Spring Cleaning The Coat Closet

One of my favorite times of year is the day when I get to pack away all of our winter gear.  Winter is just sooooo loooooong in Minnesota and all of the boots, parkas, hats and mittens take up a lot of space.  So, the reality of not having to add a thick layer to three people in order to get out the door is cause for me to throw a party.  And for me, that party is taking all of the stuff and packing it away in an unreachable spot for five months (fingers crossed, knock on wood, my lips to God’s ears, and whatever else it take to make that true).

Taking all of this stuff out of the closet is the perfect time to clean out the closet and re-organize it.  Here’s the state of the closet when I started:

Before spring cleaning

It’s a hot mess.  Coats and boots shoved in a space that’s too small, toys in a location that’s too high to reach, bags falling off of shelves.  It’s not ideal, to say the least.

Before spring cleaning


Before spring cleaning

This closet is meant to be a coat closet, but we don’t have any other storage on this level other than bedroom closets, so it serves multiple purposes.  There is some kitchen storage overflow (the kitchen is adjacent to this closet) along with some of the kids craft supplies that they use at the kitchen counter.

I started the process by emptying the entire closet’s contents.  Winter gear got brought to our basement storage, garbage got trashed and piles were re-organized.  I took the opportunity to clean the floors and shelves while it was empty.

Coat closet spring cleaning - take everything out, wipe down shelves and clean floors

Look at all of that promise.  So much space to fill.

I started by putting the shoe rack (with summer shoes moved to the top!) and spring coats back in.  We don’t currently have a junk drawer (that will come with the addition to our house), so that drawer organizer is housed in this closet.  I moved it to a shelf where the contents are at eye level so that I can find things more quickly when I need them.  Our bags, which are used on a daily basis, also snagged the prime real estate that is the center shelf.

My husband’s one request was that his shoes be on a shelf where he doesn’t have to reach high or low for them, so I worked around those parameters.  The bin with the kids’ hats and gloves stays in here until the end of May because #Minnesota, but I am counting down the days until I can take that gear to the basement.  The other bin includes outdoor summer stuff including umbrellas, sunscreen and our outdoor wireless speaker.

I don’t clean our floors as often as I should, so it wasn’t necessary that those supplies (housed in the diaper box) be easily accessible, which is why they landed on the top shelf.  My husband’s lunch box gets stored on the top shelf because he’s tall and can easily set it up there and get it down.

After spring cleaning

One request that I had when we moved into this house was that we put an outlet in the closet so that our cordless vacuum could be in an easily accessible spot where it could charge.  My husband is awesome and made that happen.

Coat Closet - After spring cleaning

Soon and very soon, most of these coats will find a new home.  I.can’t.wait.

After spring cleaning

The end product is a much less crowded and more efficient use of the space.

Spring cleaning coat closet organization

What is the hardest part about keeping this closet in your home organized?

Trouble Spots: Mail

I spoke at an event last month on the topic of decluttering and opened it up at the end for people to ask questions.  One of the ladies, who had heard me speak before and knew my answer, asked for me to explain what I do to avoid the dreaded mail clutter.  It was a reminder to me about the things that we all do every day that we don’t give a second thought, but that can be enlightening and helpful to others.

And since that was why this little blog party started, we’re talking about mail today.  And how not to let it overtake your life.  Or, at the very least, your kitchen counter.

Any organizing expert will tell you that the number one rule for dealing with mail is to only touch it once.  The idea being that action should be taken with each piece on the day that it is received.  Doing this is the game-changer when it comes to conquering mail clutter.

My husband brings the mail in when he gets home from work and sets it on our kitchen island.  It’s not an ideal spot, but we don’t have a “drop zone” and putting it in a high-traffic area reminds me to do something with it.  I know that train of thought doesn’t work for everyone, but piles that I see every time I walk by our kitchen are motivation enough for me to do something with it.  I understand that a lot of people see a pile and have the “I just don’t want or have the time to deal with it” mentality.  For those people, I say redefine what ‘deal with it’ means.  “Deal with it” doesn’t have to mean taking all required action, but it does mean becoming aware of the action it requires and setting a time to do just that.

