5 Helpful Habits for Peaceful Homemaking

Back when Josh was studying crazy long hours in school, I slipped into a horrible homemaking habit. After caring for the kids and working my online job during the day, the last thing I felt like doing after dinner was cleaning up the kitchen.

It's amazing what a difference a few simple habits can make!

So, after dinner, we laid the kids down and then I spent “a few minutes” relaxing with my laptop, while Josh studied. The trouble was, all the time I had this nagging feeling that I ought to have cleaned up the kitchen first. But I really didn’t want to. So the minutes slipped past far faster than I thought possible and before I knew it I’d wasted an hour online while the dishes crusted over. Follow me over to Young Wife’s Guide to read the rest. 

Balancing a Homemade Lifestyle

Balancing a homemade lifestyle with our busy modern livesRecently we read Laura Ingall Wilder’s “Farmer Boy” aloud as a family. No matter how productive of a day I’d had, it seemed lazy in comparison. The Wilders made 90% of their food, clothing, and shelter from scratch. They regularly worked from before dawn till past dusk, with only a handful of holidays throughout the year. A day spent blueberry picking counted as “vacation.”

Their story paints a striking contrast to the typical modern lifestyle of consumerism and constant media distractions. Thankfully, a refreshing change is beginning to tackle our culture’s deep-seated consumerism. There is a growing trend toward a more homemade lifestyle.

Many reasons exist: homemade foods are usually tastier, healthier, and more affordable than their store-bought alternatives. Homemade products generally save money and are more healthy.

But even though we’re blessed with so many modern conveniences that Laura didn’t enjoy, her stories highlight an important point about the homemade lifestyle: making things from scratch takes a lot of time and effort….

Follow me over to the Young Wife’s Guide to read the rest

A (Mostly) Clean Home in 20 Minutes a Day

Ever since beginning the daily cleaning challenge, something wonderful has happened. Rather than facing the weekend with a long list of cleaning chores and not enough energy to tackle them, my home has stayed mostly clean most of the time.

You may not be able to run a white glove over all the surfaces, but since I’m homeschooling and running a home with four littles without the help of a cook, maid, or nanny, I’m okay with that. The floors, bathrooms, windows, and once-dusty shelves are getting adequate attention, without domineering my time.

In just 20 minutes a day you can keep your home (mostly) clean by keeping on top of daily stuff, making a list, enlisting the kids, using quality micro-fiber, and setting a timer for 20 minute of focused time.

Cleaning can get overwhelming SO quickly, especially in a home full of sweet littles. But by doing just 20 minutes of focused cleaning a day, you can enjoy a (mostly) clean home every day.

(Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.)

A mostly clean home in 20 minutes a day

Keep up with daily stuff

My first housewifely goal is to keep up with the daily stuff. These are the things that aren’t part of my 20 minute cleaning regimen. Things like dishes and sweeping the kitchen crumbs. Several years ago I started forcing myself to clean up the kitchen after dinner before picking up a book, relaxing with my laptop, or anything else. Ending (and therefore starting) the day with a clean kitchen makes a world of difference.

Now on to the actual twenty minutes of cleaning…

Make a list before you start

It’s amazing what you can get done in just twenty minutes with a bit of focused energy. Start by jotting down the most pressing cleaning items. Today my list is:

  • Wipe down main bathroom (it’s tiny and easy)
  • Wipe down sinks & toilet in master bathroom
  • Vacuum under the stairs (it is the kids’ playhouse and is covered in cookie crumbs from a fun weekend.)
  • Sweep study floor

Tomorrow I might vacuum the bedrooms and wipe down walls and door frames, which seem to attract grime like mud attracts toddlers. After several days of tackling glaring dirt, I often have a chance to do something less pressing, but still important, like wipe down the fridge or the outside of appliances.

Get the kids involved (or occupied)

One of the chief problems I faced with my once-a-week cleaning day is that it required my children to let me clean for two to four hours. Since I was usually interrupted every few minutes, those hours multiplied fast.

Twenty minutes is (mostly) doable. Rose and Will each have assigned afternoon chores of vacuuming or sweeping. If Meg and Ned aren’t busily occupied with Duplos or books, I can hand them a rag and have them wipe down baseboards. It won’t keep them happy for an hour, but it will let me have a few minutes to focus.
Don't wait to clean until it's overwhelming!  In just 20 minutes a day, you can have a (mostly) clean home all the time.

Use quality micro-fiber

After being disappointed with several cheap micro-fiber cloths, I was a huge skeptic. But my friend Melissa convinced me to give these high-quality microfiber cleaning cloths a try. I am hooked.

