31 Bags in 31 Days

Years ago I did a challenge called 31 Bags in 31 Days.  The premise was a simple one, get rid of one bag of junk from my home each day for the month of March.  The challenge worked out great for me, and I was able to get rid of a lot of stuff that we no longer needed, clothes that could be donated or handed to a friend, toys that were either broken or were no longer age appropriate for my kids, and so much paper.

I did that challenge back at the beginning of 2015, when Lucy was just a few months old.  But, it seems over the years I have let the amount of stuff we accumulate in the home get a bit out of control.

Cultivate simplicity.  That is what I want for you and for me, and so to continue to allow the amount of things into the house that we do is not sustainable, and it is driving me a wee bit mad if I do say so myself.

In order to cultivate simplicity, you always need to be aware of what you are allowing to fill the space, whether it is in your physical space, or in the emotional space you keep.

Clutter will affect both your mental state and the state of your home.

When you see so much clutter around your home, what happens?  Do you get overwhelmed and not know where to start?  Do you go on a rampage and just try to get rid of everything?

I experiment with both of those extremes.  Partly you want everything put away nice and neat, and partly you want to become a minimalist.

Where is the balance? 

As homeschoolers we have a lot more time to be in and around our stuff than most people do.  I’m not saying that homeschoolers are the only ones that deal with clutter, absolutely not.  But, we are the ones that deal with everything being clean for about five minutes until another project needs to be worked on pretty much all day every day.

The number of art projects you can have drying on the counters at any one moment can fill up all the space leaving no room for appliances or a spot to chop vegetables for dinner.  Or the sheer number of books that are on one of the kids desks...it can be overwhelming.

The first step in all of this is to change your thinking. 

We live and work in our homes on a daily basis, and that means that the items that we have on our shelves, in the kids’ rooms, in homeschool rooms, art bins; they will all be coming out repeatedly in a given week.  Even if you leave your home every afternoon to run errands, go to extracurricular activities, or a co-op, the bulk of your day will still be at home.

It took me a long time to realize that difference, and to be OK with it.

When you are a stay at home mom, you often feel pressure to keep up appearances of a beautiful space, whether they are outside pressures, or they are internal pressures. 

I have gone through stages of trying to keep my house always “hospitality ready” and let me tell you, it is impossible.  If you show up at my home, there will most likely be dishes in the sink, and toys on the floor, and please don’t even go upstairs into my kids’ bedroom (or mine for that matter), but I will have coffee and tea, and probably muffins.

Challenge accepted - Get rid of 31 Bags in 31 Days

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the challenge.

Why 31 bags in 31 days?

I went back and forth as to whether we should attempt challenge for Lent.  Honestly, I have spent so much time over the past few months getting rid of stuff that I wasn’t sure we would have enough to get rid of.  But we have a lot of stuff still, and it is still very visible (mostly because of the lack of closets), and so, we decided on a March challenge again, and hope you will join us.

Each day, starting on the first day of March, your goal is to get rid of one bag of stuff.  It doesn’t need to be trash (although that would be a great place to start).  It could be a donation bag.  In fact, donating as much as you can is probably the best option.  It keeps stuff out of landfills, and gives it a second life.

The bag can be any size you want, a grocery store bag, a trash bag, or one of those huge leaf bags, each day can be different, as long as you are trying to get rid of one bag each day.  That is the goal; to release the pressure of taking care of so much stuff can have on your life.

I am going to be posting my progress on Instagram with the hashtag #31bagsin31days – so I would love for you to join me! 

Do you struggle with clutter in your home?  Have you been able to let go of the feelings of “not tidy enough?”

knitting and reading

There are affiliate links in this post.  If you make a purchase through one of these links I may receive a small commission.  Thank you for supporting Townsend House!

It has been almost a year since I last did a knitting and reading post.  And actually, it has been about that long since I have been knitting as well.  Knitting is something that I really love, but I could not seem to find time to work it into my schedule.  It was a season.  

Now, with Ginny starting the yarnalong again, I realized that I missed those posts of knitting and reading, so I am going to try and post those a little more frequently.

Currently I am knitting a scarf with a really lovely dark pink yarn.  With all the cold we have been having this winter in Maine, the more scarves and cowls and hats we have the better!  

