The Greatest Parenting Tip of All Time

Pull up a chair, I am about to impart the best parenting advice I can give you. Even better than “never sit on a toilet seat in the dark”.

Forget “sleep when the baby sleeps” or “enjoy it while they’re young, they grow up so fast.” And don’t even try to tell me “buy the off brand cereal, they’ll never notice.” No, my friend, the best advice I can offer after some twelve years in the parenting trenches is a simple phrase. If committed to memory, these three words will get you out of most, if not all situations requiring answers you do not have.

Sometimes you don’t have wifi, sometimes your device isn’t handy, and sometimes you just don’t want to exert the effort because thinking hurts your brain. There’s no judgement here. The questions might be too complex, or illogical, or ridiculous (please see previous about brains hurting). That’s when this handy phrase is your best friend.

A word of caution: use this in any situation, but pace yourself. If your children hear it in too quick a succession they might retort with “stop saying that and just tell me the answer!” in which case you have to pull out the big guns. Yes, you might need to tell them to “save that question for when you get to heaven.” It is question kryptonite, so use it carefully.

Alright, enough preamble. The most important phrase you should commit to memory is…

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“I know, right?”

Skeptics might doubt me, but years fielding questions from hundreds of young students and my own four offspring provide enough anecdotal evidence (plus my twitter friends agree with me). What more data do you need? None. Just trust me. Below I have listed just a small selection of questions that I have answered with a sympathetic, “I know, right?” ALL QUESTIONS WERE SHUT DOWN.

What if your hand was just made out of the foam fingers and you had to switch every time for different numbers?

Why do you have so many pillows on your bed that you don’t use?

Why do extra boogers fall down into your mouth?

Why are light sabres so hot?”

How do they build buildings that are taller than the builder?

How does the microwave make things hot?

Why is honey sticky?

Why do stores have those restaurants in them? Like you buy lumber and a sandwich?

How can we stand on the earth when it’s round?

If cucumber is a fruit, why isn’t there cucumber pie?

How did they make the very FIRST ruler and make IT straight?

When something new is made it takes up space so the sky should get smaller, but it doesn’t. Why?

Why are tongues wet?

Why is it Saturday?

How do people that don’t have the same eye colour know that they’re really seeing the same colour?

Why do spiders go in the water if they can’t even survive?

Why is our van so dirty (I feel like this one is obvious)

Why do moms like coffee?

Why do moms like wine?

If used effectively this response can get you out of almost any situation. I have even applied it to the trickiest question of all:

Where did all the jujubes go? I was saving them.

I know, right?

Christmas Time is Here

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Did I have to dress as a glamour shot from 1986? No. Was I asked to choose a theme? Also no.

Posing for the “silly” staff photo.

Dancing in front of anyone over age five and non-family.

Deciding what time to meet up.

Collecting money.

Being the driver.

Wearing dark lipstick.

These are some of things that stress me out.

Surprising? Perhaps. I have no problem making fun of myself and being weird online. I do it almost daily. Speaking in front of a crowd barely raises my heart rate. But when I hear the photographer say “and how about a fun one!” I pray a wormhole will open up and swallow me. “Why didn’t you practice a good silly pose since last year YOU KNOW THEY DO THIS ANNUALLY.”

Speaking of doing things every year, it’s that time again:

Staff Christmas Sweater Competition

It might be hard to top last year when our family went as the controversial yet festive Starbucks red cups. Or the year before when I made my own because I am super crafty and very talented with a glue gun. I thought about going as the Ghost of Christmas Past, but then realized that wearing a shredded bed sheet could hamper my gift exchange competition level.

What to do? What to do?

As I pondered options for a seasonal outfit, waffling between Cousin Eddie and the mom from A Christmas Story (clearly bathrobes are my in my wheelhouse) I received an email…

Reader, I know this is beginning to sound like a movie plot, but the email was not creepy. IT WAS ACTUALLY HELPFUL. Dropped directly into my inbox was the solution I needed: sweaters I could make myself (successfully) using my glue gun, scissors, stencils, and bows. It was this former kindergarten teacher’s dream project plan.

