Monday, March 31, 2008

Spring Cleaning: The Van

Okay, I said I was done with spring cleaning, and I am, but I forgot to post my project from last Friday night which was cleaning our van in preparation for sale. My husband took the van through a car wash on Thursday. One of the gas stations in town offers a $1 wash with a fuel fill-up which seems much easier and almost as economical as doing it yourself. So on Friday night I:
- vacuumed the whole interior with all its nooks and crannies
- washed all the seats, cup holders and hard surfaces
- removed all the trash and stray items
- put all the stray items away in the house (This is big since it is more my tendency to gather up all the items and then leave them in a bag for several weeks before all the little stuff gets put away. )
Here are the after pictures.

Now this really concludes by work on this event hosted by The Homespun Heart. :)

P.S. - The van sold tonight.

Spring Cleaning: More Bathrooms

I'm finally finishing up spring cleaning and the most recent project was tackling two more bathrooms. They are small areas, but certainly needed some deep cleaning. Here's my completed task list.
- washed/vacuumed floors
- washed baseboards
- scrubbed sinks, toilets and bathtub
- washed rug
- washed wastebaskets & emptied trash
- quickly organized cupboards & got rid of a few things
- shined mirrors
- washed fronts of cabinets
- washed and stored potty seat rings for our next installment of potty training (maybe beginning this summer....2 down, 1 to go)
- freshened up bathroom cabinet
Pictures are below.

Before - kids' bathroom

After - kids' bathroom

Before - half bath

After - half bath
Here is the refreshed cabinet. (Sorry for the photo quality...small darker room + bright vanity lights + necessary flash + poor photographer = bad picture. ) Anyway, I took a piece of scrapbook paper and printed it with the word "refresh", then taped it to the back of the cabinet door. You'll have to take my word for it, it looks better in person. This hides the visible clutter and seems to improve the whole room. A big improvement for about a quarter (the cost of a sheet of paper). This idea came from this blog and this blog.
Thus completes spring cleaning at our household this year. I didn't get to the garage, basement or yard, though those areas did not need as much attention and are generally in order. The main thing in the garage was to haul the recycling and Goodwill donations away and that did get accomplished. In the basement we decluttered a few toys and books and random things. The yard and basement received lots of attention last year, so we may be good for a little while longer.

Thanks so much to The Homespun Heart for hosting this event! With spring cleaning behind me I think we're free to get out and enjoy the season!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Grocery Hunting - The Power of 20 Bucks

Tonight I was so encouraged to have some downtime to meet a friend for coffee and just catch up. On my way home I was able to hit three grocery stores to gather up the best deals they were offering this week that fit our needs and small budget. I often do this with three young children in tow so this was so refreshing to be alone and to concentrate on my list, coupons and deals I hadn't planned on and to get in and out of the stores quickly. I had $19 to spend and I did, indeed, spend every dollar and some spare change, too, but this is what I came away with.
3 packages toilet paper
4 boxes of cereal
9 cups of organic yogurt
1 laundry detergent
1 marinated pork tenderloin
1 lb. butter
1 bag of Doritos
2 bags pistachios
6 lbs. bananas
1 1/2 gallons of organic milk
1 cup of soup
1 bag of lettuce

While this would not be enough to feed the five of us well for a week, when we combine these items with our well-stocked pantry we'll be able to get by and some of the items pictured will be used in future weeks. Also, please note that we do usually have more to spend on groceries so to the grandmothers of our dear children, please don't worry about us. :) Our kids will be nourished and no one will go hungry. With the exception of the Doritos and perhaps the cereal ($2.99 of the $19), these are pretty good foods - lean meat, organic milk, nuts, salad, fruit.

Total Spent: $19.70
Total Saved (according to receipts): $53.58 - It was actually more than this, though, because store computers don't seem to compute marked-down items as savings, such as the milk and bananas I purchased tonight.

So, why do I do this? I wish I could say that is for my own enjoyment and the challenge this is to me. Some days that is true, but moreso it is to achieve specific financial goals that my husband and I have set. The grocery budget is one of the few budget categories we have that has flexibility to be reduced.