STEP ONE: Open ALL of the mail the day that you get it.  Not just the fun stuff.  Don’t ignore the bill that you don’t want to see.  You have to open it at some point, so why procrastinate the inevitable?

STEP TWO: Make piles.  What piles you have are going to depend on the kind of mail you get, but generally speaking, you should have the following piles:
1) Garbage
2) Shred (we don’t do this.  I know, I know.  We’re in danger of identity theft.  I can hear my Grandfather’s voice in my head saying the same thing you’re thinking)
3) Catalogs & Magazines
4) Requires action (Bills, Forms, Surveys, etc.)

Let me say this about the garbage pile before we go on with what to do wth the piles.  What goes in this pile may seem obvious, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most of us keep more mail than we really need to.  Outer envelopes are the obvious culprits.  This pile should also include return envelopes in bills that you pay electronically or informative inserts in bills (read them and then throw them).  Additionally, the stuff that you think you need or are going to do something with, but if you’re honest, won’t come to fruition.  Distinguishing what these items are is a learned habit and that means that it takes time.  As you open each peace, ask yourself ‘Do I REALLY need this?’ and ‘Am I REALLY going to take the time to do what I want to or feel like I should do with this?’.  If the honest answer to either of these questions is no, pitch it.  Sounds harsh, but the long-term payoff is worth it.

STEP THREE: Put piles in their respective spots.  Garbage goes in the garbage.  Rocket science.  The shred pile either gets shredded or goes in a pre-determined shred pile (that isn’t on your counter).  Magazines go to a spot where you will see them and actually read them.  Since that’s the reason you subscribed in the first place.  Catalogs get thumbed through within the day and then thrown away.  If you like to keep them or aren’t able to look through them right away, put them with your magazines.  If the Magazine/Catalog pile is getting taller than your children, it’s probably time to rethink those subscriptions.  If you’re not reading them, you’re wasting subscription fees and paper having them delivered to your house.

The ‘Requires Action’ pile goes to a spot that is in proximity to where you set mail when you bring it in to be dealt with at a later time.  The proximity piece is important because, if you’re like me, you’re lazy and bringing a stack of papers all the way downstairs is a deterrent and means the stuff doesn’t get where it should go.

We have a black letter tray on a shelf in our Living Room.  This tray conceals the mess of piles or papers of various sizes.  It’s also the first place we look when we’re looking for something important.  It’s like our paperwork purgatory.  The stuff in there hasn’t had any action taken on it yet, but it’s in there because we need it for something.

STEP FOUR: Choose a frequency for dealing with the stuff that requires action.  My husband is paid weekly, so I pay bills weekly.  Because the majority of what’s in our mail tray has to do with bills, I go through the tray on Thursdays so that all of it sorted and ready to pay bills on Friday.  We haven’t entered the stage of child-rearing that requires signed forms on a daily basis, but if that’s you, you may need to go through this tray two or three times a week.

The reason this system works is because by dealing with mail on a daily basis, it doesn’t allow it to pile up to the point of overwhelming-ness and because by having a designated spot where your important stuff goes gives it a destination and a purpose.

Supper Ideas for 1 & 3 year-olds

For supper, the kids eat what we eat.  I do not make a meal for them and something else for my husband and me.  Partially because I think it’s important for them to try different foods and flavors, but, mostly, because I’m lazy and cooking one supper is enough work.  I’m not going to unnecessarily create more work for myself.  That, and I’m not a short-order cook.

For my husband’s sake, I try to have some variety in what we eat for supper.  However, this week, using up leftovers and what we had in our freezer took precedence.

Like with lunches, you won’t find a lot of variety with fruit this week.  We had a lot of pears that needed to be eaten before they went bad.  And my husband loves pears, so we have them for supper more often because we sometimes eat that meal with him.

