Organizing the Family Schedule

Creating a schedule for yourself is one thing. But scheduling the whole family? It can be like herding cats, particularly if several members of the family have different schedule styles or rarely check the family calendar.

In our house, Ash and I approach scheduling differently. While we have a shared calendar, how we maintain it differs. This doesn’t cause conflict, but we had a conversation a few weeks ago over how I schedule things does not work for him and vice versa. It was an interesting conversation and gave me more insight into how his internal logic works.

Communication is key to any relationship, so setting up a family schedule that everyone has access to and can update helps keep everything straight to avoid conflict and double-booking.

Analog or Digital Calendars: Why Not Both?

We have several different ways we highlight the month’s schedule in our household: analog and digital. In our closet, we have a hanging whiteboard that I update every month with the main activities going on in the household. Ash’s roleplaying games, Jai’s playdates, my appointments.

This helps me plan out my day as I am getting dressed. Do I wear nice clothes for that appointment/coffee date? Or do I spend the day in comfortable clothes because we’re staying home all day?

It allows for quick reminders and conversations that we might need to have in the morning before Ash leaves for work or I go for my morning run.

Digitally, Ash and I have a family calendar that we share together that contains the events pertaining to the family as a whole. Additionally, we keep separate calendars for our own activities, but we mutually share them so we’re aware of each other’s schedules.

Ash put down a reoccurring event in his calendar that highlights two days each week he can help me out should I need it. That way, if I am in the middle of setting up an appointment, but know that Ash will be the only one to watch Jai during that appointment, I can schedule it for a day that won’t conflict the most with his work schedule.

Likewise, Ash knows when he’s able to schedule is medical and social events around me because he can see everything on the family and my personal calendars. Once Jai is old enough, he’ll gain access to and control over his own calendar which will sync with ours so he can be responsible for his own activities.

It seems like common sense, but I’ve seen in several different parenting forums about the struggle of maintaining a common calendar between partners and children. It can be hard to set up, but if using a digital platform, easy to maintain.

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Creating a Productive Schedule

Next to maintaining a clean house, having a daily personal schedule helps keep everything running smoothly because I love efficiency.

Ash will tell you that I get annoyed in the store if other customers navigate the aisles inefficiently and interfere with my shopping experience. Likewise, when I feel inefficient in my day-to-day routine, I get frustrated with myself. I am constantly trying to figure out the best way to manage my schedule in order to get the most efficiency and productivity within my day.

Having a toddler makes this doubly difficult because I have to be mindful of his needs and flexible to his own schedule. If he refuses to eat a meal when it’s time to eat, that can throw the day off because I will have to make sure he’s fed when he’s ready an hour later.

MS & Scheduling

With MS and any chronic illness that has some sort of energy or movement inhibitor, there are a limited amount of hours each day a person has to get things done. Those hours aren’t guaranteed because of the nature of the illness, therefore you have to account for the possibility of spending the day in bed and being okay with that scenario.

I’ve mentioned how important scheduling can be when dealing with children and MS. The key is to be mindful of when I have the most natural energy (un-caffeinated and no early morning exercise), what I want to get done during that period, and how I want to get it done.

My reasoning for this mindfulness:

  1. Knowing my daily natural energy peaks provides a baseline for the most I can expect to get done without any “outside” help. Drinking my morning cup of coffee or going for an early morning run/yoga session give me energy boosts that may not be there every day. If I set my daily goals based on my natural energy when I have days with an energy boost, I feel more productive which might help me get even more done.
  2. MS has forced me to prioritize my life where I have to set 3 major goals for the day during my high-energy periods. The first item is the most important where the third can be pushed back to tomorrow’s top item. Anything on my list that I complete beyond that helps feed the productivity ego boost.
  3. Figuring out how I am going to get something done is equally important. With my MS and a child, simply stating I will sit down and write a bunch of emails doesn’t cut it. I have to squeeze communications in while Jai is asleep or decide to multi-task laundry while I clean the kitchen during nap time.

Additionally, being mindful of my energy valleys is important. I know that around noon I start to get fatigued and after Jai eats lunch I am ready to lay down for a nap or rest between 2 – 4pm. On days where I am out of the house or so busy with a project that I miss my rest means that Ash has to take over parenting as soon as he gets home from work until it’s time to put Jai to bed.

I try to not overdo it, but I do find that because of the unpredictability of MS, it’s like a light switch. I will be fine, fine, fine, and then something flips and I am immediately exhausted with no warning. I try to be aware of any warning signs so I can rest before I overdo it, but most days I am too busy to pay attention.

I am still not sure if I have any warning signs.