And how do I do this? First, by the provision of God's hand and by His grace. The strategy I most often use is combining advertised sale items with manufacturer coupons (which are doubled at two of the three stores where I shop). Beyond that I am always on the lookout for marked down items, especially meat and dairy items. Tonight I scored the organic milk (which I had coupons for) for a total of $2.03 and 9 organic yogurts for a total of $2.25. And beyond that, yes, I do try to shop without children whenever possible.

I'm writing this post as a reminder to myself about the power of $20. It really can go far with some work and restraint. There were many deals advertised this week that I did forego because we did not have designated funds above the $19. How easy to spend $20 on dining out that will fill our tummies for one meal, to spend $20 on something for the home, to spend $20 on gas (what is that anyway, half a tank these days?!), to spend $20 on a lot of different things. But when times get lean, $20 at the grocery store or stores can go very far, even farther than the illustration above. Notice I even didn't include any beans and rice in this shopping trip and I will still have enough to make a week's worth of meal, rounded out with ingredients we already have on hand. I thank God for this reminder tonight. Even when I get discouraged, He shows me again that He has provided enough.

Spring Cleaning: Entry & Hallway

I'm moving on with spring cleaning and today I tackled the front entryway, stairway and upstairs open hallway.
Here is what was accomplished with before and after picture pairs below.
- washed front door and window (inside and out)
- swept front porch
- detail vacuumed
- washed baseboards, counter, ledge and plant shelves
- decluttered area
-moved a small bookshelf ..though it may be moved back
- washed entryway floor
- washed front door rug

I'm considering another spot in our house for the scrapbooks we have on the plant shelves, but for today they are staying put. I need some inspiration for this area and don't want to put stuff there just to fill space, but display things there that I really love.

I have a few questions for you decorators out there. On the top two pictures you see some built in shallow cabinets. Would you leave them as is or paint them white or another color? I've wondered if the area would seem more spacious if they were painted white. I would also be looking to relocate the kids' stand alone bookshelf and perhaps remove some of the cupboard doors to have some open shelving and accessible book storage. Also, with displaying smaller photos, do you opt to pepper them throughout the home or do you cluster them together in just a few spots? I want to display them, but don't want it to look cluttered. Thoughts?

For more spring cleaning inspiration visit The Homespun Heart.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Happy Spring!

We enjoyed a low-key Easter weekend at home. Worship on Easter Sunday was wonderful! We are so thankful for our church home! I'll admit, though, it was more than a bit lonely to be here without family. We really need to get some traditions going that are fun and meaningful for all of us for those occasions when we are not celebrating holidays with family. Our plan for the future is to celebrate the first day of spring with an egg hunt and all the novelty that goes along with that and reserve Easter weekend to focus on the death and Resurrection of Christ. Our spring activities overlapped with Easter this time just because of the timing and the first day of spring being just 3 days apart from Easter.

Here are some pictures of the kids. I guess it didn't cross our minds to get a family shot this time. The kids are surely growing. Smiley also received his second haircut last week which was a bit less traumatic to him than his first, though we still have a ways to go on that front.

Since the white Easter we had, warmer weather is here for a while and tulips are peeking through the ground (thanks to my Grandma for the bulbs!).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring Cleaning: Master Suite

I am far behind my goals for spring cleaning, but slowly moving forward and readjusting my plans to finish by March 31st. This week I have been working on the master suite and did the bulk of the work today. Here's what we did. I don't have before pictures this time around since my camera batteries were dead when I began.
- washed windows inside and out (thanks to my wonderful husband)
- detail vacuumed
- washed baseboards
- dusted
- flipped mattress
- washed mattress pad, bedskirt and sheets and changed out the duvet cover and shams to this springy set
- tidied up my closet (but not a full scale decluttering)
- cleared the clutter
- scrubbed the shower (I do this while I am taking a shower and use a spare pair of exfoliating gloves to scrub the tile, which seems to be the easiest way to clean the shower so far, using just a bit of shampoo or some safe cleaning products.)
- scrubbed the toilet
- washed bathroom floor
- cleared and washed bathroom counter
- shined the mirror
And here is the finished result. Again, sorry about the quality of the photos.