Anything that is described as “easy” or “simple” is certainly in my range of ability. And if you mention “no sew” then say no more. This page has links that could help me win years of Christmas Sweater contests. The only question remaining is “which one do I try this year?”

Click here to peruse the options and let me know what you think in the comments.

I have my glue gun primed and ready – game on.

 

 

The Case of the Mysterious Pee Puddle

Nothings turns a bunch of brothers into what could rival the Salem Witch Trials than a mystery infraction. There was a pee puddle in the bathroom. No one was a suspect and everyone was a suspect.

“I only use the upstairs bathroom.”

“I NEVER miss.”

“Sure, I’ve used that bathroom, but not today.”

“It. Wasn’t. Me.”

Finally,  my years of reading Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew, plus watching 24 – Season One (let’s be real, it’s the best season and the only one worth referencing) would be put to good use.

I gathered up the usual suspects, but really, I figured it had to be the youngest. He holds his pee until near-bursting level and then panics. You don’t have to be Jack Bauer to deduce that he was the most likely culprit.

There was only circumstantial and anecdotal evidence at this point. Plus, all the “witnesses” had a vested interest. Further investigation was required. And as I investigated, other crimes came to light.

First, there was the second offence of “Who Stuck a Sticky Octopus on the Ceiling After Mom said to Stop Throwing it in the House and Everyone Promised Not to Do it Any More?” Were the two cases related?img_20170930_1720013011713758010456723.jpg

Next, a savvy vandal had replaced all the pawns from Chutes and Ladders with updated versions. Could it be one and the same? Or perhaps, a ring of unsavory characters had infiltrated our home?

img_20171001_1350151460625439463605876.jpgThe range of drawing ability indicated perhaps more than one culprit. Or was it a red herring?

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Finally, I strolled into the basement to discover this storage bin carnage. What band of hooligans had sought out our family and why? The crimes definitely must have been related.

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It was time to turn up the heat. No more Mrs. Nice Mom-playing-detective. It was time to employ Cuddle Protocol. For the uninitiated, this involves inviting a youngster to “come here for a second” and then gently prod them for the truth. Key point in this strategy is to allow the suspect to forgo eye contact. I like to use the “Get-Along Chair” but any cozy furniture will do. Bluffing is not required, but it is recommended.

“Hey buddy, I know what happened in the bathroom, but I’d like you to tell me. You’re not in trouble, we just need to problem-solve.”

“I didn’t pee my pants.”

(when met with denial, go with facts, reader)

“That’s funny, because I also discovered a pair of soggy pee socks in the garbage. Almost like you were trying to hide evidence.”

“I didn’t pee my pants.”

These two identical statements were very specific and he was adamant. Obviously this indicated he did something, his guilt was almost palpable. Let’s look at what he did not say. He never said he didn’t do it, just that he didn’t pee his pants. Very telling. Very telling indeed.

Again, I remembered to avoid eye contact and maintained a mellow and relaxed demeanour.  Then I went in for the closing argument and he crumbled like an overbaked muffin which of course I would know nothing about since I pay close attention to all baking endeavours.

“Did you use the bathroom right before we left for school this morning? And did you have to pee really badly? Did you, in fact, pee through the toilet seat and the bowl thus producing a giant pee puddle on the floor? And upon realization you removed your wet socks hoping to destroy the evidence even though they were brand new? And finally, did you or did you not dash out of the house without even a hit of the urine apocalypse that would await your mother after a hard day at work? IS THAT NOT WHAT REALLY HAPPENED? Remember, I’m not mad, just disappointed.”

“Fine. Yes, that’s what happened, just don’t tell the brothers.”

Case closed, but my work was not done. Now I had to move on to my next mystery: Who Ate Mommy’s Super Secret Stash of Chocolate That Only A Grown Up Could Possibly Reach?

Me to Bearded Husband, “Hey buddy, come here for a minute. I know what happened to that bag of mini-Twix I bought, but I’d like to hear it from you. You’re not in trouble…”

 

 

Summer on a Budget

Summer time! FREEDOM!

But let’s be real a minute, parents. Summer can be costly. Summer camps, road trips, stops for slushies (sometimes you might even buy one for your kids). Cha-ching! Long-time followers know I like to share my budget-saving ways so I’ve compiled the various activities and programs we have implemented to have an amazing summer, but not break the bank.

