Monday, May 25, 2015

Organizing Play-Doh: An Interview with a 4 Year Old

It feels like on the very day that my daughter turned three years old she became obsessed with Play-Doh.  It is one of the few activities that would keep her entertained for more than 5 minutes.  Which means that Play-Doh is my favorite invention in the whole wide world.  The only down side is the clean up.  There are so many Play-Doh accessories and tools that I noticed we ended up playing with the Play-Doh less often because of the time required to clean up afterwards.  We were always losing accessories, finding little Play-Doh balls on the floor or in our dog's mouth.  And of course the most common problem of all; lidless, dried out Play-Doh that went straight into the trash.

A couple months back we were visiting our cousins at their home.  They have a very nice house and two toddlers that are very close in age.  I assumed this would result in a completely chaotic house but their playroom was very well organized with bins and containers for everything.  They even have a small table with the main purpose of using for playing with Play-Doh.  I love it!  Having a Play-Doh station in the play area would help avoid the hassle of finding Play-Doh all over the house and having to lug everything down from the closet to the dining room table each time my daughter wants to play.  But I still needed to figure out how to keep all the parts in one place.  Sounds like a job for a organizing container!!

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a big fan of being wasteful; with things and with money.  I like to try to find organizing solutions within my house before going out to the store.  Though I do love having an excuse to go to Home Goods.  I took a quick look around my house and was able to find a small three drawer organizer. 

The tools and accessories go in the top drawer, the mini and regular sized Play-Doh containers go in the middle drawer and the extra large containers go in the bottom drawer, laying down.  We mostly have mini and regular sized containers and I'm able to fit A LOT of Play-Doh in those drawers.  You can absolutely use a container that has deeper drawers so the larger containers can fit standing up but this container was already something we owned and does the job perfectly.

Now, as I write this post, my daughter keeps telling me that she wants to help me "text" (her generation's word for type).  Ever since I found her in my food storage container cabinet "organizing", I've wanted to involve her in the blog in some way so why not now.  I present to you, an interview with a four year old Play-Doh aficionado.

How do we organize Play-Doh?

First we play with it.

Then what happens?

We just put it back in the container and put the top on so it doesn't get old.  We put it in the Play-Doh drawers.

What is your favorite thing to do with Play-Doh?

Cut.  What else?  Scissors.

Why do you love playing with Play-Doh?

I like to play with it and then put it back. (The apple doesn't fall far...)

What is your favorite color of Play-Doh?

Yellow, red, orange, green, and purple.  Not blue?  No.

What does Play-Doh smell like?


Anything else you want to say about Play-Doh?

I worry about the Play-Doh.  Why?  You text, I'm going to go potty.

And there you have it.  Organizing Play-Doh from the perspective of a four year old.  So what is the point my daughter is trying to make? When it comes to toys that have a million pieces and/or are very messy, it helps to have a dedicated area to store the various components of the activity and a dedicated space to play. If your children are like mine, they are like a squirrel storing little pieces of Play-Doh in every nook and cranny they find, to prepare for the long winter ahead.  This way we at least keep the hiding spots to one area of the house and hopefully keep Play-Doh out of our shoes and purse. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Deceitful Design: Bathroom Closet Remodel

The problem with organizing is that your storage spaces can be very deceitful.  You take the time to go through a closet and weed out what you don't need, arrange everything to look nice and then you turn around and it is a mess again.  I ran into this problem repeatedly with my bathroom closet.  The closet holds most of our personal care items and I kept trying to keep it organized by going in every couple of months and grouping similar items together like deodorant, shampoo, lotion, etc together in a row.  Lesson learned, it is hard to keep things neat and tidy in a row unless you never touch them.  Maybe I should have called it my deodorant museum instead of a bathroom closet.

In an earlier post I talked about the idea that items need a proper home to stay organized.  Here I am thinking that the closet is a proper home, yet the whole organization thing isn't happening.  But why?  After working on a couple different organization projects I figured it out.  The shelves in my closet are too large to serve as a home for so many random items.  I need to group similar items into smaller spaces within each shelf.  Like bedrooms within a home.

I knew that I wanted to add some bins or baskets to my bathroom closet so I went to Michael's the week before.  They had a huge 50% off sale and I found three matching cute wicker baskets with cloth liners.  I have to be honest, design is not my strong suit.  I love organizing and I'm good at figuring out tricks to keeping your stuff in order but staging or making something looking like a page out of fancy magazine is my kryptonite.  I've often struggled to determine which storage containers to use in different situations.  Does it work better to have two really big containers or a lot of smaller containers?  Should the container have a lid or just be a basket?  Though I'm getting better and better at figuring the aesthetics out.