Below are my tips for how I create an effective schedule that works with my MS:

  • Take a week or two to track your natural schedule. This will include your energy peaks and valleys, what you do when, and how you feel when you do it. Try to be mindful of whether or not you take an energy boost and how that affects your energy (medication, coffee, exercise, etc.).
  • Analyze your schedule and see if you can find a pattern. This is difficult with MS because each day can be completely different, but you might be able to see that around 10 am you have more energy than you do at 2pm.
  • Try to adjust your new schedule to reflect these high energy periods and schedule a rest during the low energy ones. Prioritize the more important items/appointments during a peak period of your day and not stress if the less important stuff doesn’t get accomplished until tomorrow.
    • If you work outside the home, napping at your work may not be a possibility, but finding a quiet space where you can sit with your eyes closed and undisturbed for 10 minutes might be something you can fit in. Scheduling meetings and important projects doing your high-energy periods work as well.
  • Embrace the productivity energy boosts when you get them. I find it invigorating when checking items off my to-do list. Those little boosts can be so energizing that it feeds into itself to get more done. Just be mindful to not overdo it and wear yourself out.

I think these tips are helpful for people without MS or an illness that interferes with energy levels, but it wouldn’t be my go-to set of suggestions for them. What follows are some broader observations/techniques that have helped me boost my productivity.

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Purging Clutter

The hardest part of any clean: the purging of clutter.

So many things turn into clutter, even things that you wouldn’t normally consider: sentimental items, books, or stuffed animals. It’s like the gardener’s philosophy surrounding weeds: it’s only a weed if you consider it one or it chokes out other plants. It’s only cluttered if it gets in the way and you don’t want it.

The Difficulty with Purging Items

Why purge items? Besides the obvious answer: purging items helps clear out mental clutter as well. I find that I am so much happier when I have a cleaner space, free of unnecessary papers and items.

The issue is deciding what to get rid of and what to keep/store.

I have a slight attachment to items that have a perceived sentimental value. I have three bottles of wine I still haven’t opened that I bought just after I moved South 10 years ago. I have two bottles of wine I bought 6 years ago when I visited my hometown in New England. I just can’t bring myself to open these bottles because of what they represent: the beginning of a new journey and goodbye to an old one.

But they are taking up space and at this point, if they aren’t vinegar, I can’t imagine they will taste good. We aren’t talking about quality bottles of wine.

I am not ready to make a decision about these bottles because they aren’t taking up enough space to be troublesome. Should I need to make space, then I will have to consider drinking them or dumping the contents and repurposing the bottles if I need that sentimental reminder.

But I have plenty of other items in the house that needs to be purged: clothing, toys, books, memorabilia to name a few.

Before Jai was born I went through a massive purge throughout the house in order to make room for his stuff. I knew it would be the first of several, so it felt good to watch the trash bags pile up on the curb for collection and Ash leaving with a car filled with donation boxes. I hoped to do my second purge in the spring after Jai was born, but I wasn’t able to get to it.

Now that he’s almost two, it’s time to consider making another massive purge, which should be easier to do because I already did one round. This time I will have to get rid of Jai’s old clothing, toys, and utility items that he no longer needs. I have everything mostly organized so that part should be easy, but deciding which toys should go will be difficult. That’s where having a system helps me make the more difficult decisions.

Creating a Simple System

When I am setting out to do a mini-purge I unceremoniously create three different vessels to hold my items: a garbage bag for items to be tossed, a random box for items to be donated, and a catch-all area for items to be stored or put away. When I am more organized, like when I was pregnant, I create bins to put each of these items so Ash can pick through them to see if I correctly categorized his stuff that might be mixed in.

I find big, clear, plastic totes work best. Their size helps hold more stuff, but easy to pick through and move from room-to-room if need be. Additionally, they are great to be repurposed as storage containers for the items being stored. I label each bin:

  1. To Keep and Store/put away
  2. To Donate
  3. To Trash/Recycle

Scheduling purges in small doses help keep me focused, just like my massive cleaning sessions.  I try not to spend more than 10 seconds on each item. If I am not sure in that moment I will set it aside and move on. If I find another item that is similar and I am able to make a quick decision about it (usually toss/donate) then I will return to that previous item set aside and make a similar decision. The goal is to have less “unsure” items at the end of each session than before I started.

My Favorite Tips

These are some of my favorite tips for working through a successful clutter purge:

  • I spend no more than 10 seconds on each item to decide whether I want to keep, donate or trash it. Some stuff is easy, for the more difficult items I will set aside to decide later.
  • If I am struggling to decide on a sentimental item at the end of my session, I will put it in a fourth box: this box is meant to be placed in an unobtrusive spot for 6 months. If I don’t reach in the box for the item in those 6 months, nor do I think about it, then I can seriously consider getting rid of it. I take a picture if it’s really important so I can have that instead of the physical object.
  • If an item has utility value, I ask if I will need it within the next 3 months. If no, then I donate/toss the item, otherwise, I store the item until I need it.
  • If I have multiples of an item and I only need one, I will keep the “nicer” version which is usually the newer version or I organize the items so I use the old stuff first. If an item is unopened, but I know Ash or my parents can use it, I give them the option to take it otherwise it gets donated.
  • Getting rid of important paperwork: I purchase a “year” box from a popular store that sells containers and organizing helpers. This box has the current year marked all over it, so I know what year the items were put into it. I write this note on top of it: “important paperwork to be destroyed December 31, (year).” The year is always 3 years from the current year (i.e. if the box says 2018, I am going to destroy the box contents in 2021).
  • I try to remember that we have the internet, so if I do get rid of something and I regret it, I have the means to find it again from someone. This is particularly helpful with books, especially cookbooks. My next purge will probably include all my cookbooks because I rarely crack those open anymore (though I will save my novelty cookbooks). I find that I search online for all my recipes because it’s more convenient for me.