The yarn has a really nice texture to it, and has been a joy to knit with.  I had started this scarf ages ago, and then put it down after not too much progress, I found it in my somewhat small pile of unfinished projects, complete with an index card where I had copied out the pattern - so I have no idea where I got this pattern, but it is quite easy to pick up and knit a few rows at a time, which is always the way I need to knit it seems.

Lucy liked it so much that two days ago she decided to pull the needles out and unravel some stitches.  Thankfully there wasn't too much damage and I was able to pick it back up easily enough.  It was then that I remembered why I had stopped knitting last year - the addition of a new puppy as well as a then 2 year old was pretty much a recipe for disaster when it came to my knitting.

As for my book reading goes, I wrote a whole post about the books I read last month.  But, I do have a couple books going now.

First up is my umpteenth time through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  I love Harry Potter, and was really excited this year when my kids wanted me to read it to them.  Of course they came to it at different times, so I was almost always reading two books at once, and it was driving me crazy!  But, we finally are now all caught up together.  It has been quite a while since I have read completely through the series, and I am enjoying it as much, if not more than the kids.

My husband got me the second book, which I haven't quite started beyond the introduction - Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days.  I absolutely love business books, probably why I majored in business and economics in college, but having the ability to work for myself has been a huge game changer in my life over the past eight years, and I always like to read about little tips and encouragement.  Definitely looking forward to getting through this.

As for my entertainment, my new taproot magazine came in the mail yesterday.  I really love this magazine, partly because there are no ads, partly because it is so pretty, and partly because it has so many useful articles in it!  I still knit from the mittens pattern that was in one of the earliest issues.  If you don't subscribe, you definitely should!  Or see if they have it at the library!

I am looking forward to linking up at the yarnalong today!  What are you knitting and reading at the moment?

Recent Reads

There are affiliate links in this post.  If you make a purchase through one of these links I may receive a small commission.  Thank you for supporting Townsend House!

For the past several years one of my goals has been to read 100 books in the year.  Some years I hit it, some years I do not.  I’m not too bothered if I don’t hit that number, because I know that it is a lot to read 2 books per week for an entire year.  There are some weeks that I read a lot, and others that I don’t pick up a book to read for myself at all.

I used to share pretty much weekly what I was reading, and at some point I stopped that, but I want to pick it up again, so here are the books that I read last month.

I may be one of the last people that have read this book.  I heard about it on several podcasts, right around the same time I heard about hygge.  I thought the book was quite interesting and only focused on hygge at the beginning of the book.  I don’t agree with a lot of the political elements (because I am a libertarian at heart), but I enjoyed seeing the author come into acceptance of the Danish way of life.  I would definitely recommend it.  I’m actually  really looking forward to her book LeapYear which is the exploration of her making the decision whether or not to move back to the UK after living in Denmark for several years.

This book came out of the author’s TEDTalk, which is one of the most popular TEDtalks out there.  I really enjoyed how she clarified shame.  It was spectacular view on what shame is and how we can overcome it.  I spent a lot of time underlining in this book and nodding my head.  I also liked that it was so relatable since the author is a mother, and a lot of what she has felt I have as well.

I heard about this book on the Sorta Awesome Show Podcast, but also heard that I shouldn’t read this book first if I hadn’t read anything by Brené Brown before, so I dutifully read Daring Greatly first and then came back to this book.  It is a pretty quick read, but filled with a lot of amazing information.  Thinking about all the discourse in the country right now, and how so much of it is found on social media, it gives strategies to see the other side, and to realize that you can still be friends with someone who has a different opinion.  I loved it, you should read it.

I think I was expecting more from this book, mainly because I am an intentional living junkie.  I love to read strategies and tips on intentional living, but a lot of this book is stuff I already know and implement.  It was a quick read, and I do enjoy the author’s tone throughout the book.  If you are looking for a start into intentional living, definitely pick this up. 

This book was part of our homeschool curriculum, and it is the story of creating the Ferris Wheel.  My kids absolutely loved this book, and I did as well.  It was a really fun story, and if you have 7-12 I bet they will love it as well.