MONDAY: (Leftover) Meatloaf, String Cheese/Cottage Cheese, Cucumbers/Sweet Potato pouch & Pears – We had a few leftover mini-meatloafs, and I needed something quick.  My son was still in the middle of his aversion to string cheese, so he got cottage cheese and he can’t chew raw cucumbers yet, so that’s why he got the sweet potato pouch.


TUESDAY: Taco Soup (Hamburger, Black beans, Chickpeas, Corn & Diced tomatoes), Tortilla chips & Apples – Neither of my children (or my husband, for that matter) are big soup fans.  But this one is hearty enough that I just scooped out the solid parts and didn’t give them any of the broth.  My daughter thought scooping it on her tortilla chips was a game, which was the only reason beans were consumed.


WEDNESDAY: Homemade pizza, Asian salad/Carrots & Pears – Homemade pizza is a weekly highlight event in our house.  Who knew that spreading sauce & sprinkling cheese on bread could be so entertaining?  We’ve started buying naan and using that for our crust.  It has lots of flavor and is the perfect size to make three pizzas.  Another weekly occurrence in our house is the consumption of this Asian salad.  Someone brought it to our Bible study a few months ago, and it’s a staple on our weekly menu.  My daughter loves it and my son won’t touch it.


THURSDAY: Grilled Chicken Burrito Bowls (Quinoa, Grilled chicken, Black beans, Corn, Cheese & Avocado salsa) & Pears – When I make meals like this where there are lots of parts meant to be mixed together, I put the things on the plate that I know my children like; and maybe something they don’t like but that I want them to try again or am hopeful that they will consume in the name of nutrition.  My son got quinoa, grilled chicken, black beans, corn & cheddar cheese.  He refused the quinoa.  That was predictable.  My daughter detests black beans, but would eat the avocados even if they were touching tomatoes and onions, so she got some of the avocado salsa.


FRIDAY: BLT’s & Pears – Neither of my children love bacon, so they got the BLT ingredients minus the bacon.  I put turkey and avocado on my BLT, so for their plates, I subbed turkey for bacon.


SATURDAY: Bacon, Egg & Cheese sandwich & Strawberries – At least once a week, we have breakfast for supper.  This is one of my favorites.  For my son, he got an english muffin, scrambled eggs & cheese along with hash browns and strawberries.  My daughter wanted a sandwich like Mom & Dad, so she got the same thing as my son, but in an assembled sandwich.


SUNDAY: Shrimp Pesto Pasta, Carrots & Garlic bread – What kid doesn’t love pasta?  For both of my kids, if you throw some pesto, parmesan cheese and a meat on there, it makes it even better.  This meal is almost as easy to make as it is delicious, and every time we have it, I think “I should make this more”.  My children’s empty plates are confirmation of that sentiment.


Obviously, there are foods that my children refuse to eat.  Because they are both pretty good eaters, it isn’t too hard to stay away from those foods.  If the supper that I’m making includes one of those (i.e. black beans for my daughter), it goes on their plate anyway and they make the decision if they want to eat it.  Our rule is that you don’t get anymore of a food until you’ve eaten everything on your plate.  If it’s worth it to them to get more of something they love (which is almost always fruit or garlic bread), they eat what they don’t like.  Or they don’t and there’s more food at the next meal.

I don’t fight with my kids over food.  They decide if they want to eat what’s on their plate.  If they do, they may have more of whatever we’re having, or they may choose from a list of “snacks” (yogurt, cheese stick, Larabar, veggies & hummus, rice cake, or crackers).  If not, they’re finished until the next meal.  Even my 18-month old son understands this.  He’s stubborn, so there are times where he points and screams at the cupboard because he wants something in there, but I just calmly repeat that he can choose to be all finished or he can eat what’s on his plate.  Almost always, he finishes his plate.  When his stubbornness gets the best of him, he signs “all-finished” and I get him out of his high chair.  Half of the time, it ends there and he goes and plays.  The other half of the time he sits at my feet or stands in front of the cupboard and screams for an indeterminate amount of time.

