Mail Organization Tips for Small Spaces

As someone who has a large family in a small space I know how challenging it is to find ways to have good mail organization without an office. However it’s even more imperative that we do keep papers and files under control because we don’t have any room for error.

I am currently reading The 8 Minute Organizer by Regina Leeds and it’s been such a game changer. While the book is not about small space living, I have adapted it and combined Leeds organizational style with methods that I’ve already had in place.

 

Tips for mail organization

 

Here are 5 mail organization tips that we use to keep incoming mail from overtaking our limited living quarters.

 

  1. Keep Your Mail in the Mail Box until you are ready to sort it

In the book The 8 Minute Organizer, Leeds recommends having a basket, but a basket of mail would take up too much valuable flat-space-real-estate (i.e. counter or table top). So in our case I consider the mail box the basket. This means keeping all the mail out of the home until you are ready to sort it. It’s one way to maximize exterior space as storage.

   2. Sort and toss 

Because we live in a tiny space sorting the mail immediately is pretty crucial. So we forgo the basket idea proposed in the book. I suggest immediately throwing away junk mail and shredding anything that may contain personal information (or in our case rip it up).

  1. File important mail

8 Minute organizer recommends action files labeled “Pending, to call, to do, to file, to pay, to read.” That’s sounds like a great idea. We are not that organized yet. For now we each have individual files. The kid’s don’t get much mail other than medical documents, but they do have homework.

mail organization for small spaces

This system has been a tremendous help to us. Since the files are up on a shelf it saves floor space. We do have a filing cabinet where we keep critical documents, but for the pending everyday stuff we use these Ikea cardboard magazine files in the kitchen (they’re only 99 cents for a 4 pack!).

4. Stay on top of the old mail

It’s not about just sorting incoming mail. If you file something that needs to be paid, or a form that is supposed to be filled out you should schedule it on your calendar immediately so that you don’t forget about it. You should also go through your pending files regularly. For me I go through each family file monthly. I am not saying I have mastered all this, but I have come a long way!

5. Go paperless as much as possible

Direct deposit, ebills, and AutoPay are our best friend. For one, you are automatically more organized because the computer is paying things on time for you. Also, you are helping the environment by trying to be as paperless as possible and lastly you are saving space because all of those letters and envelopes  are no longer floating around your home.

Most of these mail organization tips can work for anyone that wants a better system for mail organization, not just those living in small spaces. Still, there is a lot of information out there about organizing mail and not all of it works when you don’t have a home office, or even an average size home.

I have to give credit to my husband because he is the one that gets the mail and pays the bills, but I did the filing system. And together we learned that keeping the mail in the box until you are ready to sort it, filing right away, going through old files regularly, and doing online bill pay has made all the difference.

Hopefully these 5 mail organization tips have been helpful for other small space families. For more tips, tricks, and advice about living in a small space check out Lots of Hope in a Little Home here on Messymom.com.

lots of hope in a little home mail organization

Good luck with all that mail!

 

 

By | April 28th, 2016|Lifestyle, Simple Living|3 Comments

God is in the Dumpster

I wrote this when we lived in the apartment, but I am just now sharing it. It wasn’t that long ago though, so I’ll just leave the words as they were originally written.

God is in the dumpster

It feels offensive to even type that title. I am not in anyway trying to imply that my precious Savior belongs in the garbage. It’s an amazing paradox though. To think about how our awesome creator can be so holy, so sovereign and royal, and yet He sent His Son to come down to where we are and meet humanity in the depths of their desperation. How often did the Pharisees disapprove of who Christ was hanging out with or where he was hanging out because it seemed unclean to them? This has been on my mind a lot lately.

We live in an apartment where some of our neighbors are abusive alcoholics, drug addicts, and  thieves living in poverty. Our other neighbors are just normal clean-cut people like us. It’s probably just like your neighborhood really. Except people here don’t pretend as much. There is no dressing it up.