To start re-organizing my cluttered closet, I began with Organizing 101 and took everything out of the closet and placed it on a table where I could assess what I needed to store.  Maybe it was my mom brain or, it is possible that I was just feeling a little silly at the time, but as I worked to group items together I realized a fun theme was occurring.  I had shampoos, conditioners, hair products and face washes; things that you use on your head.

I had lotion, deodorant, body wash and sunscreen; all things that you use for your body.

And I had shaving cream, finger nail polish remover and foot spray; items you use on your legs and feet.

Head, shoulders, knees and toes!!

Back to Michael's.  I found the three baskets, which ended up being around $6 a piece.  I've been obsessed with chalkboard paint lately and Michael's has an entire isle dedicated to different chalkboard paint items.  I found these three cute clothes pin signs for $.75 each.  I have a 4 year old so my access to chalk is bountiful.  

To assemble the baskets I placed each group of products in a basket, wrote Head, Shoulders and Knees & Toes on the signs and placed them back in the bathroom closet.  You really can't get easier than that!

I was worried that by having the items in a basket I wouldn't be able to see each item but I was happy to see how easy it is to keep an inventory of what products I have and what I might need.  I was also afraid that the chalkboard signs would get smudged or smeared but they have stayed perfectly intact since I completed the project.  I also made a point of re-arranging the closet so that more potentially hazardous items are up higher and items that my daughters might need to reach are lower (towels, toilet paper, tissues, etc).  I put anything that we don't use on a regular basis, like our toiletry travel bags on the top shelf.

And take a look at my new and improved closet!  It not only looks worlds better but it is exponentially more functional.  I am no longer knocking over every single item in the closet when I want to figure out if I have any more conditioner left.  Success!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Repurpose Project: Guest Kits

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't like throwing things away.  It isn't just because of sentimental reasons or because I'm afraid I'm going to need it later, which are both factors, but I also grew up with two very eco-consious parents that instilled in a me a hate for waste.

I remember when I was a little kid and I was staying with my dad and my step-mom.  When going to the bathroom, we had a two square maximum on toilet paper that was ruthlessly enforced.  My family also frequently spouted the phrase, "If it's yellow let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." As with most things you find annoying as a child, the toilet paper rule makes much more sense now that I have kids of my own, but at the time I chalked it up to a crazy hippie parent thing. The point being that anytime I can find a way to repurpose something instead of throwing it away, it makes the process of purging that much easier.

Which leads me to my first Repurpose Project; Guest Kits.  I was staying over at my friend's house a couple years back and noticed that she kept the little hotel shampoos, lotions, etc in her bathroom for her guest to use when they come over.  It was such a fantastic idea and I wanted to take it one step further by using my samples, travel products and items you get from a hotel stay in a welcome kit for when guests come to visit.

It is common for people who are pack rats to have a problem saying no to free stuff.  We think that we are going to eventually find a use for every item, even if it is your twelfth branded water bottle or yet another t-shirt from your quarterly company blood drive.  I have a habit of going to those free sampling sites like SampleSource or Target's sampling page and requesting stuff that I probably won't use.  Especially shampoo and conditioner samples.  When I was organizing my bathroom closet the other day (that post to come soon!), I realized that I have about 7 different shampoo samples. I have a dry scalp problem so I can only use specific shampoos but I really didn't want to throw away the samples. When I took a look at all the different sample size and travel size items I have, I realized I had enough to make an entire kit for when friends and family stay over.

There is nothing that drives me more crazy than when I forget to bring soap when I travel and the person I'm staying with only has a bar of soap in the shower.  I don't know what to do with that!  I know soap is self-cleaning but a bar of soap is so...up close and personal.  Unless the person I am staying with says, 'Feel free to use my bar of soap on all your parts and pieces!' I usually end up using shampoo as my body wash.  The obvious fix to this problem would be for me to bring my own soap when I travel but when I travel with my family, I usually remember to pack everything but the stuff in my own bag.  The process of creating a Welcome Kit for your guests is very straight forward but here are a few tips and tricks:
  1. Assess your stock: If you already have a stock of travel and sample products then this is just a matter of assembling the items together for one complete Welcome Kit.  Otherwise you can pick up travel size prodcuts in stores like Target, Walmart, CVS, etc.  I'd recommend including a shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deodorant, face wash, body wash and a tooth brush.  
  2. Find a container: I was at Michael's the other day and I took a walk down the isle with all the lower priced items like trinkets and small crafts projects for $1-$10.  I found this set of travel pouches and a set of letter stickers from the scrap-booking isle.  
  1. His and Hers kits: Most personal care items are gender specific so you can either put together two different kits or one kit with items for both genders in one, if you have the space. 
  2. No guests? If you don't have visitors often, you can throw the pre-assembled kit in your bag when traveling and eliminate some of the stress of packing.  