Instead of smearing smudges around on my front window and looking at it from multiple angles multiple times trying to get the streaks out, I just wipe down the window, rub a polishing cloth over it and am done in two minute. Instead of lugging around all my natural (and expensive) cleaners, I just use my cloth and water, and my house has never been so clean in such little time. (Only I can’t get myself to not use cleaners for my toilet. It’s a mental thing.)

Investing in high-quality microfiber has easily shaved 20%-50% of the time and effort from every cleaning job I’ve used them on.

Set a timer

There’s something stimulating about racing the time. About seeing the minutes tick down to zero. It motivates me and keeps me focused. I know that once that timer rings, my cleaning time for the day is done. That knowledge helps me stay on track and attack jobs I may not love quickly.

If I know there’s a bigger project I’d like to tackle (like the fridge), I try to save it for Saturday and give myself 40 minutes to get it done. Then, on Sunday, I take the day off, because God made the day of rest even for busy moms!

Stop and enjoy

Once the timer rings, I put away my cleaning cloths and hang up my cleaning bonnet. (I don’t actually have a cleaning bonnet, but the image is nice and Poppins-ish, isn’t it?)

Sometimes my list is a bit too ambitious and I don’t get to all of it. Sometimes I notice that I really ought to have added the kids’ shower to my cleaning list. The wonderful thing about devoting just 20 minutes a day to cleaning is that if I don’t have time to finish something today, I can still stop because I know I’ll have 20 more minutes tomorrow.!

Keep your home (mostly) clean in just 20 minutes a day

A clean home doesn’t have to be a distant memory of life before littles. With just a bit of concentrated effort each day, we can each enjoy (mostly) clean homes every single day.

New Habit: Clean for 20 Minutes a Day

You know the sinking feeling when the bathrooms desperately need attention, the kitchen floor has fancy mud tracks all over it, you can draw pictures in the dust on the bookshelves, and you wonder where to even start? Well, hopefully you don’t know the feeling. It’s not very fun.

Every time I let the cleaning pile up till it gets overwhelming, I think why oh why didn’t I just spend 20 minutes a day staying on top of this? And then life gets busy and I slip right back to letting the cleaning pile up.

Lately I've not been very great at keeping my home clean. Actually, I've been pretty terrible. So I'm working on developing a new habit: to spend 20 minutes of devoted time cleaning every single day.

New Habit: Clean for 20 Minutes a Day

The last two months I have focused on developing a very simple, but incredibly helpful, habit: get dressed before breakfast. As I have thought about what new habit would make the most difference in my life and home, cleaning kept popping into my mind.

I’m not positive, but I have this grand hope that if I spend just 20 minutes of entirely-devoted time cleaning my home every day except Sunday, that my home just might stay (mostly) clean. That I’ll never again be overwhelmed by a long list of cleaning desperately clamoring for attention. (At one point in time—back before four little children and homeschooling, I was able to tackle it all on one day without feeling totally exhausted. Now, it’s just not working!)

So for the next two months I plan to focus on developing the habit of spending 20 minutes of focused time cleaning my home daily.

This doesn’t include everyday jobs like cleaning up after meals, general tidying, or taming the laundry monster. It also doesn’t include deep cleaning projects. These 20 minutes are just for things that ought to get done every week, but often don’t. Things like:

My plan is to make a list of the most pressing projects for each day, set a timer for 20 minutes, and attack the cleaning with a vengeance. Whatever I can’t finish, I’ll tackle the next day.

As Ann Voskamp so beautifully pointed out, “Cleanliness isn’t next to godliness, love is.” The dirt will always be waiting for me, my children won’t. I want my children’s memories to be full of laughter and happy times together, even if the house isn’t always immaculate. (Hah!)

But I also want them to see me being faithful in my responsibilities, including my responsibility to keep our home reasonably clean. I want to encourage them, by example, to be more faithful with their afternoon chores too. So during this 20 minutes, while I tackle my cleaning, they will be working alongside me with their own chores.

Every time I let the cleaning pile up till I'm faced with an overwhelmingly dirty home, I think "Why didn't I just work on this a little each day?!" So, that's my new habit challenge: clean for just 20 minutes every day.

My hunt for a (mostly) clean home

If your housekeeping would make Mary Poppins shudder too, would you like to join me on this experiment to devote just twenty minutes of focused time each day cleaning? If cleaning isn’t your struggle, I’d still love to have you join me in working on developing a new habit the next two months!