We live in a big complex and our building happens to be closest to the dumpster. It’s convenient actually. Whenever the trash can is full I don’t have to far to go to dispose of it. Plus my kids love it when they can catch a glimpse of the enormous trash truck that picks up the larger than life Rumpke bins. They watch in amazement as the robotic vehicle hoists each metal box up in the air to dump out all of it junk and smash it down into bits. 

I’m thankful for the dumpsters. Of all the things I won’t miss about being in this place I’m going to miss the dumpster. I know that sounds strange. It’s ugly and it’s smelly, but God has used it to provide for our family in ways that are actually quite miraculous. I shared the story on Facebook the other day about how I had sorted through a bunch of clutter in my room and had separated what was left into three bags. I wanted a better storage system for my scarves, gloves, and winter hats, but I couldn’t come up with anything so I just put the items into plastic bags for the time.

bins

Later that night I saw these three bins sitting outside of one of the dumpsters. Two of them still had tags on them! Stuff like that isn’t that uncommon for me. I really can’t remember all of the items I have found, but some things include Christmas decorations like this mat that I found at Christmas time when we didn’t have anything to decorate with. It certainly brought Holiday cheer to the kids faces each time they came home.


IMG_2122

 

Or this North Face Jacket in perfect condition.
IMG_3350 copy

 

SJ loved it when I found this folding play hut.
IMG_7182

And then there is the umbrella stroller we have gotten so much use out of.
IMG_7871

That’s not even half of it. Most of the time the decent stuff is left outside of the dumpster, but every once in a while it’s actually inside, but sitting on top of the trash with a bunch of other home goods. For those worried about germs a little scrub down and some lysol is all you need and I have never taken anything that looked nasty or that was worthless to me.

My friends have questioned me on why there is so much “nice” trash around and my theory is that some people are evicted or move in a hurry and when the clean up crew comes through they just throw everything out. Maybe some people purposefully leave stuff outside of the dumpster knowing that their trash will be a treasure picked up by someone else?

You can try to explain it however you want, but the fact of the matter is I have collected a lot of useful things out of those dumpsters and I share this story as a testimony. In one of our lowest times God has provided in the most unlikely of ways. Even just little things. Why wouldn’t he? I mean when you think about some of the miracles in the Bible with pulling coins out of a fishes mouth, or spitting in the mud and putting it on a blind man’s eye? Yuck.

Maybe God wants you to step out of your comfort zone and get a little bit dirty this week. Not just to do it for the heck of it, but out of obedience.  Perhaps He wants you to seek him in some of those dark and smelly places where you usually don’t venture. It could be physical or it could be totally spiritual. I have no idea, but I do know that sometimes we miss out on the blessing because we are in our clean safe holy place. I am not convinced we need to stay there.

In your own way and by His leading I challenge you to look for God in the dumpster.

By | October 5th, 2015|My Life, Simple Living|27 Comments

Mini Van!? Help!

What is significant about September 24th? For me it’s that my due date is November 24th and that means 2 months from now I will more than likely be holding my baby girl. So things are starting to get real and now that J has a job, getting a mini van is our next priority.

I love my Toyota Highlander, but we cannot legally pack one more child into my car. 

IMG_9272

So it’s time to upgrade! We haven’t even started the hunt yet, but we have some ideas in mind. 

3runnd

We bought J’s 2000 Toyota 4Runner in 2007. It’s hard to believe we weren’t even parents yet in this photo, but I was pregnant with Z. J just recently hit the 300,00 mile mark on his car and we’ve been very happy with it. Out of our two vehicles it’s the only one with a tow package and we own a trailer, so this is our truck and we do not intend to trade it in anytime soon.

