Choosing Photos for a Gallery Wall

Choosing Photos for a Gallery Wall ::

I am decorating stupid.  My inability to decide what to put where is debilitating.

After living in our house for nearly 15 months, I finally started decorating.  I wanted to wait until all of our projects were finished, but then realized that that will never happen, so I might as well get on with it.

And I was met with my usual indecision.  A friend recommended ‘The Nesting Place‘ to me, which was incredibly helpful.

Read it.  It’s worth it.

But, I will sum it up by saying her main premise is the idea that ‘It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful’.

Progress over Perfection.  I talk about that concept all of the time when I’m helping people to organize their homes, but struggle with applying it to my own decor decisions.

Let’s make progress together.  Gather up your frames, sort through the 1000’s of pictures stored on your computer that have yet to be printed and let’s make our homes beautiful!

While I can offer zero design assistance, I can help make one part of the process go more smoothly for you.  Choosing which of those photos to put in your gallery wall.

How to Choose Photos for a Gallery Wall

1 – Find Inspiration

Whether it’s a general idea of what you’re looking for or you copy someone else’s creativity (that’s what I have to do), find something that you like and replicate it.

Find gallery wall inspiration ::


2 – Hang (Empty) Frames

Hanging frames before choosing the photos that will be in them may seem inefficient, but it allow you to make sure that you like the frame arrangement before purchasing the photos for them.  If you have the luxury of waiting before ordering photos, do that.

Hang empty frames before choosing photos to ensure that you like the layout ::


3 – Draw Frame Diagram

After you’ve established the pattern of the photo frames, draw out that arrangement.  This is solely for your own reference, so perfection is not at all needed here.  Just channel your inner-pre-schooler and draw some rectangles the way that they are hung on your walls.

a. Assign each photo a number.  It is helpful if they are chronological, but it not necessary

b. Write in the photo size (i.e. 5×7, 8×10, etc.)

c. Write in the orientation (Portrait or landscape)

Diagram gallery wall and assign number to each photo ::

4 – Use the Gallery Wall Photo Printable

Print the FREE printable here.

Each photo is a line on the printable.  Fill in the information for each photo.  If you are ordering prints for more than one gallery wall or area at one time, draw thick lines between photo groupings.Gallery Wall Photos ::

5 – Choose Photos

Use the constraints of the frames you have chosen.  Start with orientation; if you need a landscape photos, look through the landscape photos you have.  Or, if you have a portrait photo that you want in a landscape frame, see if it’s possible to crop the photo to change the orientation.

*If you already have printed photos that you may want to use, sort those by size and orientation.  When you get to step #5, start with your prints in choosing a photo.  On the printable, write in HAVE in the description column to remind yourself that it is not necessary to print a new one.

6 – Save Photo as it’s Assigned Number

Create a folder on your desktop.  As you choose a photo for each frame, save it in that folder as the number to which it has been assigned.

If you are doing more than one wall or area at a time, after choosing the photos, scroll through the photos in your folder as they are grouped.  This will give you an idea of how they will look as a cohesive group on your wall.

7 – Upload Photo Folder to Print

Reference the photo printable to choose which size of each photo to print.  This is easy to figure out because of the names of the files and the printable you already filled in.

Hit ‘Place Order’ and waste no time getting those bad boys in their frames once they arrive at your door step.

There is absolutely nothing “Pinterest-worthy” about this gallery wall.  But I LOVE it.  It’s at the bottom of our steps, so I see it multiple times a day.  And I don’t care that it’s not perfect.  I don’t see the imperfections (most of the time).  I see those beautiful, tiny, chubby-cheeked, blue-eyed faces.

Choosing Photos for a Gallery Wall ::


And I am overcome with gratitude for these people.

Being crippled by not having the perfect gallery wall frame arrangement or photo choices would mean missing out on seeing this every day.  That’s an easy choice.

Order the photos.

Choosing Photos for a Gallery Wall ::

Choosing Photos for a Gallery Wall ::

P.S. See how I decorated for my kids’ birthday party here and here.