In case you wanted an insight into our parenting philosophy.  🙂


Lunch Ideas for a 1 & 3 Year-Old

Before I started meal planning for lunches, I usually threw some lunch meat, string cheese, raw veggies and a piece of fruit on a plate and called it good.  If I was feeling particularly generous, I’d add goldfish crackers for good measure.  As you will see from this week’s lunches,  we still have plates that look like that.  But not every day.  When I decided to be more intentional about adding more variety to my kids’ meals, lunches were the hardest.  Most of the ideas I found were things my kids wouldn’t eat (and they aren’t particularly picky), took too much prep time, or weren’t the healthiest options.

Like with breakfast, I start lunch planning with a protein, then choose a veggie, and a fruit.  Most days there is a dairy and/or a carb, but I’m not as intentional about those.  Obviously, there are days when this doesn’t happen perfectly, but I found that if I am intentional about trying to do it most days, it happens more often than not.

I worked at childcare center when I was in college and one of the health department rules for the meals that were served was that each food on the plate had to be a different color.  The thought behind that was that the different colors in foods represent different vitamins that are contained, so varying the colors assured getting a spectrum of nutrients on each plate.  I try to keep this in mind when I’m planning my kids’ meals.

My son can’t chew raw veggies yet, so if those are on the menu, he gets a pureed veggie pouch.  Frozen vegetables are my best friend.  Especially now that most of them come in a bag that can be thrown in the microwave and go from frozen in a package to steamed and on their plates in less than 6 minutes.   And because steamed veggies are softer, my son can chew those.



MONDAY: Turkey, Swiss & Avocado Wrap, Veggie Straws & Blueberries – I didn’t wrap the ingredients in the tortilla for my son because #obviously.  My daughter used to love to have hers in a wrap and then I’d slice them into 1″ pinwheels with toothpicks, but for the last few weeks, has requested to have it “like Wyatt’s” (aka cut up into pieces).  Veggie straws are a special treat for us and my kids can’t get enough of them.  I don’t use them instead of a veggie, but will add a few to a lunch every now and then.



TUESDAY: Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich, Cottage Cheese/String Cheese, Carrot Sticks, Veggie Straws & Grapes – Tuesday is my work day.  The kids go to day care, so I need a lunch that I can easily pack for them.  This week, I went with old faithful, PB&J.  My son hasn’t been eating string cheese lately, so I subbed cottage cheese for him.  I cut his carrot sticks super thin in hopes that he could bite and chew them.  The experiment failed.


WEDNESDAY: Chicken Nuggets, California Blend (Broccoli, Carrots & Cauliflower), Cottage Cheese/String Cheese & Strawberries – What is it about chicken nuggets that kids (and adults too, who are we kidding?) love so much?  I purposely put the veggies next to the nuggets in hopes that my children will be grabbing for the nuggets and accidentally get broccoli instead.  I think it’s happened once or twice.


THURSDAY: Apple Carrot Zucchini Muffin, Hard Boiled Egg, Carrot Sticks, String Cheese & Grapes – Finding a lunch protein that isn’t sandwich meat was a little bit of a hurdle for me.  I was so excited when I thought of hard boiled eggs.  Paired with a muffin packed with vegetables, add some cheese, and you can’t go wrong.  It was a great idea, except for my son’s refusal to eat eggs.  But I keep putting them on his plate.  I will be victorious……


FRIDAY: Englis Muffin Pizza, Carrots/Veggie Pouch & Blueberries – When I was a kid, some pizza sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese on an english muffin was gold.  Am I alone in this?  I thought my children would share my excitement.  Until I realized that the first time I made them, I put them on cinnamon english muffins.  Don’t do that.  Go with the classic.  Or, if you’re really feeling fancy, the multi-grain work too.


SATURDAY: Black Bean Quesadilla, Broccoli & Strawberries – Dump a can of black beans (with the liquid) in a blender and add some minced garlic and/or lime juice and puree.  Slap them on a tortilla with some cheddar cheese and you’ve got a protein packed lunch in 5 minutes.


SUNDAY: Chicken Nuggets, Frozen Peas, Cottage Cheese & Strawberries – I don’t know what it is about frozen peas, but my kids love them.  They ate them at their previous day care, and now it’s the only way either of them will eat peas.  Feel free to cook yours like a normal person.