Games are always a fun and easy way to spend quality time together. The $1.50 to buy a fresh pack of cards is money well-spent. But you know what’s even better? FREE. Here are some games that are free or almost free and guaranteed to please at least some members of your family.

Stop Being Ridiculous

It’s Okay Not to Fight About Dumb Stuff

You Don’t Own Air

I Was Watching From the Corner of My Eye

He’s Allowed to Look Out Your Window

Games aren’t really your thing? Looking for a more structured program? Why not run your own summer day camp? Here are some that are consistently popular with our crew.

Camp Fend-for-Yourself. Young campers have the opportunity to learn skills such as sandwich making, cereal pouring, and juice distribution. Merit badges can be earned for Counter Wiping, Fridge Closing, and Eating Over Your Plate. Gold Star award presented to the camper who achieves “Leave No Trace Behind” status. Broom sweeping skills are recommended, but not required.

Camp Quityerbitchin. A popular one with parents, this camp teaches children that life involves chores, particularly if you want to live in harmony and for free. Ample opportunities are given to practice tucking shoes away, hanging up hats, and putting away the clean clothes that were washed, folded, sorted, and stacked for them in advance. Merit badges for Timeliness, Lack of Eyerolling, and Least Amount of Sighing.

A great one to pair with Quityerbitchin, is Camp Clean Your Room where the motto “If it’s on the floor, it’s out the door” comes to life. Merit badges include Under the Bed, Only Furniture on the Floor, and Bring Your Dishes to the Kitchen.

Finally, friends, nothing beats Camp Call on Your Friend to provide hours of fun and entertainment. A classic, this camp cannot be matched for simplicity. Unless they congregate at your house and keep asking for snacks. Then might I recommend a remedial session of Camp Fend-for-Yourself? Merit badges for this family favourite include Ring the Doorbell Once, Least Amount of Snacks Eaten, and Bicker-free Afternoon.

 

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Coming to my non-existent Etsy shop soon!

Break-out sessions are a great addition, if you have the resources. Some suggested titles include “Sunblock is Not Optional”, “Yes! You CAN Change the Toilet Paper”, and “Why Popsicles are Not a Meal”.

 

 

Curb Couch

We took you for granted, I see that now. All those years you sat by, quietly supporting us. You welcomed our friends and family with no questions asked.

Stoic.

Solid.

Slightly greasy in some spots.

Oh, Curb Couch, you’ve come to mean so much to us. And it wasn’t until now, as we set you outside for pick-up that I recognize your true value.

You, our faux-sueded wonder.

Majestic two-person sofa.

As with all things, your season has come to an end. You can no longer take a jump like you used to. Despite my many Pinterest-inspired cleaning attempts, that black Sharpie isn’t going to come off. Nor will the half-eaten red lollipop I recently discovered behind your cushions. So to the curb you must go, old friend.

Not many pieces of furniture receive a custom-made photo essay farewell tribute. But not all are worthy enough to be called the Curb Couch.

Gone, But Not Forgotten: a Tribute in Photos Taken on My Phone

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Passive aggression is tiring. Thank goodness for Curb Couch.
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Curb Couch has the best lighting for a selfie with a reluctant participant (please see above).

Was I worried that we would look less than classy with living room furniture sitting by our driveway? I don’t think Curb Couch is going to change our neighbours’ opinions of us me that much. They’ve seen me strolling to the park in my pajamas or shuffling slowly by looking for a signal when our wifi is out. There’s little I can do to surprise them at this point.

 

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We’d left good old scuff-armed sofa out for 24-hours and it was still there. As was I.
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Say what you like, our house has become quite the hot spot. Curb Couch is an ideal perch for heckling with friends.
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No shoes on the couch, boys. We are Canadian after all.
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Curb Couch at Sunset

But wait! Our time is not over. We have been gifted with another two weeks of our mystery-stained, but surprisingly comfortable, chesterfield. How? Our youngest child informed the garbage collectors that “nope, it’s staying” when they stopped to collect it. Never trust a five-year-old sitting on a curb couch. THEY ARE NOT RELIABLE.

And now, sweet Curb Couch is being held in furniture purgatory in our garage.