How To Create More Time In Your Day

How to Create More Time In Your Day ::

“I have so much more time than I need.” said no one over the age of 11 ever.

The key to maximizing my day, I have learned, is to leverage every minute in that day.

We have more time than we think we do.  The key is not to create more of it – which is good, because we can’t.  We create more time in our day by using the time we already have well.  

The first step in using your time well is to identify it.  By that, I mean figuring out how much time you actually have and how you actually use it.

Do this by logging your days.  For 2-3 days, write down what you did during each half-hour block of time from the time you wake up, until the time you go to bed.  This will help you see where all of your time is being spent.

Think of it like writing a budget.  The first step of doing so requires tracking how you currently spend your money.  Once you have a good understanding of those trends, then you can build off of that to determine how you SHOULD spend your money.

Once you see how you currently spend your time, you will be able to look at it and see what time is being spent well and what time is being wasted.

How to Create More Time In Your Day ::

Budgeting is a key step to financial freedom because it’s puts you in the driver’s seat.  Budgeting money simply means deciding ahead of time where it will go, versus letting it make that decision for you.  The same goes for budgeting your time.

Creating a daily schedule for yourself is your way of telling the time in your day how it will serve you.  

Creating a daily schedule for yourself doesn’t mean being bound to strict guidelines and inflexibility.  Rather, it allows you to objectively and realistically determine what you can get done in a day.

How to Create More Time In Your Day ::

How to Create a Daily Schedule Template That Works For You

1 – Start with Scheduled Commitments

Begin by writing down the events on your calendar that occur every week at the same day and time each week.

2 – Make a List of your Daily Tasks

Write down the things that you do – or want to start doing – every day.  You can list them individually (i.e. shower, pack lunches, etc.) or group them together (i.e Morning Routine) – whichever you prefer.

3 – List Weekly Cleaning Chores

It is most beneficial to have some sort of cleaning routine, but if that doesn’t work for you, simply write out the cleaning tasks that you would like to get done each week & month.

4 – List All of Your Weekly “Non-Cleaning” Tasks

For me, this includes paying bills, running errands, writing blog posts, etc.

5 – List (this is the last one!) the Things that You Want to Do, But Don’t

The feeling of accomplishment at the end of a day, for me, is directly related to the amount of calm moments that were in that day.  Even if my mile-long to-do list got completely checked off, if it took running ragged all day with no breaks accomplish that, I don’t feel accomplished.  I feel exhausted.  That is why creating this list and including these items in your weekly schedule are paramount.

6 – Assign a Purpose or Theme to Each Day

Don’t overcomplicate this step.  Whatever activities – or lack thereof – characterize that day, label it that.

For us, Monday is our “Home Day” (because we have nothing scheduled), Tuesday is a “Work Day” (because I work a full day that day) and Thursday is “Errand Day” (because that’s the day that I run all of my errands).  You may not be able to do this without having the above listed items assigned to a daily schedule, but do as much as you can.  Giving each day a theme is part of you dictating how time is spent so that it doesn’t go the other way around.

7 – Assign Each List Item from Lists 2, 3, 4 & 5 to a Day

You can be as nerdy as you want with this.  I envision color-coded post-its, but that’s just me.  How you do this isn’t as important as actually doing it.

Don’t get overwhelmed by this.  Start going through your lists and make the obvious decisions first.  Skip over the non-obvious ones at first – don’t let them bog you down.  Then, come back to those that are no yet assigned.  Repeat this process as many times as necessary until all tasks belong to a day.

8 – Collect Each Day’s Tasks & Schedule Them a Time

You can be as broad or specific as this as you would like.  I have mine in 15 minute blocks, because that’s what works well for us.  If being that precise with time would overwhelm you, break tasks up into morning, afternoon, and evening.

The more specific you are with times, the more likely you are to capture every minute and maximize it.  However, if being that specific with times becomes a burden that makes you flee from having a schedule, then give yourself the flexibility that you need in order to make a schedule work for you.

How to Create More Time In Your Day ::

Tips for Making a Daily Schedule Template Work For You

1 – Allow more time than you think a task requires

Everything takes more time than we think it does.  It’s that simple.  Especially if you have young children.  I think it has something to do with Murphy’s Law.