IMG_8251

About a year after falling in love with the 4Runner we bought my 2002 Toyota Highlander, which my husband refers to as the “glorified minivan”. That’s what he calls any SUV that isn’t really sport utility material.
IMG_0139

All though it’s seen better days aesthetically (thanks to my messy clan) I have loved this little gem we found on Craig’s List 8 years ago.

nowhere

Needless to say we are Toyota fans and so we would like to stay in the Toyota family for this next upgrade. We also have had success with purchasing USED, but staying around 6 or 7 years old. So we are thinking about a 2008ish Toyota Sienna minivan. We aren’t set on that though! A Honda would probably be our next choice in make, and it doesn’t have to be a minivan, but you would really have to talk me out it. I look forward to the day the doors slide open and I don’t have to panic about my children leaving dents in the unfortunate cars parked next to us. Also, gas milage and safety rating are things I definitely like to consider.

So I would love any and all feedback about vans, brands, amenities, you name it. Both of our cars are paid off and we like it that way so we’re definitely wanting to keep things somewhat simple while still upgrading. Because if things continue the way they’ve been going for us we won’t be thinking about another car for a close to a decade. It’s such a big decision! Alright, let me hear your thoughts and I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

By | September 24th, 2015|My Life, Simple Living|11 Comments

How We Installed Hardwood Over Carpet Part 2

After getting so much positive feedback and tons of interest in our little laminate wood flooring installation project we decided to do a follow up along with a little time-lapse video of how the floor removal process went. For part one click here.

Our little experimental project consisted of laying a floating floor over the carpet in our apartment. We like the aesthetics, but mainly the dining area was carpeted and we knew that wasn’t going to work especially with three small children! So we laid the floor down over it and that definitely simplified clean up after eating (and potty training for that matter).

IMG_2540

Still, we were unsure at the time exactly what the carpet would look like after years of being smashed under our layers of flooring. It turns out it looked great! WAY better than if we would have been living our daily lives trying to spot treat that area!

In the video you will see J removing the planks, followed by the removal of the subfloor which was OSB, and then vacuuming the carpet underneath.

Since we didn’t really document the original process we thought this video would be a nice way to see how it all came together. Even though it is of the removal, just reverse it to see how the installment would work.

A lot of readers have questions over the past couple years including-

“How long did it take?” It took about 8 hours once we had the materials ready

“Did it end up being damage free for the carpet underneath after removing?” YES!

“Is it strong enough to use as a dance floor?” I don’t know. Our three kids ages 2,5, and 7 have used it as a dance floor in some ways. It’s held up pretty well, but it had some minor evidence of wear and tear after a while.

“Would this work for an upstairs apartment? How is the sound for the downstairs neighbors?” If you are really concerned about the noise you can add a layer of floor muffler underlayment in-between your OSB and laminate planks. We did live in an upstairs apartment so it’s definitely doable, but I guess it depends on how much of a priority the volume control is for you.

That’s pretty much it. In the end we got our full deposit back after we moved and the carpet looked like new. I can assure you that would not have been the case had we not laid down the floors. And the best part is we didn’t spend all that money just for those years in the apartment, we got to take the floor with us and we are reusing it where we live now.

Our only regret was not continuing the flooring into the hallway because it is also such a high traffic area and it took a lot of abuse. If you are interested in doing a flooring project like this in your own house or rental property and you have any other questions please feel free to ask. If I can’t answer them I’ll get with the handy man that works behind the scenes here and I’m sure he can get you some info.

Good luck with your project!

By | July 30th, 2015|Frugal Living, Projects, Simple Living|18 Comments

Real Life in a Small Space

I have had such an overwhelming response to the “Small Space Living for Big Families“. It has been awesome! I have had the opportunity to connect with so many other families from ALL OVER who are also making the most out of living with less. The Facebook comments have been… diverse. Most of them are extremely positive, but I did get some feedback from skeptics because all of the photos I shared were of the apartment empty. They couldn’t imagine what “real life” in 800 square feet with three small children would actually look like. For most people the concept is a nightmare.

Just to be clear, if you can afford and manage a large or even average home that’s fantastic. It’s a personal choice. Some people do it out of conviction, for us it’s necessity. Either way the idea is to find satisfaction despite what our culture says we must have. Our children don’t have to live a solemn life of deprivation, just because they don’t have their own bedroom and playroom.