 

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Will we be moving it back outside to bask in the sunshine reflecting off the worn armrests? Only time (and lack of calls by our neighbours to by-law complaint) will tell.

Come on by.

Sit a bit.

I’ve got mediocre snacks and a great view.

We’re the house with couch sitting by the curb. Intermittently.

 

 

Cleaning With Kids

It’s important to have your children learn responsibility. Teaching them to be part of something bigger makes them think beyond themselves and become outward-focussed.

At least that’s what I tell myself when it’s time to clean the house.

When I was home full time, I shouldered most of the house-keeping duties and that was fine. Now that we are both working, we’ve required the boys to step up their involvement in some of the household chores. Don’t worry, it’s not that extreme – clean their rooms, help out with a job or two in the general home, hang up their own stuff. We’re not monsters.

I’ve learned a lot through the process of making house-cleaning a family affair. Topping the list is that calling dusting a room or mopping a floor a “bonus job” does not convince anyone that it’s a fun thing. I know that now.

Also, predicting that something should only take “a few minutes” does not guarantee that it will. For example, “dust your rooms and vacuum, boys, it’s easy – fifteen minutes max” translates into approximately forty-five minutes once you factor in the complaining and pleas for mercy help.

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“I didn’t play with this either.  DO YOU HEAR ME COMPLAINING?”

And so, dear reader, based on my dubious experience, I present to you:

My Five Rules for Cleaning With Kids

  1. Be Prepared.  Make sure you have had your coffee, you’ve eaten, you’ve charged your phone, and you’ve hidden some chocolate in various locations because trust me, you will need it.
  2. Be Realistic. Kids are not going to be as thorough as you are when cleaning. Manage your expectations. Give them jobs they can handle. Want a streak-free mirror? Do not assign that task to your offspring. Stick with things you can touch up easily when they aren’t looking. Like putting photos back in their original place (that seems quite challenging).
  3. Be Specific. Kids hear what they want to hear. When you say “dust the living room” the part about “every surface, make sure you move things, maybe put any dishes you find in the dishwasher” might be implied, but is certainly not inferred.
  4. Be Appropriate. You might feel frustrated, peeved, dare I say even angry. That’s no reason to use salty language. However, I have found a loophole. It’s not a bad word if you say it quickly and drop a letter or two. For instance, totally okay to tell your reluctant cleaner to “quityerbitchin” because that’s not actually a word. Don’t worry, I checked. My mom said it’s perfectly fine and I turned out alright.
  5. Be Prepared. I cannot stress this enough, hence it gets a repeat mention. We all have our systems, find what works best for you. Personally, I like to finish with protein and chocolate. Like after a Dementor attack, your body will need to recover from the trauma. You are going to find random socks strewn under coffee tables even though they promised they had picked them up. Chewed gum will have been stowed behind the couch. But you’re going to be okay. Deep breaths.
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I certainly did eat the whole thing. Eventually. Didn’t share. Didn’t apologize.
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Sometimes we have to manufacture joy during a weekly cleaning, and that’s okay, too.

The Perks and Pitfalls of Getting Older

With age comes wisdom, sure, but plenty of other things accompany maturing age, too. Shifting priorities are one example. Instead of searching for the perfect radio station in the car, you use the optimal lighting in your mini-van to find and extract chin hairs.

Age also brings discovery. As I progress into my forties I have discovered that debit machine screens suddenly have a glare requiring me to hold them at awkward angles. Also, noises are exhausting. All the noises: loud voices, medium voices, the whirring of the dishwasher, the wind lifting the tarp off the table in the back yard, the way my husband eats cereal, and my son sniffing. Tapping of any sort induces high levels of stress (maybe that’s just me, but it’s real. STOP IT).        no-you-need-reading-glasses

A few unexpected surprises have come along. My children all sleep through the night now so, of course, a new pal, Insomnia, visits more often. Whereas I used to be awakened by a newborn, now I wake up trying to recall the theme song from “Simon and Simon” or wondering if a hard-boiled egg is really called a Ten-Minute Egg.  I discovered I have “good rags” and get annoyed when someone uses them to clean the bbq grill or the tile around the toilets.please-floss-somewhere-i-cant-hear-you

My threshold for thrills has been lowered dramatically as my age increases. Recently I was ridiculously excited about buying a new foot cream. Just buying it. Don’t even get me started on actually trying it, that’s a topic for a whole other post (spolier: my heels no longer got caught on my workout leggings). Ordering clothes for my kids is almost more thrilling that shopping for myself – how did that happen? Dad jokes are not nearly as painful as they once were, in fact, I employ them. REGULARLY. “Oh, hello, Thirsty, my name is Mom.” Hilarious.