I received this book for Christmas from my lovely sister-in-law.  I haven’t been reading a whole lot of fiction as of late so this book, with its short chapters, was a fly through for me.  I really enjoyed it a lot, and look forward to checking out the HBO series.  I love to see movies/shows after reading a book to see the differences, what gets cut, how the books are re-imagined for viewing.  This is the first book I have read by this author, and there are a couple other books I want to read by her.

I have read a few other books as well –

TheClassical Unschooler – Purva Brown – Can you be a classical homeschooler and also unschool?  The author makes the case for just this.  It is interesting to see the combination of rote memorization while also trying to follow your children’s interests.

Bitten– Kelley Armstrong (also a TV show on Netflix) – I picked up this book on Kindle Unlimited because I had seen the TV show.  The book was very consistent with the first season of the TV show, so it was a quick read for me.  Definitely wish I had read the book first though!

TheDuggars – 20 and Counting – This is the first book they wrote which I read years ago, but decided to re-read.  I find their life fascinating despite all the issues that the oldest son has.

What is on your nightstand for reading right now?  Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

Recent Reads - Book Reviews

How to Make a Pivot in the Middle of Your Homeschooling Year

What does it mean to pivot?  Well, I think most of us remember the Friends episode where Ross is trying to move the couch up the stairs. "Pivot! Pivot! PIVOT!"

But, all joking aside, what is a pivot?  Why would you want to make a pivot, and how do you go about giving yourself permission to actually make that pivot.

Pivot means a shift, or a change in direction.  It is well known in business circles, in order to take your business in a new direction, you may need to pivot.  However, I think this definitely lines up with life as well.  In fact, I recently heard a wonderful podcast over at Sorta Awesome Show about the pivots the hosts have made in their lives.

What I want to talk about today though is how to pivot in the middle of the homeschool year.

How to Make a Pivot in the Middle of Your Homeschool Year

We all start out with so many plans at the beginning of the year.  We want to have everything work out, it should, we planned for it, but then something unexpected happens, or your plans were not specific enough, or perhaps they were too specific and there is no room for flexibility within those plans without derailing the entire system.

At the beginning of this school year I knew that I had my work cut out for me.  This is the first year that I am homeschooling two children *officially* and would need to provide portfolios for both of them.  Since I have essentially been homeschooling Emma since the age of 2, and from birth for Jack, I felt like I had a handle on things.  However, I was either overconfident in my abilities, or forgot to take into account the fact that I also have a three year old.  Needless to say that our fall was very full and not as relaxed as I hoped homeschooling would be for my two oldest kids.

I tend to have the issue of trying to do too much.  Whether it is my FOMO for the kids, or because I think I can read faster than humanly possible, or because I was trying to do two completely different curricula for every single subject with two kids that still need a lot of assistance with their schooling.  Or perhaps it was all of the above.

Have you had that happen before?  Planned too much, or not enough time to complete what you have set out to?  It is part of the reason we school all year – I feel like there is some flexibility with when I can complete things, rather than thinking it all needs to be done between August and May.

By the time we got to our winter break, we were all wiped out.  I knew that things weren’t working well back in October, but I kept pushing through because I didn’t have time to research and then make a pivot right in the middle of the first term.  I also thought that I would be able to make it work with little shifts, but by the time our break came at Thanksgiving, we all needed a break.

When you know that something needs to change, it is still difficult to give yourself permission to pivot.

Most homeschoolers I know put an enormous amount of time into researching and planning each child’s homeschool year.  Every child is different, every pace is different, every curriculum choice could be different.  That makes for an interesting planning session.

You have invested money into these kids’ lives, and you want to make sure that they are learning and getting the most out of everything, but then the problem arises and you aren’t sure what to do next.

I am giving you permission to pivot.

If you don’t make that pivot, what inevitably happens is a stressful year, which is not what anyone needs nor deserves. 

Instead, you need to give yourself permission to make the change.  Perhaps it is a curriculum that is not working, perhaps it is the schedule you are using, perhaps you are trying to do too much and you need to drop some things.  Perhaps you are trying to multi-task too much, and you need to focus more on single-tasking.

Whatever the reason, you need to give yourself the permission to pivot.