How peaceful to have a clean and tidy area to retreat!
Thanks, Monica, for the motivation!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Take the Money and Run....but Where?

I have a miniature windfall coming my way from Walgreens due to a promotion they did in the fall that yielded a much larger response than they had anticipated. With the purchase of select products you earned reward dollars toward spa services....only they hadn't really lined up spas to work with this program. So they decided to give the holders of these reward dollars an option between a debit card and getting some spa treatments. I opted for the cash to the tune of $150. Never mind that I don't think I spent more than $8 to acquire the participating products. Anyway...this debit card is due to arrive any day now and I'm having a terribly hard time deciding how I will use this precious piece of plastic.

Do I:

A. take the ultra-responsible approach, pretend like this never happened, send an extra $150 to the mortgage or van savings and use the card for groceries?

B. take a much-needed spring break from cooking and head to Costco for a cartload of ready-to-pop-in-the-oven meals?

C. buy a lavish gift for my husband's upcoming birthday? (Hmmm...what would he even want?)

D. use it to pay for the rental car or meals on our upcoming getaway?

E. keep it in my pocket and use it to buy a whole lot of secondhand treasures throughout the year?

F. go splurge and redecorate an entire room?

G. put it toward the purchase of a new digital camera that is quick enough for capturing kid moments?

H. start thinking of more options?

So, what would YOU do?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spring Cleaning: Laundry Room, Closet & Hallway

I'm officially behind schedule, but that's okay. On Friday I began working on the the laundry room, closet and back entryway of our home. I started with the closet and by the time I had removed everything from the closet to clean and reorder it I was overwhelmed. I did finish the closet on Friday, but then didn't have the motivation to continue with the rest until today. Here is what I did.

- removed all its contents (I was amazed at how much we are able to store in such a tiny space!)
- stabilized a shelf bracket that has never been quite right (I'm thankful my husband's parents gave him a powerful drill a few years ago as I have quite enjoyed using it. He is more than capable, but I'm usually a bit impatient and want to accomplish my ideas while he is away at work.)
- put lots of stuff away in other parts of the house
- vacuumed carpet and baseboards
- bagged up some stuff for Goodwill

Laundry Room & Hallway
- put away clean clothes and finally got caught up (for today) on laundry
- vacuumed dryer vent
- swept and washed under washer and dryer
- vacuumed rug
- washed washer and dryer, doors, door frames, floor, baseboards and spots on the wall
- organized contents of laundry room shelves
- washed the window and sill

Here are the before pictures. They are rather small areas, so forgive the quality of the photos.

Before - jumbled closet
Before - closet floor...where is the carpet?Before - view to laundry roomBefore - laundry room...quite embarrassingAfter - closet...there's even room for us to hang a few guest coats!
After - closet shelves
It may still look messy, but there is a method to the madness here. A laundry basket holds all the winterwear (extra coats, hats, gloves, snow pants, boots, etc.). A hook on the right side holds tablecloths. This is the only good place with easy access to the dining area and they stay relatively wrinkle free on the high hook.After - view to back doorAfter - view to laundry room

After - the tops are clear except for our flower pot for lonely socks and the trash bin for lintAfter - Just for fun I put new ribbon hangers on the broom, duster, mop and swiffer. Simple delights just might make cleaning fun!
I'm so glad I finished, even on a day that started with this.
I stubbed my middle toes as I was getting ready this morning and heard a loud crack so we'll have to wait and see how they feel in a couple days. Ouch!

Things I would still like to accomplish in this area on another day are doing some touch-up painting on the many scuffs and nicks we have on the walls and baseboards and installing some hooks or brackets to hang our drying rack when it is not in use.