For those that follow my blog, I post pictures of my family in our apartment all the time so you know we are real people and you’ve seen most of this before. For everyone else I have gone through some old photos that show how we manage year round in less than 800 square feet. Get ready for an overwhelming amount of snapshots.

We’ll start with January.

Nerf darts. I did a whole post about this and it’s even been featured on other blogs.

IMG_7033

We definitely go sledding and stuff, but the kids can spend hours out in this little patio throwing snowballs at the sliding door and building snowmen in the winter. It’s basically turns into a giant sandbox when it snows which means I get stay warm behind the glass!

IMG_1621

Here is a pic of the kids filling out their class Valentine’s.

IMG_3812

My daughter’s birthday is in March and I wrote two posts about how we had the ultimate tea party for her birthday.

IMG_9225-1024x683

The kid’s share a room for now and as you can see they consider it “Fun Land”

IMG_1203

This is when Ezie was still in a crib and they didn’t have bunk beds yet.

kidsroom

and this isn’t the best pic, but it’s the new setup. The swing chair is from Ikea. There is a small trampoline in the other end of the room. There is a toy box and a book shelf hanging on the wall with tons and tons of books. They share a closet too.

IMG_2121

 

Here is Z is posing in front of the apartment with his end of the year school project.

IMG_5779

Fun with food.

IMG_2689

Our one little bathroom seconds as a salon.

IMG_4248

IMG_8119

Bubbles on the patio is always a great choice for summer.

Untitled-1

The guys having fun making race cars and a track out of paper.

IMG_0228

Living on the third floor of an apartment means lots of stairs everyday.

IMG_4464_2

 

Another successful birthday party. This one was camping theme! Check out the whole post with all the details here.

135199_10151925399034700_306353160_o

Floor puzzle
IMG_3965
Dancing and dress up time
IMG_0626

IMG_6014

Checking herself out in the master bedroom

IMG_7138
Building a model car with dad
IMG_1454

Building a pinewood derby car with dad

IMG_7074

Winning a trophy for pinewood derby! The suitcase is significant because my dad came in for the event and he spent the night. We have had many guest sleepover on multiple occasions!

IMG_7195

More playtime

IMG_7172

Crafts

IMG_7663

We are always out of town with family for Christmas so we don’t do any big decorations, but we do Truth in the Tinsel and some other fun traditions.

IMG_2554

Our one piece of furniture to sit on.

IMG_2388

Many, many meals have been made in this tiny kitchen.
IMG_7232

We love playing cards and  board games.

IMG_7258

Reading time!

IMG_9487

They don’t usually sleep in our bed, but there are mornings we wake up like this!

IMG_8118
The truth is we aren’t home that much. Thanks to generous gifts we have had annual memberships to the nature center, the sports and fitness club, and the science museum. We also frequent parks and libraries, along with play dates and road trips. So I am not trying to imply that we just love being cooped up together in our small apartment all the time. What I am trying to prove with this post is that we are a REAL family that has a lot of fun and shared memories using every last inch of our little space.

I feel like God has brought us to this place for a reason. We’ve learned and gained so much from this season of our lives. If I could change the past and give my children a bigger home and a more luxurious or glamorous lifestyle I wouldn’t do it. My dream house wish list is longer than my weekly grocery list, so don’t get me wrong I am a big fan of amenities, but for now it’s the simple life and I SIMPLY wouldn’t have it any other way. 

By | July 1st, 2015|Family, Frugal Living, Lifestyle, Simple Living, Uncategorized|11 Comments

My Loud Dishwasher

Most of my adult life I have been washing dishes by hand. I know it shocking that there are people in AMERICA in the 21st century that do not have dishwashers, but it’s true!

 

Our old kitchen. The dishwasher is on the left.

I won’t go through all of the places we lived and why there was no working dishwasher, but washing dishes in a tub of soapy warm water was my reality for over 10 years, other than a short stretch of time before we sold our house in Texas.

We did a complete kitchen remodel and we went all out for the energy efficient stainless steel dishwasher. My favorite feature was the “top rack only” option for when you only had half a load of dishes.