4 Strategies If the Stomach Bug Threatens

Getting the stomach bug ranks pretty high on most people’s “least favorite things” list. After a terrible three-week-long round of stomach flu, I determined to be much more proactive about avoiding a full-blown family attack in the future.

Impossible, maybe. But there’s always hope, right? Now if we get exposed to the stomach bug, I take these four precautionary steps.

Everyone hates the stomach bug, but if one threatens, it's best to be prepared! Here are four smart things to do if you've been exposed.

Don’t worry. He’s not sick. Just bribed with chocolate to pretend that he is. 

Four smart things to do when the stomach bug threatens

Fight back with herbs

I would take just about anything if it kept me from getting the stomach bug. But thankfully, my very favorite stomach-bug-fighting-herbs are pretty tasty:

Elderberry syrup/tincture: this mildly sweet berry packs a powerful antiviral and antibacterial punch. You can take it regularly as an immune-builder. At the first sign of any illness, up your normal dose to fight off the bug. (Purchase elderberries here.)

Peppermint teaI practically sip peppermint tea not-stop when there’s a stomach bug going around. Not only is it delicious, it’s a great herb to boost the immune system and calm queasy stomachs. (Read more or purchase peppermint tea here.) 

Activated charcoal: Not to be confused with leftovers from grilling. This stuff is quite different. And it’s been used since ancient Egypt to fight poison, stomach bugs, and food poisoning. Your body doesn’t actually absorb it. Instead, the charcoal binds with toxins and flushes them out of the body. (Fine print: Activated charcoal is not for long term use though, because it also flushes out vitamins. So don’t take at the same time as vitamins! And too much can cause constipation.Not for children under 3.)

This last time the stomach bug made its rounds, I handed out prunes (see above) lightly dipped in activated charcoal. You could hardly taste or see the charcoal at all this way and it seemed to keep the bug at bay. (Purchase activated charcoal here.

(I wish I’d known about it when we had our miserable three-week stomach bug marathon two years ago.)

Review the stomach bug protocol

Also known as mommy’s “Don’t throw up on the couch” speech. I used to think telling kids where not to throw up was a bit heartless, but after spending two days scrubbing, and soaking, and polishing vomit from a leather couch, I changed my mind.

Now any time we’re exposed to the stomach bug, I review the stomach bug protocol with the kids: “If you need to throw up, try to make it to the toilet. If you can’t make it, a bowl or tile or hardwood is easier to clean up than carpet. Try NOT to throw up on the couch.”

Not that I can fault a sweet sick little one if they do throw up on the couch, but I’d much rather spend a sick day holding my little people than scrubbing up vomit. So far my speech seems to have helped avoid another terrible couch incident.

Adjust the menu

Getting the stomach bug is bad enough, without having just eaten spaghetti. If the stomach bug is threatening, I do a quick menu adjustment and try to choose simple, healthy, meals without red sauce or lots of spice. Chicken-broth-based soup makes a great choice.

Keep sickness essentials stocked

If the dreaded bug does gain a footing, having enough laundry soap, dishwashing detergent, disinfectant, crackers, paper products (including plates and cups) and extra blankets makes the attack much easier to weather. (Trust me, after those three miserable weeks, I know!)

Since none of these things are likely to spoil, they’re good items to keep well stocked anyway.

Be prepared for the stomach bug

Having a stomach bug tear through the house is horrid, but being prepared makes it easier to handle. Next time the stomach bug threatens, review your stomach bug protocol, fight back with herbs, adjust your menu, and make sure the essentials are covered. It makes weathering the storm much easier.

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

DIY Wool Dryer Balls

Save energy and reduce static with these simple DIY wool dryer balls. Here's how to make them from an old woolen sweater or wool year.

Looking for a fun, simple, and practical DIY project? These homemade dryer balls only take about 15 minutes to make!

So what exactly is a wool dryer ball? It’s a felted wool ball that you put in your dryer that works as an all natural alternative to dryer sheets. The wool absorbs and redistributes moisture to reduce drying time and static. I haven’t run any official experiments to see exactly how much energy they save, but I’d guess between 10 and 20%. With how much laundry we do, that will add up quickly!

You can purchase wool yarn or ransack your closet (or the thrift store) for old 100% wool sweaters to use. Both work equally well.

DIY Wool Dryer Balls

Make wool dryer balls from old woolen sweaters!

Two options for wool: buy wool roving/yarn or cut up an old wool sweater. [Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

Supplies you’ll need:

How to make wool dryer balls

Cut an olden wool sweater into strips to turn into energy-saving dryer balls.