What are some of the ways you purge your unwanted items, especially when you have something it’s hard to get rid of? Comment with your tips and stories regarding how your item purge sessions go below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography


Keeping a Clean Living Space

I have a love-hate relationship with cleanliness.

I love to be clean and organized, but I hate the work that goes into it. Having a toddler makes cleaning and staying clean Sisyphean at best. Nothing stays clean for more than ten minutes at a time with a human tornado.

This gets discouraging very quickly. Why bother keeping clean and organized if it’s only going to become a mess immediately?

It’s hard for me to get organized and easy to allow clutter to take over. I am ashamed to admit that it took until June to finally put all the holiday decorations away. They were removed from the main areas of the house but sat waiting to make it inside the storage closet we have in our room. Ash and I had to move around the boxes and clutter that kept piling up on a nightly basis as we got ready for bed.

For that, I hated spending time in our bedroom.

It took so long because it required a cleaning and reorganizing of our storage closet. We’ve accumulated a lot of old baby and maternity items that we’re not ready to part with just yet, so there wasn’t any room to put holiday decorations back inside.

This required an organization session, cleaning, and purging a lot of items. Making the time to do this is difficult with the fatigue and have limited energy stores day-to-day. Because a cleaning session wasn’t important in my mind, it kept getting pushed back in favor of working on other projects.

But that doesn’t mean the cluttered chaos didn’t cause issues.

Benefits to Clean House

Over the years I’ve recognized the benefits of having an organized house without a child: it’s a way to find things easily, everything has its place, and generally makes life easier.

I am also one of those people who gets depressed if my living space is messy. I am not just talking super messy but depression starts to set in even if there’s a little bit of clutter. So when the house “gets out of control,” I tend to freeze and get frustrated.

I am, by no means, obsessive over the cleanliness. When I can’t even get myself to spend 15 minutes tidying up because of either fatigue or feeling overwhelmed I feel frustrated.

There’s a lot of research available online that shows there’s a connection between healthy living, healthy habits, and healthy decisions and a clean/organized home. So my reaction isn’t surprising.

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Home Life & Home Education

August is the “end” of summer. End of summer vacation and time to get ready or head back to school.

While we still have another month of summer going into September, at least for me, September equals fall. August is that weird transition between the two seasons.

I don’t think I feel the same sort about other “transition” months. November is fall, February is winter, and May is spring in my mind. August is neither summer nor fall for me. It’s really weird.

That said, August is always a fun month: squeezing those final trips to the beach, pool time, but also getting ready to head back to school, which I loved.

I loved back-to-school shopping. Getting new notebooks, pencils, binders, backpacks. I was chatting about this with my mom the other day: I loved getting the school supplies more than I did getting the new outfits for the year. It was the highlight of my day to pick my desk; place my new binder filled with crisp, lined, loose-leaf paper in the top left-hand corner; and put my favorite new pen or pencil in the gutter at the top of my desk.

Why yes, I always tried to be the teacher’s pet when possible. How did you know?

As an adult, August grew to be a special month for me: Ash and I eloped at the beginning of the month seven years ago. We didn’t want to have a big fancy wedding or party, so we chose to get married in our living room with our closest friends surrounding us.

weddingphoto

I cried. So did Ash.

It was a wonderful, intimate experience that neither of us regrets. We are looking forward to many more anniversaries to come.

Additionally, on the years that Labor Day Weekend falls at the end of August (when the Monday is 1st or 2nd), it’s a time for celebration. Every Labor Day Weekend is a cause for celebration for me, but August has that little extra pizazz when it ends on such a high note.

Why? Because one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy social events occurs from the Thursday spanning to the Monday of Labor Day Weekend. I talked a little bit about it here.

Focusing on Home and Education

Because August is such a fun and weird month for me, I wanted to focus on two of my favorite things: the home and education.

More specifically: I love to think about organizing and finding new ways to clean up clutter even though I have a love/hate relationship with the whole process. I will have posts ranging from purging mental clutter to physical clutter; from creating an effective schedule to maintaining it.

As a former college instructor, teaching is extremely important to me so I have a lot of respect for educators, especially from early childhood through high school teachers. From my time in the classroom, I recognized not only the importance of the previous education students received but the impact parents hard in supplementing and augmenting that education.

While Jai is still too young to attend any formal school setting, I wanted to examine ways that I can help get him started so he’s prepared for the day he first steps foot into a classroom. I want to focus on a more natural form of learning to keep it fun for him and in keeping with our way of gentle parenting him.

Stay tuned for a bunch of fun printables and tools coming up this month. I’ve enjoyed creating them and I hope you will enjoy using them.

Happy August, everyone!


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Featured Illustration: Michelle Melton Photography