While a few years ago, I looked forward to going out, now I am quite content staying home and watching Netflix while browsing youtube for how-to videos about knitting projects I will never do. Or something like that.

There are some nice perks of getting older, too. I have learned scores of lessons since hitting the big 4-0. Your time is valuable so I will share one of the most profound epiphanies:

Self-care is vital to mental health. Time spent with friends, reading a book, meditating, or enjoying a hot cup of coffee can feed the soul. One word of caution, dear reader. If you unwind one afternoon by soaking in a steaming, hot bath, that is fantastic. However, trying to put on skinny jeans right after towelling off could be hazardous. You might end up stuck in your own pants weighing the pros and cons of  wriggling around on a tile floor or giving up until your skin cools down. Neither option is pretty. Or do you carefully shuffle around to find a pair of scissors and “jaws of life” your way out? How much did the jeans cost? Is it more than your pride? Can you discreetly dispose of cut-up jeans to avoid uncomfortable questions? Why did you even buy those jeans in the first place sure they give a nice silhouette with your slouchy sweater but AT WHAT COST WHAT COST I SAY?

Hypothetically speaking.

Age well,  friends. Age well.

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Poke-a-what now?

“Mommy, see this card I got. It’s an EX.”

“My skirnigorf has evolved!”

“I thought that was a good trade, but then I realized that mine had way more energy than the other one so I didn’t.”

Hold on – cards can have energy? They evolve? Tell me more no wait, that’s okay.

Pokemon.

I’ve tried. For years I have tried. I think I am a reasonably intelligent woman. I can hold my own in a conversation and can even watch movies with subtitles. But Pokemon is something beyond my comprehension.

And that, dear readers, is a problem because not only do I have four offspring who are all into Pokemon cards, our house is the trading hub for such activities. On any given day there could be up to nine or ten kids congregated on our front porch actively discussing and negotiating with these playing cards. They stroll over with their binders full of plastic sleeves housing these colourful and shiny bits of paper and huddle on the cold concrete for an hour or more. They only stop to pee or hydrate. And I teach in an elementary school so basically 75% of my waking hours have some element of Pokemon in it. I want to be an engaged mom and neighbour, but I’m struggling.

In an effort to be an invested parent and a teacher with a working knowledge of this craze, recently I agreed to let my son show me his Pokemon collection. It took a long time. A really, really long time.

What follows is a photo essay of sorts chronicling the longest 45 minutes of my life.

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I am watching you and trying really hard to follow along, honest.
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Those are a lot of cards
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I mean, when did you get so many? WHO IS FUNDING THIS CARD-BUYING FIASCO? 
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HOW many pages?
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No, I’m listening. Really. I am. Something about energy and wait, I’ll be right back, your brother needs me to move the van.

Do I want to see your Pokemon? Depends. Will you be serving snacks?

 

Me versus the Laundry Tub

I like to think that I am skilled at multi-tasking. And in many ways I am. But if you know me in real life you are keenly aware that I am also highly distractible. Do not sit beside me in a meeting unless you are prepared to engage in sidebar conversations and also willing to fill me in on the things I missed. I’m not proud of it, but that’s who I am.

Imagine what it’s like for me to try to clean the house, plan lunch for the boys, rotate laundry, and type in the password for an online game while listening to a podcast and trying to tweet my random thoughts. It’s a burden, guys, a real burden. So far I haven’t (permanently) lost any children or burned the house down.

What you are about to read is a real-life, mostly accurate recount of true events that transpired in our home.