Before you get started: If you are using a sweater, you can either unravel the yarn (if you’re up for that!) or just cut the sweater into thin strips, like I did. It worked great and went really fast.

Step 1: Tightly roll the yarn/strips into an orange-sized ball. (It will shrink a lot!)

An unfelted wool dryer ball. It's almost ready to toss into the dryer!

Step 2: Weave the end under several strands.

Putting my wool dryer balls in nylon tights to felt.

Step 3: Put the dryer ball in a nylon hose to keep it from coming unraveled when it’s felting. Secure with a knot. You can add multiple balls, just make sure to keep them separated.

Step 4: Wash the dryer balls in a warm/hot load of laundry (OR, just soak them in really hot water and gently ring most of the water out.)

Step 5: Dry them on your dryer’s hottest setting, with a load of laundry.

Step 6: Repeat step 4 & 5 till the balls are felted. You can tell your dryer balls are done when you can gently run your finger over the yarn and it doesn’t separate. It’s become one solid ball.

Step 7: Remove from the nylon.

Reduce drying time and static with these all-natural wool dryer balls. Easily make them yourself from an old woolen sweater or wool yarn!

You’re finished! Toss four to six dryer balls into your dryer with each load of wet laundry to reduce dry time and static. They can be used hundreds of time!

DIY projects I’d like to try this year:

Last year I tried a few DIY projects, like delicious homemade vanilla extract and super practical anti-bacterial green salve, but I want to be more intentional about it this year. Especially because Rose is getting to the age where she’s dying to learn new crafts and skills. She really wants to knit socks. I’m not sure if I’ll get talented enough to learn and teach sock-making, but I definitely plan to teach her to make scarves!

  • DIY Wool Dryer Balls (done, woot!)
  • DIY rustic wall-hanging (kind of like this)
  • DIY picture wall (once we can get all the study stuff out of our bedroom, I really need to get some things up on the wall. Isn’t this picture wall cute?)
  • DIY hand soap (my first attempt was a disaster. I’m hoping with an accurate scale things turn out better!)
  • Homemade candles (we’ve made them once before, but I loved them so much we ran out quickly)
  • Teach Rose how to knit a scarf (I’m not a huge knitting fan, but she’s dying to learn. Knitting with her sounds like a blast!)
  • DIY owl rice packs. 
  • DIY Christmas-scented jar (wouldn’t this make an awesome gift? And it looks incredibly easy and I would get to feel craftsy! )

Winter Travel Emergency Kit

Winter is almost upon us. It's time to build a winter travel emergency kit.

Winter weather is in the air. When there is snow on the ground, I like to turn on the fire and get cozy or go outside and enjoy the snow.

Driving on frozen roads though? That’s not my favorite thing. But being prepared with a winter travel emergency kit makes me feel a little better about braving the frozen world.

So this week I stocked our van with emergency essentials. I hope we never need to use them in an emergency, but it’s always best to be prepared for any adventure!

Be prepared for any adventure on the road with these 8 essential winter travel items.

Be prepared for any winter adventure on the road!   (photo credit 1/ photo credit 2)

Winter Travel Emergency Kit

Water

It’s totally obvious, and totally important.

The kids and I have Lifefactory glass water bottles that we take with us try to take with us everywhere we go. (I totally love them!) We also keep bottled water in the trunk.

Food

If you are traveling with children, it is a good idea to have food in the car. Emergency or no emergency. A simple snack is amazing at averting melt-downs…and distracting kids in the face of real emergencies..

Trail mix, granola bars, crackers, and beef jerky are good choices that don’t spoil easily.

A good-quality phone charger

What’s worse than being stranded in the middle of nowhere? Being stranded in the middle of nowhere with a dead phone.

Since, ahem, I’m not the best at managing my cell battery life, I have both a car charger and an awesome “anywhere” charger. (Thanks, darling!) Having at least one would be a good idea!

Basic (Herbal) Emergency Kit

It seems like anytime we leave the house, at least one child has a mini “emergency”, like a scraped knee or bruised hand. With band-aids and a few basic herbs, you can be prepared for the many mini emergencies you are likely to face…and even be ready for more major events. ‘

(If you’d like a free copy of my simple and concise “Build Your Own Herbal Emergency Kit” guide—complete with instructions and printables for on the road— sign up here.)

I also printed off CPR guides to keep handy in the van: infant CPR, toddler CPR, and CPR. No matter how many times I read through the guide, I’m positive I would want a reminder in the stress of the moment.

