...because home doesn't happen overnight.
01.26.16 / Living With Toys

kid stuff 1

If you have kids then you have kid stuff. Chances are you’re constantly trying to strike a balance between their stuff and your sanity. I’m a tidy person by nature. Clutter – whether messy or overly decorated – makes me a little twitchy. I live, work and sleep better in uncluttered spaces. With three kids, it’s challenging but not impossible. When people visit our home virtually or in real life, they want to know where all the toys are. I thought I’d share a behind-the-scenes look at the kid stuff in our home along with my thoughts on toys. I snapped some pics last week when the kids were at school and the house was tidy, but they are not styled shots. This is what our home looks like when everything is in its place…and the kids aren’t around ;)

Honestly, it would make my life so much easier if people would just stop giving my kids stuff (no more stickers at the grocery store! no more party favors! no more things just because the calendar says it’s a holiday and the stores say buy something to celebrate!) but that’s not my decision to make. Preserving my sanity is my decision though. Here’s how I do it…

Less is more. Honestly, we don’t have many toys to begin with and what we do have is mostly corralled out of plain sight in a bin or basket. But it’s here! We don’t have a ton of room for toys but even if we had more space it’s likely we wouldn’t fill it with toys. As a parent, I don’t believe it’s my job to buy all. the. toys. We maybe buy each kid 2-3 toys annually and that includes birthdays and holidays. There are no impulse buys at Target or the grocery store and the kids know it. If they ask for a toy at the store my response is, “Sorry, that’s not on our list today. Why don’t you put it on your wish list?”

I don’t think my kids need a bunch of toys to keep them entertained. In fact, they focus better with fewer toys. When they tell me they’re bored my response is, “That’s your fault, not mine.” I usually follow up with a verbal list of things they could do. The next few minutes are sometimes dicey as they whine, but eventually they always find something to do.

Having minimal toys keeps our house mostly clutter-free, saves us money and makes it easier to pick up at the end of each day.

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Quality > quantity. We would rather own a few quality toys that can be used long-term, passed on to siblings or other relatives or even sold, than a slew of meh stuff. Think wood > plastic, non-themed > themed and gender neutral. Hape is one of my favorite toy brands.

I think the biggest misconception is that buying quality toys equates to spending more money. But it’s quite the opposite. Sure, one single quality toy might cost more than one single plastic toy, but if that quality toy is the only toy you buy for 6-12 months, you aren’t spending as much in the long run. The grandparents are slowly catching on to this as well. They like knowing a toy they gifted made it past the one month mark unscathed.

Inevitably, toys will be seen and strewn about the house but they look less obnoxious when they aren’t all primary-colored plastic.

Toys are stored within reach and in areas where they are used most. Making toys accessible encourages independence. My height isn’t required to pull something down from a shelf or to put it back later.

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Three baskets on a low shelf in our living room hold a train set, Perplexus mazes and kitchen/grocery toys.

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Mabrey’s play kitchen sits out in the open because she likes to pretend she’s serving people in the living room.

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The fridge was a Santa gift after Mabrey requested it several times over the past year. I, um, I mean those nice elves used leftover paint, wood putty and two new handles to tweak it to match the sink cabinet. The mini ice dispenser drops wooden “ice cubes” and is Mabrey’s favorite feature.

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Board games are kept in one of the fauxdenza cabinets near the dining table where family game nights take place.

Give grandparents specific gift ideas. I think we can all agree that grandparents mean well, but their gifting can be excessive at times. Over the years, Steve’s parents and my parents have realized that we really don’t want a bunch of toys in the house. They’ve gradually cut back on buying toys which we’re extremely happy about, but when they insist on getting something, we’ve learned that it helps to be specific. Instead of saying general things like, “Mabrey likes playing grocery store” and ending up with all kinds of toy grocery paraphernalia, we specifically tell them we think she would really enjoy a cash register and, per their request, send a quick email containing a link to a specific item. That’s exactly how this wooden toy register came to be hers. She loves it!

Experience-based gifts, please! If given a choice, most of the time our kids will choose a fun activity over a thing. For their birthdays, we’ll often ask if they want that toy or if they would like to choose dining out, watching a movie, going to an indoor trampoline park, playing laser tag, visiting a museum, etc. If they do choose a thing, we encourage them to think about how they will use it and for how long.

Recently, Layne asked for a mandolin and Everett asked for a scooter to replace his wrecked one. While these are things, they provide experiences and learning opportunities that the kids will remember for years to come. At least, that’s my hope.

We also give experience-based gift ideas to family when asked. Over the last year, grandparents have gifted our kids tennis lessons, a trampoline, gymnastics classes, movie tickets, online music lessons (seriously, the best gift ever – no driving involved!), ballet classes, these awesome electronic snap circuits (the kids LOVE them) and tickets to see The Art of the Brick. My sister gave Layne airline tickets to visit her in Washington DC as a combo Christmas/birthday gift. He goes in a few weeks and is stoked. (I’ll probably be a hot mess watching his plane take off.) These gifts are so appreciated! The best part is that family members are able to experience the gifts with the kids if they want, watching them play an instrument or master a plié and greeting them after their first solo plane ride.

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Layne’s mandolin bag hangs on a hook in his bedroom closet (along with a Swoop bag full of Legos). He practices in his room so it makes sense to keep it in there.