I cannot believe that I documented an entire week’s worth of lunches and not one of them included macaroni and cheese.  That is a statistical anomaly.

I only noticed after looking at these pictures that we had an alarming lack of variety in fruits and vegetables this week.  We normally eat more than just carrots and strawberries or blueberries.  I had some extra carrots that I wanted to get eaten up, which is why they are on half of this week’s plates.  Same with the berries.  Other raw veggies you will often find on our menu are sugar snap pea pods, sweet peppers and cucumbers.  For fruits, we mostly go with what’s in season (thus the abundance of berries), but other options include apples, pears, peaches, plums, tangerines and bananas.






Breakfast Ideas for a 1 & 3 Year-Old

Before my son started eating real food, breakfasts and lunches for my daughter and myself were usually thrown together with whatever we had and whatever I could think of.  Once Wyatt started eating real food, I felt the need to be more intentional with these meals.  Add to that the fact that breakfast is our family meal because my husband often isn’t home in time to eat supper with us, and I became more intentional about our breakfast and lunch menus.

I love breakfast foods, but I was finding that most of the breakfast foods that I love took too much time to prepare in the morning or weren’t great for kids to eat.  Moreso the former.  I went to Pinterest with three criteria: Quick, healthy & kid-friendly.  It’s harder than I thought to find food that fall into all three of those categories.

I start breakfast meal planning with a protein.  Most good and fast breakfast food is carbs, and while carbs are a part of our meals, I try to be intentional about getting protein for my kids in the morning.  Our default breakfast proteins are eggs, yogurt and turkey sausage.  My son is especially fond of yogurt and Stonyfield YoTots yogurt is loaded with protein, so he gets a container of that most mornings.

I try to make a muffin or bar during the weekend to have for the week.  This week, it was Apple Carrot Zucchini muffins.  Other staples are Blueberry Avocado muffins, Spinach Banana muffins and Baked Blueberry Almond Oatmeal Bars.

We make a smoothie every morning, and the kids get that in addition to their food.  We make it with almond milk, greek yogurt, flax seeds, chia seeds, spinach or kale and frozen fruit.  It’s a sneaky way to get some veggies in their bellies to start the day.


MONDAY: Apple Carrot Zucchini Muffins & Scrambled Eggs – Currently, my son refuses to eat any kind of egg, but I am determined to get him to eat it, so I just keep putting it on his plate.  Not very much because I will inevitably end up throwing it away, but if we are eating eggs, they are on his plate.  Because he won’t eat eggs, I add yogurt to his plate for protein.



TUESDAY: Whole Grain Waffle, Turkey Sausage & Yogurt – These frozen waffles are one of our faves.  We will sometimes spread peanut or almond butter on them, but my daughter prefers syrup.  🙂  In addition to eggs, Wyatt also doesn’t eat turkey sausage.  This is more of a chewing issue for him, so I sometimes give him a pass on this, and just go with the waffle and yogurt.


WEDNESDAY: Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal, Turkey Sausage & Yogurt – For oatmeal, I start with 1/2 cup of quick oats and add a little brown sugar and cinnamon.  I add heated up unsweetened applesauce and hot water to get it to a good consistency.  My kids can’t get enough of it.


THURSDAY: Bagel w/ Almond Butter & Yogurt Parfait – Mini bagels are the perfect size for kids.  A nut butter adds a little protein.


FRIDAY: Scrambled Eggs & Cinnamon Rolls – Remember that ‘healthy’ criteria?  That goes out the window for Friday breakfast.  Cinnamon rolls from a can are our way of celebrating making it to the end of the week.  And again, Wyatt gets a fruit and yogurt pouch because of his refusal to eat eggs.


SATURDAY: Apple Carrot Zucchini Muffin & Blueberries


SUNDAY: Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal, Turkey Sausage & Blueberries

As you can see, there is a little repeat throughout the week, but I feel like we’ve achieved the balance of variety, health & quick preparation.