I remember when we bought that dishwasher. We were at the home improvement store and the salesperson was showing us all the bells and whistles of their best appliances. We got to the dishwasher and he asked me if my cell ringer was on. I gave him a confused and reluctant Yeeees. Then he told me to put my cell phone in the dishwasher! I thought he was crazy, but you know what they say “always trust a salesman”. Not really, but I was going with the flow. Then he shut the door and had J call my cellphone. The salesman grinned and looked at us like we should be just as excited as he was. My husband was nodding and looked impressed. I was still  confused until I was informed that the dishwasher was so sound proof that you couldn’t even hear a phone ring inside it. Which must be a big selling point for some. For me it just meant that if the kids hid my phone in the dishwasher I was never going to find it.

So that was the time that we had a fancy silent dishwasher. The next dishwasher came when we moved into our current apartment.

What’s teeny, tiny, and beige all over?

Our kitchen.

It’s the kind of kitchen you would find in a camper. See that row of white drawers in the foreground? We installed them. The kitchen originally came with a whopping total of 4 drawers, 6 cupboards, and literally two feet of counter space. It would be perfect if you were a single minimalist living in the 1980’s. It’s okay though, because one thing it does have is a dishwasher. It’s clunky, old and it is LOUD. The volume is like having a monster truck rally in our kitchen. And I am totally fine with that!

When I hear that dishwasher spraying and swishing, heating and drying, I am just reminded of all the dishes I am not washing by hand. Sometimes when the rhythm of the noise is just right I swear it is to the tune of the opening chorus from Les Miserables.

If you are not familiar with The Work Song from the French Musical then just imagine the opening song from Frozen. Pretty much the same thing.

My word for 2015 is “good”. I am determined to look for the good in things this year and that’s how I feel about my dishwasher. It’s good. It’s not the best, but it’s good. It is a blessing.

I know this is a really bazaar assignment, but I want you to listen for your blessings today. There are going to be the obvious things like birds chirping or children laughing, but go even deeper.

I remember hanging out with someone and their heater kicked on. You could hear it rumble and she apologized because it was so loud.

No apology needed! We have heat. We can be warm. That’s a blessing.

We all have a loud dishwasher in some form or another. Take that thing that could be considered intrusive noise and watch it become music to your ears.

By | March 20th, 2015|My Life, Simple Living, Uncategorized|15 Comments

Hope For Homeschooling In Small Spaces

 One of the things I have learned along the way in this journey is how you can homeschool in a very small space. When we had to pull Z out of school last year I just began working with him in the parent lounge in the upper level of SJ’s school, and I was amazed at what we accomplished.

 It made me realize that you can homeschool almost anywhere.

If I had to share one tip for someone homeschooling with limited amount of “classroom” space I would say to become best friends with your local library.

 

I know every library is different, but even the most basic of branches have books, that much I can guarantee. This is a great way to get some free resources and not have to keep them stored. Just use, learn, and return. Our library even had “learning packs” that you check out according to themes like rhyming, manners, music, etc. Each big duffel bag included toys, games, flash cards, books, videos and more that were all focused on that one subject. It was awesome.

Now, I am not a homeschool expert by any means. I just happen to be curious about it and interested in learning more. So I asked some friends of mine to share their input about homeschooling in small spaces.

Jen and her husband have 4 children and have lived in a variety of different apartments and rental properties which all would qualify as small. She is the one that sent me the poem that I posted yesterday and she is the first one I asked to help me share tips on homeschooling in small spaces.

Her number one piece of advice was to keep things simple. When it comes to supplies and curriculum Jen likes to make sure she is using what she has and if not then get rid of it. She also says that their family table is multipurpose. They use it as a dining table, but it is also where they do school.


With three small boys at least one of them has to be running around half naked right? 