I had to give myself that permission over our Christmas break.  I knew that what we were doing was not sustainable.

What were we doing? 

Well, I was trying to do two separate cores with my two oldest kids, all while trying to wrangle a newly turned 3 year old.  On the surface it may not seem too much of a big deal.  They are in two different grades, so they already have separate math and language arts, they are reading different books.  But, then I also had different history with them.  While Emma is in the 2nd year of U.S. History, Jack was in the 2nd year of World History.  It was definitely not working to jump between two history timelines.

Part of the problem is because we have chosen a literature based curriculum, and that means a lot of reading.  To do two cores at once is an incredible amount of reading, and it wasn’t getting done.

I slowly started to drop off books for Jack in favor of continuing with Emma.  The issue, however, is the difference in abilities.  Emma is too old to drop down to the core we were using with Jack (also she completed that core 3 years ago), and Jack is a little too young to be keeping up with everything in Emma’s cores going forward.

It made me sit down to try and map out what the next couple of years are going to look like.  Knowing that Emma is going to continue into middle school levels next year was slightly concerning me, considering Jack is a young 2nd grader.

What I came to realize is that I can continue doing a good job with both of them.  That is the challenge, isn’t it?  Always second guessing yourself?  Perhaps when I have graduated one child I won’t continue to do that, but here, and now, yes, I am constantly second guessing myself and my choices.

Giving yourself the freedom to pivot gives you a sense of freedom.  It allows you to take a deep breath and know that it is all going to be OK, you are doing a good job. 

Often we, as homeschoolers, try to overcompensate because we are homeschooling.  We aren’t necessarily trying to “keep up” with public school, but we want to make sure we include everything we possibly can so that we feel good about our decisions to homeschool.  That fact alone means you are doing a good job.  Yes, you may not finish every single book you set out to read this year, or your child may not like something they are doing, but the fact that you are looking at every possible scenario to make sure what you are doing works for your specific child is a good thing. 

I firmly believe that no matter how your child is schooled – whether it be through homeschool, public school, charter school, private school – the issue is not the school, it is the parents.  When the parents are involved, the child does better.  That doesn’t mean that your child is going to be a math genius, but it could mean that they are going to be a math genius.  It is all about the involvement of the parent.

Once you make the decision to pivot, it can be scary and exciting, and it can be difficult as well.  You spent money on the curriculum, and to instead box it up and not use it can be a huge heartache – and wallet-ache.  Perhaps you have spent all the money you could on homeschool materials, and you can’t make any new purchases.  What can you use instead?

For encouragement and to receive my FREE guide on how to easily organize your Homeschool Curriculum sign up below!

The first place I would go is your local library, there are so many awesome books available, and you can find anything on any child’s level at the library.  Another amazing resource is YouTube – the amount of educational channels available for science, history, math, really any subject is astounding.  Perhaps, like me, you start to bring your younger child up to what you are doing with your older child. 

We don’t work through every book together, but on the ones that I know Jack is capable of listening to, he does listen.  Next year will be a little different, but I am really only focused on this year.

We continue to move through math, reading, writing, on each child’s level, and we fit everything else in around that.  Is every day perfect?  Absolutely not, but we are moving forward.

The first step is to give yourself permission.  And the second step is not to guilt trip yourself into thinking that you are failing.  You are most definitely not failing, you are thriving, and knowing that you need to make a change, and having the courage to do that is the best way to move forward.

How is your school year going?  Have you needed to make a pivot this year, or in years past?  Please share about your experience below!

January 1st is just another date on the Calendar

There are affiliate links in this post.  Thank you for supporting Townsend House!

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always one of my favorites.  The busyness is over, the rest begins, and the light increases each day.  It is also an amazing time to reflect, to plan ahead, to dream, to iron out “what’s next” in your life.

We all put a lot of stock into the fact that we get to flip to a new month, a new year in the calendar.  I, perhaps, put too much stock into that very narrow, specific time period.

Surprise, surprise, it did not work out the way I had expected this year, and looking back at past years, it hasn’t been working for a while.  The thing is, all of the travel, extra sugar, and general hustle and bustle of the holidays creates, almost always, the perfect storm for sickness to land with my kids and me as soon as the busyness is done.