Blankets

Come fall, we start keeping a few cozy blankets in the van. They get used while the van heats up, and are there if we ever need them during an emergency.

A change of clothes (for the kids, at least)

Whether you’re stranded in an ice storm or a child couldn’t quite make it to the bathroom, being prepared with a fresh change of clothes is always a good idea!

Warm gloves

My hands get so cold, so fast. Driving with stiff hands, especially in bad weather conditions, is just not very smart. Keep a special pair in the van in case you need them.

Entertainment of some sort

This one isn’t strictly essential, I suppose. But it is a very good idea to keep an assortment of entertainment in the car, for you and the kids! Books, coloring books, and car games make good choices.

Build your own winter travel emergency kit and be prepared for any icy adventure that comes your way!

Assemble your winter travel emergency kit

Since getting married, Joshua and I have had trees fall on our house in an ice storm and survived a terrible tornado.

Being prepared for mishaps makes them much easier to handle. If you have to travel on frozen roads, make sure to assemble a winter travel kit to take with you!

What do you keep in your vehicle? (Do you like driving in winter weather?) 

Keep To-Do Lists Short

One of the first things Rose did after she could piece together words was write lists. She made her own morning to-do lists, evening to-do lists and all-the-fun-things-we’ll-do-tomorrow lists.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a list sort of gal too. Lists help me focus, keep important things from falling through the cracks, and give a sense of accomplishment. (Yes, I’m even one of those list-lovers who will add things onto my list I’ve already done, just for the joy of crossing them off.)

The trouble was, my lists were so long that getting to the bottom of them generally required a 48-hour day, uninterrupted effort (hah!), or some other impossible stroke of luck.

Enter the short to-do list.

Short to-do lists have all benefits of a superwoman to-do list, but have the added benefits of forcing prioritization and actually being attainable.

Instead of starting out the day with unrealistic goals, now each morning I pick out three of the things I’d like to accomplish that day. Things that are already worked into our morning or lunch routines (like washing breakfast dishes), do NOT make it onto the list.

Picking only three things and then concentrating on finishing them, helps ensure that the important things actually get done.

Some days things don’t go anything like what I planned. No big deal, the list can usually wait till tomorrow. But often by focusing on just three things, the list is knocked out by lunchtime, leaving the afternoon free to tackle three more things, read a book, or take a nap.

If you’re overwhelmed by a never-ending to-do list, ditch the long lists. It’s exhilarating!

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherWalking RedeemedGrace Simplicity, & Proverbs 31

photo credit

Laundry Ramblings (and a Very Helpful Tip)

“I believe you should live each day as if it is your last, which is why I don’t have any clean laundry, because, come on, who wants to wash clothes on the last day of their life?” Anonymous

The laundry pile (not that you couldn’t have guessed!) 

That quote made me laugh.

I’m sure it will pop into my head next time I’m overwhelmed by a pile of laundry. But, in stream-of-consciousness style, hopefully this quote will follow it, “If I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree  do the laundry today.” (Martin Luther)

Why? Because the work God has given us is good. Even sweeping floors and planting a garden are ways to serve Him. And, thankfully, so is doing the laundry.

But see that pile up there? Since moving I just couldn’t seem to tame the laundry monster. I mean, the kids had clean clothes to wear, but we’d often dash to clear the clothes off the couch moments before Joshua came home for dinner. Sometimes, we didn’t get to it, so I’d spend the first twenty minutes after the kids went to bed folding laundry.

It made the old saying “a mother’s work is never done” seem all too true.

Once again, Will looks like he’s up to something mischievous. What’s he up to this time? Folding washcloths. 

Then a dear friend shared this tip from Large Family Logistics with me: get the laundry done early, preferably before noon.

It has been so helpful!

Finishing the day’s laundry is now part of our lunch routine.

Do you know what that means? No more laundry pile staring at me all afternoon. No more racing to put laundry away in the evening. No more folding laundry after the kids are tucked in bed.

What a difference this little tip has made! (Thanks, Brooke!)

Do little tips like that ever make a huge difference in your day? 

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

Linked up at Mama MomentsBetter Mom MondayTeach Me Tuesdays, & Encourage One Another

Mommy Chef: a Balancing Act

The job of a homemaker in the kitchen requires juggling. We must balance the competing claims of health, budget & taste while bouncing a baby or judging sibling rivalry.

The task can be daunting. Few of us have unlimited grocery budgets or endless time to spend in the kitchen.

These are a few ways I seek to provide my family with healthy meals while maintaining my sanity and a strict grocery budget.

Follow me over to Little Natural Cottage to read the rest.