Imagination: the Best Toy Ever

“Mama! Today was one of the best days ever!” Will declared as came running inside for dinner.

What did we do that was so fun?

Nothing.

After a delightfully busy month, this week I cleared the schedule. I turned down wonderful sounding events so we could just stay home. Aside from our simple summer routine of memory work, story-time, and chores, I had nothing at all planned.

So the best-day-ever-day was almost exactly like yesterday which was pretty much exactly like the day before.

And yet it wasn’t.

Imagination: the best toy

This morning Will was a farmer happily digging up dirt “to sell”. Then he was a king building a castle under the picnic table with Queen Rose.

When rain interrupted the castle construction, we read books that transported us to faraway places.

After naps, he travelled on a Lego airplane to outer space… then hid in a make-believe cave under the stairs. The rain kindly stopped in time for Will to emerge from the cave and build volcanos out of all the dirt he dug up this morning.

We hadn’t really gone anywhere exciting or done anything new. But the mud-covered creature that came running in for dinner (and a shower!) with a huge grin on his face, had travelled around the world and through time. He was happy proof to me that imagination is the best of all toys.

His joy was an acknowledgment that in this fast-paced, electronic-dominated culture, it’s okay to just “do nothing” and let imaginations run wild.

 May be linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeWalking RedeemedGraced Simplicity, & Proverbs 31

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Growing Little Gardeners

“Why try to explain miracles to your kids,” asks Robert Brault, “when you can just have them plant a garden?”

Planting tiny seeds, then waiting and watching as they sprout into fruitful plants, really is like watching many mini-miracles blossom. This is the main reason I love to garden with my children. Gardening makes us stand in awe again and again of God’s amazing creation.

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There are many other reasons to garden together.

Follow me on over to The Purposeful Mom to read the rest. This post is part of her “Spring into Summer” Series. Be sure to check out the rest of the posts for summery fun! 

How to Maintain [Some] Order in a Shared Kids’ Room

Like many of you, my children share a room. Sharing a room teaches valuable lessons about simplicity, getting along and life. However, trying to fit all the toys and clothes for multiple children in a small room and leave room for playing is a challenge.

Rearranging the furniture for optimal floor space helps, but pursuing simplicity in the toy and clothes collection is essential.

Ten ways to simplify the toys:

Christmas & birthdays. Thrift store finds. Generous friends.

Before you know it, your child’s room can be overflowing with toys. Toys are meant to be played with. To loosely paraphrase Solomon, “where no children are, the toys are picked up, but happily playing children are a great blessing.” (Prov. 14:4)

Boy building blocks

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However, more toys do not necessarily equal more happiness. A few sticks and pebbles are all some children in the world have. I’m not sure American kids are any happier with their buckets and buckets of toys.

Here are a ten ways that I try to balance fun and simplicity.  (You can see pictures of my children’s room here, though I’ve rearranged it since then.)

  1. Distinguish between durable and disposable toys. Some of my children’s toys I hope my grandchildren will play with, like Duplos. Some toys however (say the Easter eggs from the neighbor) I consider disposable and only keep for a few weeks. After the fun has worn off they are donated or tossed.
  2. Choose neutral toys, when possible. Dolls and trucks are practically indispensable parts of a toy collection, but you don’t need a pink and blue version of everything!
  3. Say “No!” Just because you’re offered free hand-me-downs or find a toy for a quarter at a yard sale, doesn’t mean your child needs it. Sometimes, you just need to say “no!” (Or let your children play with them for a few weeks and then pass them on.)
  4. Rotate the toys so that there are less toys out and they get “new” toys regularly.
  5. Set mess perimeters. I mentioned this in my post on clutter, but having a few guidelines for where and when toys can be played with makes such a difference! We have set clean-up times several times daily as well as a “no toys in the living room after dinner” rule. Play with one toy “set” at a time, then put it away (we’re working on this one!)
  6. Keep birthdays & Christmas gifts simple: Laura Ingalls was happy with a tin cup and a penny. You can show your love without going overboard. Choose quality over quantity.
  7. Gifts are a way many grandparents, other family members or friends show their love. However, sometimes the influx of gifts can get overwhelming, especially if you’re dealing with multiple children in a small room. This is a sensitive issue and may not be wise or kind in all situations, but  if possible, respectfully address overly generous gift-givers. My children have been blessed with grandparents that are so thoughtful of my children and me with their gifts. But, if you are getting overwhelmed by gifts, try to find a kind way to encourage gifts that will bless your child and you. A frazzled mom is not a good gift! A few possible ideas: offer hints for toys your child would treasure, let them know that what your child has plenty of toys and would most like would be to spend time with them (a trip to the zoo, museum, etc.) or set up an Amazon wish list for your child. (Remember though, never wound someone who loves your child over gifts!)
  8. Embrace the simple things. Boxes for boats, blankets for forts, chairs for houses. Children are so creative and content! Often, it’s the parent not the child who thinks they need more.
  9. Donate, sell or toss unused toys. Clearing out the toys that aren’t loved makes room to really enjoy the treasured toys. If you find toys consistently taken out and forsaken (for you to step on ;)) it’s time for them to go!
  10. Get outside. Let them play with the sticks and pebbles… and maybe even take a dip in the mud.