Thanks to Monica for the inspiration to get our home in shape!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Under Pressure

We are certainly in a season of just keeping on keeping on, making small progress towards some goals, but not really getting anywhere fast. When we began our one-income sojourn coming up on 6 years ago there was surely a period of adjustment, but then life moved along pretty well. Now it seems hard again. Coupon-clipping and deal-hunting and cooking from scratch and always using-what-you-have rather than buying what would really work best gets tiring. My husband is working his tail off so we can save for a much-needed van replacement, and we just seem to be a bit, no, quite a bit, discouraged by it all. When we became a one-income family when Sportster was born, we were the first among our friends to do so and it felt a bit lonely. No one could relate. Though most friends have had mom come home from work, they seem to be faring well financially now (from what we can see as onlookers) and we are still struggling. Struggling not to live a life of luxury, struggling just to live within our means and fund necessary budget categories like groceries. Prices on many necessities of life have gone up and this pinches our budget a little further. No big family vacations, no furniture purchases in years, no high-end vehicles, no new wardrobes or haircuts over $12.95 or spa treatments, no big-ticket gifts, no vacation property purchases, no organic meat or milk delivered to our door, always saying no to our kids when they ask for something at the store. (By the way, those are all good things, if you have the money.) Yes, we have chosen this lifestyle so I can be home for our kids and attend to their needs and their hearts while they are young. But often the thing you know is right to do for your family is not the thing that is easy.

I was talking with a good friend's mother when Sportster was about 8 months old. She made the comment that it was such a worthwhile choice to stay home but that it is hard as you see others around you getting ahead because they have more resources for things. She spoke from experience and her comment really struck me at the time, and I think those words are even truer to me today, now almost 5 years later.

And often the lack of financial resources puts pressure on other areas of life as well. We could surely use more date nights to invest in our marriage, but then the cost of babysitting is a limitation for us. It would refresh me not to have to think about what was for dinner every once in a while and just go out to eat or order in. We would enjoy the company of friends more often if we felt some room in our budget to order pizza or if I wasn't embarrassed to serve them some of the low-budget fare we are used to eating. I may be more inclined to set up playdates if I didn't think about the cost of gas to arrive at the destination. There are many things that would add enjoyment and interest to our lives, but that we currently can't afford. Surely there are things from our two-income days which we could have done differently to better prepare us for this season, but overall our situation is not the result of careless spending and high living during those short years of being DINKs. Our current budget has been trimmed in all areas we know to trim, and still those cuts don't seem like quite enough.

Our needs are met and God has blessed us in amazing ways, but sometimes the burden of responsibility and knowing where every last penny is being spent wears me down. There are many others who are struggling more than we are. Sometimes I think it would help to know some of these folks so I would look beyond our own situation and focus on the needs of others. But I know these trials and struggles are increasing our faith and dependence upon God, the God who owns it all and who has provided for our needs out of his mercy.

If you are in this situation or have been, what encouragement can you give? What ways have you found to make the most of the resources you have been entrusted with? How do you find energy and joy to keep pressing on with the all the little things that make this lifestyle possible?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spring Cleaning: Living Room

Today I cleaned the living room, one day later than I had planned. I feel like cleaning the kitchen on Monday kind of did me in and I think it is more realistic for me to expect to complete a room every other day, rather than on consecutive days.

I seem to be losing a little steam here, but here is what I did.

- dusted

- decluttered the top and inside of the armoire

- cleaned the keyboard and the desk area

- decluttered the top of the china cabinet (why does it seem all horizontal surfaces collect so much stuff?)

- vacuumed

- washed windows (just the insides this time)

- washed baseboards

- sorted through our magazines and got rid of about half the collection...they are now in the garage ready for recycling

- picked up toys and wondered to myself if we are living excessively (you haven't seen the basement/playroom yet)

Here are the before and after pictures.

Before - overall view with little helpers ready to remove their travelling bags (As an aside, this is one of their favorite things to play, pretending they are going on a trip and loading up their bags to move from room to room.)

Before - china cabinet in need of decluttering (tea cup sets inside are part of a collection we inherited from someone special)

Before - armoire

After - overall view

After - china cabinet now only has photos on top

After - armoire is tidy and clean, and items on top are there on purpose

It feels good to still be plugging along with spring cleaning and have the majority of our main level clean.

To see how others are progressing, check out Spring Clean 2008 at The Homespun Heart.