January 1st is just another date on the Calendar

For several years I haven’t had the opportunity to sit and do the reflection I want, and the dreaming I want, during the time period I want.  Because of this I often think I should throw in the towel, it doesn’t make sense to bother now, it is too late.

Is this you as well?

I began to realize that January 1st is just another date on the calendar, and while I love to be able to sit and do all of my reflection, have my goal planner filled out, have my bullet journal and calendar all ready to go, I know that it isn’t always realistic.

Just because you didn’t have it all done by January 1st does not mean that you can’t start now, where you are, as you are, right now.

January can be a difficult month for many of us.  Coming down from the amazing holiday high, the joyfulness, the lights on the trees, and then realizing that we are in the cold, dark winter (well, at least on the East Coast!).

Focus on the days getting longer.

What are you to do if you weren’t able to “get it all done” by January 1st?  The first step is grace, and acceptance, and realizing it is very unlikely that you will always have your new plans lined up for January 1st.

Put that small disappointment away, and begin to move forward.

Decide to not let the date on the calendar hold you back from reflecting and fleshing out new ideas.

Since we have come to the conclusion that the date on the calendar should not hold us back from moving forward, what is the next step?

If you haven’t reflected on the previous year, how you felt about the year, what were your successes, what were your challenges?  Those are the questions to start with. 

In order to figure out where you want to go, you need to know where you have been.

It is easy to forget that a certain rhythm didn’t work, or that one, big challenge that you blocked out of your brain because it was so difficult, or perhaps you had some big challenges and those have crowded out the positive parts of your life that you also should reflect on.  Or maybe you had so many positives, but you can’t remember them all off the top of your head.  When you sit down and start to think about the previous 12 months, you will start to remember things you definitely forgot, and it is nice to write them down.

PowerSheets Goal Planner

I have used various reflection questions over the years, but have come to rely on the Power Sheets by Lara Casey.  If you don’t have the PowerSheets, or prefer not to purchase them, Lara does an amazing job of showing you how to work through this with her yearly goal setting series – you can see the first posthere – there is even an audio version if you would prefer to listen to it rather than read it.  Then grab any notebook or bullet journal you may have and get writing!

Once you have reflected on the previous year, it is time to dream a little bit.  What do you want your life to look like at the end of year? 

Dreaming can be scary.  Part of the reason is because you aren’t confident you will be able to make the changes needed in order to get to that end goal, but don’t let that hold you back!  You need to be able to dream a little, it makes life a bit more exciting.  Or perhaps once you do that dreaming you will realize that what you thought was a dream really isn’t anymore, and you can move on to a different dream.

You have that vision of what you want your life to look like at the end of the year.  In order to get to that vision you will need to make some specific goals to reach that point.

A good way to do this is to make the big, dreaming type goals, and then take each goal and break it down into bite size steps. 

When you break your big goals down into smaller steps, then you are able to see progress each month, rather than veering off track and not accomplishing what you set out to.

I recently heard a podcast by Tsh of The Simple Show, and she talked about making 12 week goals rather than yearly goals.  I think that this could work really well also!  There are definitely shorter term goals that you make and cultivate, and if goal setting is scary to you, or you have a difficult time completing those yearly goals, something much shorter term such as a 12 week goal would be a great idea.

This can easily integrate into yearly goals as well.

When you have your yearly goal, there are steps that you need to take to reach that end goal, and you have to break it down, like we talked about above.  However, within these smaller steps, you may find that the yearly goal you came up with no longer makes sense, and at that point, since you have been making small steps towards that goal, you can then pivot to change that goal into something that lines up with your life right at that moment. 

Do not continue working towards a goal just for the sake of completing it.  If it no longer makes sense for your life right now, scrap it, and move ahead.

When I look ahead to my year I see a lot of big picture goals, but I also see a lot of intention type goals – especially when it comes to my family.  Intentions I need to work on daily, so that they become habits and figure into the ethos of our family life.  But, there are always a couple of concrete goals that I want to work towards as well, whether they are paying off another debt, or the number of books I want to read.