The library is less than two blocks from our house.  However, I have 15 minutes allotted for getting to the library because it will take us at least that long.  It shouldn’t.  But it does.

Budget your time for how long something DOES take, not how long it SHOULD.

2 – Create Schedule Templates for Your Family’s Seasons

For us, our calendars have three “seasons”: September-December, January-May & June-August.  At the beginning of each of these new seasons, I create a new daily schedule template to match that seasons goings-on.

3 – Build In Downtime

You will burn out without downtime.  We were created to need rest.

And, you’ll take it whether you have it schedule or not (which points to our need all the more).

When it’s schedule, you don’t feel guilty for taking it and it has parameters, which means you’re less likely to let that time get away from you.


How to Create More Time In Your Day ::

Life is crazy.  Especially life with young kids (maybe I just think that’s true because I am currently in the thick of it).

You cannot possibly know what each day will hold. But that’s no excuse not use what you have well.  

Leverage the time that you have by deciding ahead of time how it will be spent.

Kids get sick.  Appointments get cancelled. And when that happens, throw your schedule out the window and do what you need to do.

Creating a daily schedule template doesn’t constrain you to not be able to do what you want to do, it gives you the freedom to know when your responsibilities will be fulfilled and how you can use what you’ve been given the best way you know how.

It really is freeing.

How to Create More Time In Your Day ::

p.s. Get a jumpstart on your schedule by doing this.  Start your day off on the right foot by doing this.




Gift Wrap Organization

Gift Wrap Organization ::

Gift wrap organization is tricky.  I think it’s because there are so many parts – paper, scissors, tags, bags, tissue – it’s a long list.  Add to that the differing sizes of all the parts, and you have organizing challenge on your hands.

Not surprisingly, The Container Store nailed it with their Elfa Giftwrap Cart, but at $200 bucks, that wasn’t a reasonable solution for us.

Store gift bags by category in gift wrap organization station :: 2

I am not a DIY-er.  But when I saw the Algot drawer cart at Ikea, I decided that with a little bit of (my husband’s) handiwork, we could make the the Ikea cart work like the Elfa station – for less than 1/4 of the price.

Ikea Algot Cart :: maximizingdaysblog.comThe Ikea cart already had drawers (only 4, compared to the Elfa’s 5), a tabletop and could be put on wheels.  Attachments for gift wrap storage and ribbons were all that were needed.

My husband created a small wood base to hold the gift wrap.  He framed the base with wood trim that sits 1/2″ higher than the base and attached it to the cart frame with industrial ties.  To hold the gift wrap at the top of the cart, he folded a thin, pliable metal dowel to the same size as the base and drilled two holes in the frame.  Each end goes through a hole and is held in place with a washer.

For the ribbon rod on the other side, he did the same thing, but put the washer onto front end so that old rolls could be taken off and new rolls put on easily.

And voila.  Our first (and only) DIY project.

*It’s not an accurate depiction to say that this was our project, because he did 100% of the work.  But I gave the instructions, so I think that means something.

Store paper, ribbon, tape, scissors, gift bags, tissue paper & boxes in gift wrap organization station ::

This gift wrap cart houses our:

  • Wrapping Paper
  • Ribbon
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Tags
  • Giftbags
  • Tissue Paper
  • Small boxes

A bin containing larger gift boxes and bags that don’t fit in the drawers are housed on the top of the cart.

Store paper, ribbon, tape, scissors, gift bags, tissue paper & boxes in gift wrap organization station ::

Why this gift wrap organization works:

  1. Everything that is needed to wrap any gift at any time is in one location.  EVERYTHING (except the gift)
  2. The cart is on wheels.  Which means that it can be stored out of the way (it’s currently in our basement storage closet), but can be pulled out and is usable within seconds
  3. Drawer inserts contain the smaller pieces, which makes finding exactly what I need quick & easy
  4. The cart & bin give finite boundaries to how much gift wrap supplies you can have.  Only keep as many rolls of wrapping paper as will fit.  As you can see, I keep less because I get overwhelmed by too many paper choices.  I do, however, enjoy a multitude of choices for ribbons, so I have much more of that.  But, even that is constrained to what can be held on the ribbon dispenser and in the drawers.