The kits are easy to make, create an opportunity to repurpose items that you have laying around your house and they help make your guests feel at home, in your home.  In the organizing world, we call this a triple threat!  No, sorry, I totally made that up.  But it sounds like something that could be true so let's just go with it.  Organizing triple threat!    

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Lesson from Dad

I was sitting in my car driving to a race the other day and the Sam Smith song Stay with Me came on the radio.  Part way through the song, I passed the exit that I used to take to go see my dad when he was living in a nursing home.  It had been a while since I drove this particular route, and just the sight of that exit sign hit me like a ton of bricks.  I miss him.  I miss him more than ever.  And this love song about a one night stand was making me cry like a baby.  It is truly incredible how your mind can turn any song into something fitting to how you are feeling at the moment.  Why couldn't my dad stay with me?  It is one of the most cliche things you can say about loss but it is true, time doesn't make it stop hurting, it just hurts a little less often.  Just when you think you are getting used to the idea of not having the person around anymore and a random song on the radio smacks you across the face and puts you in your place.

Though I didn't have the type of relationship with my dad that I would have liked over the years, what took me a while to realize is that even the broken relationship we had when he was sick made me into the person I am today.  I learned things I don't know if I would have figured out, or figured out as quickly, if he had never been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

My dad was staying with his sister in North Carolina when it became clear that he needed a higher level of care.  The tricky part about the early stages of Alzheimer's, especially early-onset, is that the mind is greatly effected but most physical things stay status quo.  My dad was an incredibly healthy man.  His doctors would joke that he had a body of a seventeen year old.  And because he was so physically healthy and didn't have a high "medical need level", we had a hard time placing him in a nursing home.   There was the option of placing him in assisted living, but we had been told that every time you move someone with Alzheimer's to a new environment, their disease progresses exponentially (absolutely true).  I wanted to find somewhere he could be comfortable and happy for as long as possible. So we found a nursing home near my home on Long Island and I started the process of figuring out how to take care of a parent.

If you think you tend to be judged as a parent, try being 25 and responsible for making life, health and financial decisions for your father.  When I went to Social Security to become the payee on his account, they grilled me like a criminal.  When I took him to the movies and he tripped and skinned his knee, I was scolded by the nursing home staff like a child.  I get it, they were trying to make sure he was taken care of but it didn't feel good.  It felt like nothing I did was right.

Plus, every decision my sister and I made was backhandedly questioned.  Why isn't he in assisted living?  Why did you move him away from his home in Colorado?  Why isn't he at home with you?  Why don't you visit more often?  That last one consumed me.  I really enjoyed visiting my dad when he was in the early stages of his disease.  It felt like quality father-daughter time that I'd missed when I was younger, but by the time he was bed-ridden and non-communicative, it was...painful.  I dreaded visiting each time because it just wasn't my dad anymore.  He was a sad, empty shell of who my dad used to be.

By the time my father was in the later stages of the disease, I had given birth to our oldest daughter.   In addition to needing to dedicate more time to being a parent, my dad contracted an extremely contagious bacterial disease and bringing a baby/toddler to the nursing home to visit wasn't an option anymore.  So in the end, I was able to visit around one day a week.  I would bring a book, in case he was sleeping, but in most cases I would just sit next to his bed, holding his frail, boney hand and think about how unfair it all was, how hard it was to see him like this and how I should be doing more.  I should talk to him about everything that is going on in my day; I should sing him songs he loves; I should feed him every meal and visit every day.  I had never experience guilt like that before and I haven't experienced it since.  Yes, leaving my first daughter at daycare for the first time felt shitty but in a different way.  I felt guilty because I missed her, not because I truly felt like I was failing.

Even though each weekly visit was an emotional roller coaster, I continued to go.  I tried not to ever miss a week.  And when he passed away, and some time had passed, I finally accepted that though it never felt like enough, I had done the best that I could.  I wasn't going to be deemed Daughter of the Year anytime soon and of course I wished I lived closer or had circumstances that allowed me to visit more often, but I don't have any regrets.  And now, when I find myself in a situation with my family, work or friends where I feel like I'm not doing as much as I should, it is much easier for me to let my experience with my dad put me in my place.  You can't do it all, all the time.  You don't need to be perfect.  You are absolutely doing the best you can and that is enough.

Thanks dad.

To learn more about Alzheimer's Disease visit the Alzheimer's Association website or feel free to reach out to me directly with any questions.