Don’t limit what you want to accomplish because you think that it is too big.  Perhaps it is, perhaps the time frame will need to be adjusted, but you will be happy that you started, that you didn’t let the date on the calendar hold you back.

What goals are you working on this year?

Holiday Shopping Tips

This is a sponsored post in partnership with U.S. Cellular.  All opinions are my own.

Are you still doing a bit of Christmas shopping?  I know that I am!  I tend to wait until the last minute, which means that I am so happy to know how easy it is to shop from my iPhone!  In fact, I do more shopping from my iPhone than my actual computer these days.

According to U.S. Cellular's annual consumer survey, nearly 60% of smartphone users have shopped online from their phones.

Smartphones give us the opportunity to do holiday shopping any and everywhere.  You are able to research the best prices, research the best gifts to give, and making the final purchase.

Holiday Shopping Tips

Make the most of your holiday shopping and beyond.

Research before purchasing - Gone are the days of thumbing through thick catalogs for ideas. Smartphones make researching online and accessing customer reviews easy while on-the-go. Many apps offer rich visuals, videos and content for brainstorming. For example, YouTube gift guides are a popular and effective way to get quick ideas, Amazon has millions of product reviews, or users can search and create gift idea lists on Pinterest.

Avoid long check out lines - The mobility of smartphones is one of their key benefits. Many consumers want to physically see and touch what they’re going to purchase, so visit stores to find a product, but actually make the purchase online to avoid long check-out lines. Many stores even allow for an item to be purchased online then picked up at the store for free, which is perfect for those last minute gifts!

Keep great lists - Nearly 70 percent of people are totally undecided or considering multiple gift options when starting holiday shopping, according to a 2016 Google Consumer Survey. To be more organized while out browsing, utilize the notes feature on your device or take photos of what you want to purchase for a loved one.

Keep cybersecurity in mind - It’s estimated that 64 percent of smartphone owners use their phone to manage finances once a month or more, according to U.S. Cellular’s consumer survey. Smartphone users should ensure phone security by using secure passwords, using familiar and secure websites and being wary when using public Wi-Fi to conduct holiday shopping online.

What is the gift you are most looking forward to giving this holiday season?

¹ Between Nov. 10-17, 2016, a total of 701 online interviews were conducted among a nationally representative sample by Consumer Insights, in partnership with Maritz CX.

Top Wireless Accessories for the Holiday Season

This is a sponsored post in partnership with U.S. Cellular.  All opinions are my own.

I can't believe we are already at the time to start thinking about gifts for this holiday season!  With a very long list of people to buy for, we are always looking for the perfect gift.  Today I have some awesome options for the tech lover in your life.

U.S. Cellular has helped me create a list of 8 awesome accessories for every budget.

Top Wireless Gifts for Christmas

Under $30

JLab JBuddies Studio Kids Headphones or eKids Frozen Headphones make the perfect gift for the kids in your life.  I know both of my kids have headphones on their list this year.

The Ventev Fast Charge car charger is a great present for driving teens and adults.  A perfect gift for those of us who frequently forget to charge our phones before we leave for work!

Under $70

Audio enthusiasts can jam out with JBL E15 Earbuds or a JLab Crasher Mini Bluetooth Speaker.  I use my bluetooth speaker constantly throughout the day for my kids to listen to music, and I frequently make dinner while using my earbuds to listen to my favorite podcasts (Sorta Awesome Show anyone?!)

Anyone that uses their iPhone all the time knows the importance of having something at the ready for charging, and Samsung Fast Charge Wireless ChargingStand or iWalk Scorpio Portable Charger definitely would fit the bill!

$100-$200 range

You can easily transform your home into a "Smart Home" with the use of Google Home or Amazon Echo.  All you need to do is talk to them and they can be used to play music, answer questions, get weather and news updates as well as most other needs you may have like controlling lights and thermostats.

$300 and up

Help your friends and family (or give them a hint for yourself) to get on track with their fitness goals and sync their favorite playlists right on their wrist with with Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) or a Samsung Gear S3 Classic.

With the use of wearable technology on the rise, having some of these awesome accessories is a must for this holiday season.  U.S. Cellular has all of these amazing accessories right in store or at their website.  

Do you have a must have accessory for this year?