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All the books! One area where we’re a little more lenient on quantity is books. My kids love to read and I want to fuel that fire as much as possible. We visit our local library almost weekly and the kids have many books of their own, too. I will periodically buy them books throughout the year. They read and reread them and share them with each other. I recently had to replace our eleven-year-old copy of Goodnight Moon because it had literally fallen apart and was illegible.

Get creative. We always have markers, crayons, pencils, watercolor paints and paper on hand to feed their creativity. Everett is in his happy place when he’s drawing. (In fact, I’ll often encourage him to draw when he’s having meltdowns. It helps him calm down.) Layne is on an origami kick so we have origami paper and a few origami books. He’ll also watch origami tutorial videos on You Tube for ideas. All these supplies are kept in cabinets in the office area of the kitchen so the kids can spread out on the island and make creative messes.

Frequent purging. Besides not bringing many toys into our home, we’re also adamant about getting rid of things that are broken or unused or things the kids have simply outgrown or lost interest in. I keep a laundry basket in Mabrey’s closet just for these items. As we go about normal daily life, we toss said items (toys and clothing) in the basket. Oh, look, there’s a hole in this shirt. Put it in the basket. Hey, this costume is way too small for you. Put it in the basket. This car is missing three wheels. Put it in the basket. When’s the last time you played with this? Put it in the basket. You get the idea…put it in the basket!

When the basket is full, I sort the items and deal with them accordingly. Items to be donated are put in the car right away so I have no excuse for not dropping them off the next time I pass Goodwill. (Also, the kids can’t suddenly decide they need that toy they haven’t played with in months.) Currently, I have three bags of kid stuff in the back of my car waiting to be donated. This is an ongoing process that will continue as long as my kids keep acquiring stuff. I find this method to be more efficient than big purges that consume an entire day or weekend, although I do make an effort to do a quick toy inventory check just before the holidays to make room for new stuff.

How do you keep toys in check at your house? Do you have any good non-toy gift ideas for kids? How do you handle overzealous grandparents?

P.S. – A dollhouse for Mabrey. Some toy favorites.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

01.25.16 / Liked & Linked

layne makes pancakes

jackie chan films

house stalking

I was grateful for a rare slow weekend with nothing much on our schedule. Layne made pancakes for breakfast. Steve introduced the kids to Jackie Chan films and, afterwards, when all three were throwing roundhouse kicks and karate-chopping the air like martial arts maniacs, I said to him, “You realize what you’ve done, right?”

We visited with good friends/neighbors from our old ‘hood. We ate, drank and played Cards Against Humanity (Steve had never played!) while the kids ran rampant in the basement. It was a little strange driving past our previous house, but as we talked on the way home we agreed that we don’t miss the house or area (still being developed and spreading like wildfire). We most definitely miss the people though and walking out the front door and into a cul-de-sac buzzing with young families. It doesn’t help that our next-door neighbors in our current neighborhood moved yesterday. Our kids played together so well…and always outside, no matter the weather. We’ll miss them.

Curiosity got the best of me and I started perusing real estate listings. I get these itches from time to time, usually in the winter. I want to save all the houses. Poor Steve ;)

A few links…

*We wish we could pick up this midcentury modern house and move it to our kids’ school district. It has great bones but needs updated…our kind of project.

*I made the mistake of showing this Star Wars bed to the boys.

*Epic winter spool party! (spa + pool = spool)

IKEA kitchen brass

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*An IKEA kitchen with brass details and clever hidden storage.

*An oldie but goodie home tour.

*When was the last time you felt caught up?

*If you’re still thinking about your answer to the question above, give this book a read.

*Cute sneakers for little girls.

Anyone else feeling restless and pining for a new project?

images: 1-3) Dana Miller for House*Tweaking 4 & 5) NW Homeworks

01.11.16 / Liked & Linked

Last week was everyone’s first week back to school and work after the winter break. I think we were all ready to get back to a routine. Truthfully, the break wasn’t much of a break for us. We spent too much time in the car and not enough time at home together. We’re vowing to make things happen differently next time around. I’m just grateful everyone was healthy and we were able to keep Cheetah mostly out of the tree.

There are two moments I will remember forever. One morning I woke up to an eerily quiet house only to find the kids outside jumping on their new trampoline (a gift from grandparents). It was 7:30 a.m. and very mild for winter in Ohio. Layne had helped Mabrey get dressed. I woke Steve so he could look outside. His groggy but insightful reaction?…

“Have you ever hopped out of bed and had the urge to jump on a trampoline?”

Nope. Never. Kids are so funny. The never-ending supply of energy!

My other favorite moment was when Mabrey wriggled into Steve’s arms on the sofa during some rare downtime and they dozed off together. It was ridiculously cute and I couldn’t stop watching them.

A few other noteworthy things…

*My kids are covered in these.

*What I wouldn’t give for a mini sauna in my bathroom right about now.

*A tiny house lives big with a full kitchen, a washer/dryer combo and double sinks in the bathroom. (!)

*An inspirational woman and her family build a tiny house for her 40th birthday. But it’s not what you think.

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*A renovated brownstone with a lived-in vibe. “It’s not like you build it and just move in and everything comes right together. It’s a process and it’s a work in progress, which I love.” Such a profound sentiment from the homeowner on what renovating a house is really like.

*An $11 mantel. (See the before here.)

*This book has completely changed the way I think about running. (So much so that I ran my second 5K on New Year’s Day.)

*This book was a quick and quirky read. I couldn’t put it down!

I hope 2016 is treating you well so far!

images: 1-4) Dana Miller for House*Tweaking 5,6) Pia Ulin