Store paper, ribbon, tape, scissors, gift bags, tissue paper & boxes in gift wrap organization station ::

The drawer inserts slide along the top of the drawer and are removable, so larger items that don’t fit in the compartments, like tissue paper and sticker gift tags are neatly stored in the drawer underneath the dividers.

Store tissue paper underneath dividers in gift wrap organization station ::

One benefit to the Elfa Cart is that there are three shallow drawers at the top, which would be really nice for organizing gift bags.  These drawers are much deeper than I need, but if I pile bags as high as the drawers, I will have more than I need and won’t be able to find what I need when I need it.Store gift bags by category in gift wrap organization station :: 2

The top drawer is baby gift bags or gender specific gift bags (pink and blue).  The lower drawer is Christmas gift bags and neutral bags.

Store gift bags by category in gift wrap organization station :: 2

Want one thing you can do in less than 5 minutes that will make a HUGE difference in decluttering your gift wrap supplies?  PURGE GIFT BAGS.  

I haven’t bought a gift bag in over a decade and there hasn’t been a time since then that I haven’t had one when I needed it.  I dare you to tell me that you need every.single. gift bag you currently possess.

Store small gift boxes in gift wrap organization station ::

In addition to allowing you to enjoy wrapping gifts (if that’s something that you enjoy), organizing your gift wrap saves you money.

As you can see, I keep and reuse a lot of my ribbon and gift tags.  I buy a few rolls of wrapping paper at Christmas each year and replace a neutral roll of paper when the one I have runs out.  Other than that, I spend, maybe, $10 a year on gift wrap.  Because when it’s all in one place AND you can find it, you know that you have more than what you need and don’t feel compelled to buy more.

Store paper, ribbon, tape, scissors, gift bags, tissue paper & boxes in gift wrap organization station ::

p.s. My absolute favorite gift wrap line is Sugar Paper at Target (it’s all I’ve used for Christmas for the last 3 years).  Don’t like wrapping presents?  Read about why we’ve decided not to give our kids presents for their birthdays here.

DIY Container Store Gift Wrap Cart using Ikea Algot Cart ::





Screen-Free Way to Entertain Kids While You Cook

Screen-Free Way to Entertain Kids While You Cook ::

Getting supper on the table is no easy task.  Add toddlers into the mix, and it can easily become one of the most frustrating parts of your day.  It was for me.  I reached my breaking point last year and decided that I had to find a (screen-free) way to entertain my kids while I cooked supper.  *We are not opposed to screens, but try to minimize their use*

As I tried to come up with a solution, one of things that I kept thinking was “they have so many toys that never get played with” and decided to solve two problems at once.

The goal was to find a constructive way to keep them entertained while I got supper ready utilizing what we already had.  In trying to figure out what that would look like, I decided on these criteria:

  • Kids needed to be in or near the kitchen so that I could quickly help (translation: referee) them
  • Activity would keep kids stationary so that they would stay in or near where I was
  • Needed something that cleaned up quickly to smooth the transition from play to eating
  • Something that they could do (mostly) unassisted so that I could actually cook the food

We have a large island in our kitchen where I do all of the food prep and it also doubles as our kitchen table.  Having the kids do some sort of activity at the island while I made supper seemed to be the solution for what I was trying to accomplish.

Screen-Free Way to Entertain Kids While You Cook ::

And with that, armed with a note pad and pen, I went to the kids’ toy room and made a list of anything they had that could be done, completed or played at the kitchen counter.  The list was a lot longer than I thought it was going to be and a good chunk of it was the stuff that didn’t get used often.

Two Birds Down.

I collected the items from the list and brought them upstairs to our office closet.  Separating the toys would help the kids distinguish between “regular” toys and “Counter Activities” (as they are referred to in our house).  That, and their toy room is downstairs and our kitchen is upstairs, so I wanted the counter activities close to where they would be used.