Jen not only tolerates having a smaller home, she actually appreciates it. She says “Everyone has varied reasons for homeschooling. However, usually a common denominator regardless of reasons is a desire for togetherness. Small spaces certainly provide that! Yes, some days are hard, but I wouldn’t trade it. I like being able to hear and see what is going on from my perch in the kitchen and I like that it gives us ample reason to choose an intentional lifestyle.”

Lastly Jen pointed me to a great blog resource, Raising Life Long Learners (which has tons of info on homeschooling in small spaces), and Philippians chapter 4 (an encouragement for moms in the thick of this stuff). I will definitely be checking those out.

I also want to introduce you to another friend of mine. 
Andrea is the lady I called up when I began teaching Z. She has tons of helpful advice, especially when it comes to homeschooling boys, because she has 6 of them.
That’s right, SIX! 
Andrea and her husband made do with 1,600 square feet for the longest time. They did eventually add on, but she said there is still not a ton of room to work with. I can imagine. When I asked her advice about homeschooling in small spaces she talked about using the dining room table too.
She likes to buy educational place mats (including the ASL alphabet, which makes me grin), she then covers the table with a clear table cloth she buys by the yard at Hobby Lobby.
Andrea has lots of little organizational tips like keeping art/school supplies in an over the door shoe pouch hanger, or having a “locker’ for each child which she uses crates for.
One thing I thought was neat about both ladies is that they are not trying to duplicate the traditional school environment. If you want to have a desk or a locker in your home then that might be fun, but I like the idea of learning in the home environment and just embracing that.
Let’s talk about one more friend. Ashley and her family are always on the move because of her husbands job. 
This pic of Ashley has nothing to do with homeschooling. I just wanted to show it because it’s cute.
This means small and temporary living quarters. 
It would be difficult, or impossible to switch school districts non stop, so they have chosen to homeschool on the go and it’s worked out extremely well. They use an online program called k12 which brings the virtual classroom to the student, and because it is a charter school it is completely free!

Her boys have been able to learn about the world while traveling through it!

If you are waiting for the ideal space and the perfect situation to start taking charge of your children’s education then consider some of these stories. Homeschooling isn’t for everybody, but if it is something you desire then be encouraged that there is lots HOPE, even for the littlest homeschool.
Check out my index page for more of this series
By | October 29th, 2013|Lifestyle, Schooling, Simple Living|35 Comments

“Lots of Hope In A Little Home” Index Page

Welcome To My 31 days series on finding lots of hope in a little home.

Over the next 25 posts you will read about how my family of 5 has comfortable lived in less than 800 square feet for the last two years. Along with my personal store you will also be encouraged to never loose hope even in the midst of difficult circumstances, as well as some practical information on simplicity, and thinking outside of the box when it comes to how to set up your setup.

  1. My 31 Day Topic Announcement
  2. Why We Downsized
  3. 31 Day Index 
  4. One Simple Couch 
  5. The Hideaway Coffee Table
  6. Sunday Quote
  7. How To Put Hardwood Flooring Over Carpet
  8. The Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Kitchen 
  9. The Kitchen Expansion
  10. The Moveable Dining room
  11. A Simple Crib
  12. Sunday quote
  13. The Benefits of Room Sharing 
  14. Sharing a Bathroom
  15. Sunday Quote 
  16. Hang it, hang it, hang it 
  17. Three Life Lessons That Forced Me To Simplify 
  18. A Big Milestone In a Small Space 
  19. Party Decor and Festivities 
  20. Christmas in a Small Space 
  21. Sunday Quote 
  22. Homeschooling in a small space 
  23. The Loft style closet
  24. The Bedroom Reveal 
  25. There is HOPE
 I’ve been overjoyed to see all the positive feedback since writing this series in 2013. Several posts have been pinned and shared. I’ve also received questions from strangers needing clarification on certain projects. All of which is welcome. I am not some hot shot blogger so I just get tickled pink when someone contacts me. With that said, I would love to hear from you, and if you are currently living in a small space I pray that you would find happiness and fulfillment right where you are. Be blessed friend.
By | October 3rd, 2013|Simple Living, Uncategorized|10 Comments