Saturday, October 30, 2010

Managing Hand-me-downs

My kids have been blessed with lots of older cousins and friends which means every season there are bags of hand-me-downs dropped off at my doorstep.  When I had just 2 kids it wasn't too overwhelming, but now that I have 5, these bags have turned into a mountain.  I'm sure that it has saved us hundreds of dollars over the years.  I have barely ever had to buy my kids clothes, but for years this blessing at times has felt like a burden.  I would cringe when I saw friends show up with a bag.  I just didn't have room to store it all and it felt so unorganized.

It's not that I didn't try - but my system wasn't working.  I had clothes sorted by gender, by size...but I had multiple sizes and sometime my kids could wear 2 or 3 different sizes on the same day depending on the outfit.  Then I would be given random pieces here and there and would have to dig out the boxes and try to shove it in.  All the boxes were up in our tiny attic and it was such a chore.

I finally found a system that works for me and it has made my life so much easier. 

I bought 2 large plastic bins per child.  They are labeled with their name and Summer or Winter.  I have learned to only keep what I really love...what I would be willing to spend money on, and not what I feel pressured into keeping.  These bins are for their grow-into clothes.  If it doesn't fit in the bin, then they have too much and I sort through it again.

It is organized by season and child-not by size and that has made all the difference for me.  When the season changes, I take out their bins and all the clothes that may fit again next year and are in nice enough condition, are put back in their bin, replaced with this seasons clothes.  Things that are too small are passed onto younger siblings or cousins or donated to the thrift shop.
I also have 2 bins for any future babies organized by gender.
I recently switched over to our Fall clothes and while it is still a project - I think it is mostly because I have so many children and not because it is unorganized.

I don't save shoes, except for winter and mud boots which seem to last forever.  These are thrown in their own bin.  Winter coats and sweatshirts are also stored separately.  They are overly bulky so I use those storage bags that the air can be vacuumed out of.  Hats and gloves are also thrown in their own box.  I try to buy neutral colors so they can be shared by siblings.  I should just by all one color so we don't have to worry about finding a match.

At this house I am still lugging everything up the pull-down attic ladder.  In our new house, we will have actual stairs that lead to the attic with a cape cod roof.  I  can stand up in there and it will make it even easier.  I feel like I have my own children's boutique.  We are planning in the future to finish off the attic and maybe build a closet so that winter coats can just be hung up - but for now my system works for me and makes hand-me-downs easier to handle.

Everday Freezer Cooking

I am in awe of the stay at home moms that manage to pull off cooking once a month.  They meticulously plan a menu for a month at a time and freeze multiple batches of lasagna and other dinners.  I'm not up for the challenge just yet...but, I have been  finding little ways to make my freezer work for me - everyday.

  • Buying in Bulk
We have a larger family and buying in bulk is just becoming a necessary part of life in general, but it has also saved us a lot of money.  We don't pay for a club store membership, but I've been able to find bulk packs of meat at our grocery store for half the price of regularly portioned packs.  I divide them up into freeze bags in the amount needed for various meals.

  • Homemade Baby Food
This is so easy and saved us $20 a week.  I just steam some veggies, puree and pour into ice cube trays.  Once frozen, I pop out the cubes and throw them in a freezer bag.  I have to admit, the first time I did this, I would open my freezer just to admire the rainbow of frozen baby food knowing that I was saving money and making something wholesome for my baby that wasn't sitting on a shelf for who knows how long.

  • Single Servings
I eat lunch with the kids everyday...but that doesn't mean that I want to eat like a kid.  I have had more than my full of PB&J's and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Sometimes I will cook just for me.  Split pea soup or lentils and rice.  Yum!  Then I divide it into single servings and freeze them for my lunches.  Super easy and way better than opening a can of store bought soup.

  • Leftovers
This may seem obvious, I'm sure we all save leftovers, but I've found that when I put them in the fridge if they aren't used the next day, they usually get lost or forgotten about and eventually thrown away.  I freeze leftovers of ingredients too.  If I use half a jar of pasta or pizza sauce, I pour it into freezer bag, freeze it laying flat, then they can be stacked on the shelf.  If I roast a whole chicken, I shred the extra meat to save for chicken pot pie or other recipes that don't require a lot of meat.  I've also frozen ham bones and picked over turkeys and chickens for making soup with later.

  • Baked goods
This is my new favorite thing to use my freezer for.  It really isn't any more work to double a recipe.  While my cookies are baking in the oven, I flash freeze balls of cookie dough on a wax paper lined tray.  When they are frozen, I throw them in a zipper bag labled with the oven temperature.  Then when we want warm, homemade cookies, I bake as many as we need right from frozen, just adding a few minutes to the cooking time.
And don't forget pancakes and waffles!  They freeze really well and can be reheated in the microwave or toaster. 

  • Popsicles
I don't think I will ever buy a box of Popsicles again!  I found popsicle molds for $1.  Fill them with juice and you have a summer favorite for pennies.  I also use pureed fruit.  Watermelon and strawberries are our favorites.

Freezer cooking doesn't have to be an event.  A little extra effort here and there can save your family a lot and make your life a little more wholesome.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

This week I've found myself curled up on the couch with crochet hook in hand.  I love Autumn.  I love the chill in the air and handmade hats and scarves on my little ones.  I'm trying to use up my yarn stash before I start on this year's Christmas presents. 

I go through phases.  It's been months since I crocheted anything...but now that I've started up again, it's hard to stop.  I just love seeing a tangled ball of yarn turn into something beautiful just from my hands and a hook.

There is just something about working with brings back that wholesome love that is lost on store bought items.  It makes me cherish so many things more...simple things that we take for granted. 

This week in school we are learning about the early American settlers.  We churned our own butter...not straight from the cow, though my kids are insisting that we need one now.  It was so simple and pure and fun...and maybe it's just the novelty of it...I'm sure it would have gotten old if it were a daily chore.

Life has become so easy for us in modern America...but easier isn't always better.  I want to know where things come from.  I want to be able to meet a need with a little creativity instead of just running out to the store.  I want my children to value time.  I want them to understand putting love in what they do. 
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