Counter Play: Collect activities that can be done at the table while you cook and put them in a separate location from other toys ::

Counter Play: Collect activities that can be done at the table while you cook and put them in a separate location from other toys ::

The toys are stored on the bottom of the closet so that the kids can easily take out what they want without (much) assistance.  These closet organizers were here when we moved in and they’re fixed in position, so we just try to work around them as much as we can.

Originally, the rule for Counter Activities was that the only time they were to be used was when I was making supper.  The thought process being that I wanted the counter activities to be something special and something that they’d always be excited to take out.  I’ve loosened up on that rule a little bit because they are always excited about doing them.  If we reach a point where they’re bored with them, I may go back to the original rule.

How Does It Work?

  1. Pick up all of the other toys.  Before I start making supper, the kids clean up any toys that they had been playing with previously.  This way, all of their toys are put away before eating supper, and I’m not fighting with them to put stuff away as I’m also wrapping up the last parts of getting supper ready.
  2. Choose an activity.  Each kid goes to the closet and chooses one counter activity.  They are allowed to change them at any time, but may only have one at a time and they are responsible for cleaning up the activity and putting it away before getting out a new one.
  3. Put away Counter Activity.  5 minutes before supper is ready, the kids put away their activity and then help with their pre-supper jobs (setting the table).  This is why choosing activities that clean up quickly and easily is key – it minimizes the transition time from play to eating.

Screen-Free Way to Entertain Kids While You Cook ::

Screen-Free Way to Entertain Kids While You Cook ::

There is no exhaustive list of what could be included for these activities.  Unless you have almost no toys for your kids, you shouldn’t need to buy anything new.  For reference, here’s what’s included in our Counter Play closet:

Counter Play: Collect activities that can be done at the table while you cook and put them in a separate location from other toys ::

Counter Play: Collect activities that can be done at the table while you cook and put them in a separate location from other toys ::

There have been times when the kids have been playing so well when it’s time for me to start supper and I think, “Oh, they’re having so much fun.  I don’t want to interrupt it.  I’ll just let them keep playing.”  And I regret it every time.

Screen-Free Way to Entertain Kids While You Cook ::

Screen-Free Way to Entertain Kids While You Cook ::

Screen-Free Way to Entertain Kids While You Cook ::

We’ve reached a point where if I start pulling pots and pans out and haven’t told them to start cleaning up, they ask for Counter Activities.  It’s a really proud parenting moment for me.

Screen-Free Way to Entertain Kids While You Cook ::

What ways have you found to keep your kids entertained while you cook?

P.S. Read more about toy organization here and how menu planning has also helped reduced the supper stress here






4 Tricks to Toy Organization

I haven’t met a single parents who has said “My kids just don’t have enough toys.”  Have you?  And yet, we keep accumulating more and more.  Never is this more evident than after Christmas when there’s a barrage of new toys that now need to find a home in your already cramped-for-space house.  Is toy organization an oxymoron?  Where do you even start?

You start where every organizing project does – Purge & Sort.

PURGE – Start by going through ALL of the toys that you have.  Yes, ALL of them.  Throw away anything that’s broken or missing pieces that are integral to it’s operation.  Make a pile of toys that your kids have outgrown and donate those (or, if you’re not done having children, pack the grown-out toys away for when you return to that phase).

After Christmas is a great time to do this.  Make room for all of the new loot by getting rid of the stuff you don’t need.  Bonus: Include your kids in this step.  It’s good for them to be a part of the process and then they’re not looking for that thing you secretly threw away because they were part of the decision to get rid of it.  (This works, maybe, half of the time.)

SORT – Categorize toys by grouping like items together in piles.  Start with broad categories (ex. Art, Building, Pretend, Active, etc.) and once you’ve gone through everything, go through the large piles and break them up into more specific categories.  Your goal is to have each pile match the size of the containment that you have.  Remember, that is your goal, but it will not happen with every pile.  Just work toward that and we’ll deal with the surplus later.

4 Tricks to Toy Organization - Sort toys into categories ::

“How do I choose containment?”  Great question.  Start with the available space with which you have to work.  If you are in a position to purchase storage, start with a piece of storage furniture that maximizes available space (i.e. uses as much of the space as possible), remembering to utilize vertical space.