This post is getting dreadfully long. We’ll have to tackle the kids’ clothes Wednesday…

(Thank you Jenn, from the lovely blog The Purposeful Mom for inspiring this post with your comment! )

What about you? How do you handle all the toys? I would *love* your ideas (especially since we plan to add little Meg to the kids’ room soon)! 

Linking up at Handful of Heart and Better Mom Monday 

21 Ways to Clear out the Brain Clutter

We all know what a cluttered home looks like: stuff lies scattered about and we stumble over the piles of laundry and stub our toes on Duplos.

I hate clutter.

Brain clutter is like house clutter. Brain clutter dampens our focus and distracts us. Brain clutter is all the unfinished matters we need to attend to that distract us while we’re working on a task.

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Ever been washing the dishes and remembered, “Oh, I forgot to pay the water bill.” So, before you forget, you leave the dishes and go pay the water bill. While online, you remember an email you read this morning that just has to get answered….

Am I the only one?

Recently, I read Blogging with Amy’s post about how to keep your inbox clean. That post finally turned the brain clutter light-bulb on. I used to read an email, then think about it while I did laundry, then read it again (sometimes days or weeks later) before finally getting around to responding. My response was generally late and I wasted so much mental energy!

I teach my children, “play with your toys, then put them away before you get something else out.”

You and I may not play with toys like a toddler, but the same principle still applies. Finish the task at hand.  

My brain is still cluttered at times, but it is getting tidier and I feel so much more productive! Would you like to join my journey to de-clutter the brain and keep it cleared? 

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to post 21 practical tips to help eliminate brain clutter. Not all tips will be practical for everyone, but I hope we all walk away encouraged!

  1. Start each day recognizing Whose you are. Jumping into the day feet first may seem more logical, but as Christians, we are not our own. Acknowledge God’s sovereignty over you and your plans. As Passionate Homemaking encourages, start your day by getting dressed in your spiritual clothes.
  2. Identify the tasks you tend to procrastinate on, then do them early in the day! For me that means get dressed before breakfast. Otherwise, the day picks up speed and before I know it, it’s ten and I’m still in my pajamas… which for some (rather logical) reason, makes my brain feel cluttered and behind. Get the tasks you dread out of the way first; it helps clear your mind for the rest of the day!
Do you struggle with brain clutter? How do you eliminate it?

Learning to Say “No”

Christmas is around the corner. The calendar and pocketbook are being tugged at from every corner. Cookie exchanges, Christmas performances and holiday get togethers vy for time. Every time I enter a store or turn on the computer, some new item that no one on my Christmas list needs, but would be so fun to get anyway, shows up. On sale of course.

The temptation to over-commit and over-spend is strong.

We must learn to say “no!”

Even to some of those incredibly delightful sounding parties or tempting books on sale for $5.50. Not so that we can play Scrooge, but so that we make room for the best, with no regrets come January.

We must make room to treasure the true Meaning of Christmas.

photo by Benjamin Earwicker

Choose what is best

I hate saying “no” to events. Partly because I don’t want to miss out on any of the fun, partly because I don’t want to offend a friend. After numerous times of reaping the consequences of over extending myself, I’m slowly getting better.

As Crystal from Money Saving Mom points out, the purpose of learning to say “no” is so that we can say “yes” to the best.

We simply cannot do everything. (Or buy everything.) Time and money are limited resources. Saying “yes” to one thing of necessity means saying “no” to something else.

Prioritize: Choose what is most important for your family, at this season of life, and let go of the rest.

Know your limits: Some women can bounce from activity to activity without letting it affect their home, their family life or their attitude. I can’t. Just because another woman/family is hostessing or attending fifty activities doesn’t mean it would be wise for me to.

Likewise, each of our Christmas budgets are different. We’re working intensely on paying off school loans. In the long run that’s a much better gift to our children than a large play set (that probably wouldn’t even fit in their room!)

Don’t commit to a new activity immediately. It’s not an earth-shattering idea or anything, but it has been so helpful since I read about it a few months ago (I wish I could remember where!) Graciously say you need to check your schedule and/or talk to you husband first. This helps avoid an impulse decision that you’ll regret or, even worse, have to back out of later. (Don’t ask me how I know!)

Clear out the clutter: De-cluttering in December is weird. It’s also a very strong motivator to avoid impulse purchases. Many of those “50% off TODAY ONLY!” items will end up in the donation pile within a few months.

Simplify other areas of your life. The schedule is almost always more full at Christmas, so simplify other areas if you can. Unless you are forced by budget constraints or pressing health needs, lighten up a bit on yourself. As my dear husband reminds me, “It’s not a sin to use paper plates!”

Most importantly, give thanks! We’re celebrating the greatest Gift ever given to mortals: God Himself as our Redeemer! No celebration can come close to being more lavish than that Gift. Yet don’t let the celebration cloud the Cause!

What about you? How do you balance Christmas celebrations?