Spent time on a hobby? Took an unplanned hike? Called a friend? Got enough hours of sleep? Had a bath without someone banging on the door? Be honest, and you’ll see that you deserve some pampering.

While it isn’t always possible to get time alone, you can also be refreshed by having a break from routine with your children – a picnic, watching a movie together, putting your feet up while little ones play in the pool, even just curling on the rug as you read side by side with them.

Don’t feel guilty – there is always more work to be done, and life is too short. So do what you can to grab that portion of joy and beauty in your day.

On the Purim-Pesach highway

Purim is in two days, which officially marks the beginning of my least favorite time of the year: the weeks between Purim and Pesach.

I always say that all the Pesach prep is probably meant to really help us get into the shoes of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt. It’s more than just spring cleaning, which many people around the world do. It’s practically overhauling one’s whole house. It’s getting obsessively neurotic over every crumb and every trace of leavened bread. It’s packing and unpacking dishes, cookware, and practically all the kitchenware – twice in the span of a week.

By the end of that time, I’m just left with my tongue hanging out, desperate to have my life back.

But there is a silver lining. This period is also the absolute best time of the year to acquire various roadside finds, as people are going through their houses and closets and throw away things, often in excellent condition. You know what they say – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A big part of our furniture consists of such timely finds that have been serving us for long years now.

While I’m generally a big fan of saving space and getting rid of stuff, sometimes you just happen to be in need of something, and then you’re actually driving by and it stares you right in the face – like for example this good-as-new bed frame we had hauled home last week. After a thorough treatment with furniture polish, I can already envision how it will shine in its intended spot. Naturally, I don’t buy furniture polish – I’m currently experimenting with a few homemade, eco-friendly versions.

Happy cleaning, everyone. Remember not to work too hard and just enjoy this beautiful time of year when the earth seems to be stirring awake.

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