The children were mindlessly watching something on Netflix. I decided I would blitz through as many chores as possible while they were occupied. I cleaned some toilets, tossed some clothes in the washing machine, and emptied out the recycling bins. Upon my return from the garage, I noticed Bearded Husband’s sandals sitting in the laundry tub needing a wash. He had been busy with school work and home repairs, and stinky footwear is kind of my specialty, so I thought I’d do it for him. However, the compost bin was in the way. I put the plug in the laundry tub, started the hot water and dashed to the kitchen to put the bin away (because everything has a home).

And that’s when things got dicey.

The bin needed lining, so I MacGuyvered some paper bags from the liquor store into a passable liner (it isn’t hard when you have so many bags at your disposal, but that’s another story for another day). Then one son needed help finding Mario videos on youtube and the other two required assistance to choose a show they could both enjoy. I sat down and scrolled through the options while sipping my lukewarm coffee. Once everyone was content, I tried to recall which task I had been doing prior to the interruptions and hey, what’s that hissing sound? Did someone leave the hose on outside because that’s weird we’ve been indoo–NOOOOOOOOOO.

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Steady, Jan, steady. You’ve got this.

The water was hot. Super hot. And even this psychology major knows about water displacement. Putting my arm in that tub would result in scalding of my skin and more water sloshing onto the floor. Not on my watch.

How was I to get enough water out of the tub so I could unplug it yet not make more mess? And then an unused science part of my brain kicked in and I thought “I will just dangle a wet cloth over the side into a pail and let physics take care of the rest.”

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At some point in my life, I learned about molecules sticking together blah blah blah. Attraction, sciencey word, sciencey word, something about gravity and affinity. I don’t know, I’m 100% bluffing. But I really did know that it would work, despite having never done it before.

Was is Sesame Street? That biology course I dropped in university? Casual conversation? I cannot recall. But I do know this: Science Works.

Maybe my brain just can’t actively retain information like the source of my knowledge, but apparently my brain is full of it. And I intend to use this knowledge for good. Like staging photos of me being poisoned by puffball mushrooms we found in the woods just so I could post them on facebook. TIME WELL SPENT. I REGRET NOTHING.

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I think I was working on something before I sat down to write this. Meh, it probably wasn’t important.

 

 

 

Everything Has a Home

“Cleanliness is next to godliness” – ancient proverb

“Out of clutter, find simplicity” – Albert Einstein

“Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions” – Barbara Hemphill


Oh, yes. I agree – clutter is the worst. Once upon a time I was organized. Everything had a place. What a sweet, sweet time that was. Counters were clear, laundry was folded and put away, recycling was taken out, and if something wasn’t needed then off to donation box it went. The floors were clear and end tables held only lamps and maybe a coffee cup (okay, definitely a coffee cup).

Glorious days, my friends. Glorious, tidy, streamlined days.

Then we had kids and our house became inhabited by these little people and all their little people things. But I was determined to keep our home clutter-free. We bought storage containers and decorative baskets. There was a Car Basket and a Book Basket and a shelf for puzzles. For a little while this worked, but eventually the grown-ups were outnumbered and the children were expected to take on some of the cleaning responsibility, and things changed.

“Clean” became “clean-ish”. Tidy meant that stuff wasn’t laying around on the main floor, but only a brave soul would venture into other regions of the house. And closing the basement door was all that was necessary for it to be deemed “put-away”.

Standards were lowered. But not forever and not completely. The anti-clutter side of me comes out every now and then. The family knows it’s coming when I start saying things like, “this is not preschool!” and “EVERYTHING HAS A HOME PUT THINGS IN THEIR HOME”. This generally results in me being offered some “quiet time” and Bearded Husband quietly ushers the children from the home amidst whispers of “she’ll be fine, everything will be okay, just get in the van boys.”

That’s when the magic happens.

Jackets are hung up on their hooks. Bedding is folded and placed on the correct shelves. Receipts are thrown out and library books are gathered for return. The craft area gets purged and all the art supplies fit in their decorative bins. When the house is tidied, I feel calm and smiley. It’s a great feeling.

And then the family returns and this happens.

(These photograph have in no way been altered or staged)

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EVERYTHING HAS A HOME

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PUT THE THINGS IN THEIR HOME

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One day I will miss the clutter and chaos that a house full of kids brings, it’s true. But I wouldn’t mind being able to close a closet door all the way. Just once.