We have an entire wall in a room, so I chose the Ikea Kallax shelves.  They have multiple sizes and with the drawer, door and bin options, it’s almost as good as customized built-ins.  But they’re not fixed.  The shelves can be moved at any time and serve many purposes as our needs evolve.  The cubbies are significantly larger – higher and deeper than most comparable models, which meant getting more bulky kid stuff in each container.  Win!

4 Tricks to Toy Organization - Ikea Kallax shelves provide flexibility ::


Now that you’ve done the leg work, here are a few tricks of the trade for transforming those purged piles into an organized toy space.

Toy Organization Tricks

1 – Use Large Toys as Storage Units

When we were looking to buy a toy kitchen for our daughter, one criteria was that it have the space in it to store the kitchen-related toys.  We found this one and use every inch of the refrigerator, oven & dishwasher space to store play food and dishes.

4 Tricks to Toy Organization - Use Large Toys as Storage ::

The space underneath play tables is also an ideal place to store large or bulky items.  We have large puzzles, and big trucks that fit neatly under our train table.

4 Tricks to Toy Organization - Use Large Toys as Storage ::

4 Tricks to Toy Organization - Use Large Toys as Storage ::

2 – Corral Smaller Items

These Ikea magazine file boxes are perfect for coloring books.

4 Tricks to Toy Organization - Corral Small Items ::

When searching for containment to corral, remember that you want to make sure that what you’re storing is still easily (key word!) accessible.  If it’s not easy to get out, it will not get put back in it’s spot.  Kids are lazy.  They get it from us.

Toy organization is hard enough for adults to maintain.  Make it as easy as possible for kids to maintain it.  Or they won’t.

3 – Repurpose Unused Containment

You don’t always need to go and buy new storage containers.  Start with what you have, but no longer use.

4 Tricks to Toy Organization - Repurpose Unused Containment ::

These jars used to hold my baking supplies, but I have since jumped on the oxo bandwagon.  I kept these beauties because they were too perfect not to use for something else.  In this case, it’s all of our coloring paraphernalia.

The clear glass is ideal because the kids can easily see what’s in each jar.  (It is not ideal in that it provides a dangerous weapon for a 2 year-old to hit his sister in the head with when she uses the crayon he wanted.  True Story.)  Our play area is carpeted, so other than weapon use, the glass nature of the containment isn’t an issue.

4 – Give Kids a “FREE” Space

Create a finite space of your choosing in which the kids get to put whatever they want.  This is their “Monica closet” (forgive me, non-Friends fans, but I know no better way to describe this space).  This is the stuff that has no other space, but with which, your children cannot bear to part.  Whatever can fit in that space is allowed to stay.

For us this is Home Depot projects.  On the first Saturday of every month, my husband takes our children to the Home Depot Kids’ Workshop and they build something.  It’s the cutest thing ever and they LOVE it.  They hammer and glue and paint and make memories that will last a lifetime.  And I’m stuck with the projects.  My children, the sentimental beings that they are, cannot fathom getting rid of the trucks, toolboxes, bird houses and planes that they’ve built with their Dad, so that’s what they decide to put in their Free Space.

4 Tricks to Toy Organization - Give Kids Free Space ::

Now comes the fun part.  If there is one.  Each pile goes into your chosen containment.  Decorate and label as you choose.  As you can see, neither of those are high priorities in this house.

I had grand plans of labeling bins, but neither of my kids can read, so I was going to do pictures.  But, it turns out, that kids don’t need pictures to remember where stuff is.  I, on the other hand…

Some day, we will repaint the walls and put a chalkboard on the wall with cute art or something.  Some day…

4 Tricks to Toy Organization - Find toy storage that maximizes available space ::

Here’s how our organization ended up:

4 Tricks to Toy Organization - Kallax Organization ::

4 Tricks to Toy Organization ::

Overwhelmed by all the stuff that comes along with kids?  Read about how we’ve started giving experiences as gifts and how I organize their dresser.

4 Tricks to Toy Organization ::