Tuesday, November 29, 2016

7 Clutter-Free Gifts for Kids

I write this as the mom of a child with plenty of things. Yes, she has a few requests for Christmas. And yes, she will likely receive them. But she needs very little (she's growing like a weed; don't 7-year-olds like to get shoes as gifts?), and I know many of her friends are in similar situations.

We still like to give gifts as much as any kid likes to receive them. So we've started giving more gifts of "experiences." I haven't followed up with the child-recipients of said experiences, but they have gone over pretty well with their parents. If you're looking for a clutter-free gift for a child in your life, this is for you.

Vouchers for a Play Place
If there's an indoor play place or trampoline park where the child lives or in a neighboring town, this is a great gift. If you want to give the child something to open, consider some fun socks since many of those places require them.

Gift Cards for a Favorite Restaurant
Pip loves going to Dairy Queen for ice cream. When she received her own gift card for DQ she flipped out, and immediately asked me how many Dilly Bars it would buy.

PJs are useful and you can get really fun ones for kiddos--seasonal, character-covered, you name it.

Movie Tickets
When I was a teenager, I took each of my youngest brothers to the movies for their birthdays. They got to pick the movie. I may have even sprung for popcorn (if not, sorry pals). It was really special. A gift card for the local theater can be a fun thing for kids to have control of (within reason of course).

Tickets to a Performance
Live children's shows appear at various venues around the country. Whether it's a stage version of a TV show the kiddo likes, or a ballet performance, or a monster truck rally, it's going to make an impression. If you're a grandparent, and it's feasible, take the child to the event yourself and make a great memory together.

A Class
Whether it's art, ballet, karate, gymnastics, horseback riding, violin, you name it, the cost of classes adds up! They--and their parents--would probably welcome a month or more of class tuition (consider if there's a registration fee, too--you don't want to accidentally leave the parent with an unexpected bill). If you want the child to have something to open, consider giving them the clothing or equipment they'll need for their new class.

A Membership
Membership to a zoo, children's museum, science center, or art museum is a fabulous gift that a child and her/his family can enjoy all year long. If you want the child to open a gift along with it, consider something that they can use on trips to the location, like binoculars for the zoo or a sketchbook and pencils for the art museum.

Has your child ever received any of these gifts? Did it go over well?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Favorite Sale: Bargain Hunt

A few weeks ago I was planning a day in Owensboro, Kentucky, when my cousin asked me if I was going to Bargain Hunt. I was indifferent, because I had been to other Bargain Hunt locations before. One was nice, but in a fairly lengthy shopping trip I found only a few things I thought I could use that I was willing to pay the asking price for. Another was OK, but items tended to be bought before they got to the really deep discounts (more on that in a minute). One was so heavily frequented and so poorly maintained that it always looked like it had just been looted.

She encouraged me to stop by, at least, and take a look. I'm so glad that she did.

If you've never been to Bargain Hunt, here's the premise. The store receives items that have not sold elsewhere (like a Big Lots or other closeout stores). They may be missing their original packaging, or part of it, or they may be pristine and just no longer the item of the season. They are marked with a discounted price and a date. 

Here's where it gets fun: the longer an item is in the store, the deeper the discount becomes. So if something just arrived, you pay (discount store) sticker price. If it's been there several weeks, you pay 10% less, another week means 20% less, and so on. There are items in the store that are 90% off the original discount store price. And that's where you really win! Even at the initial discount prices, they offer some great deals. But if you can stick to the "Best Bargains" racks and shelves, you'll find amazing prices on nice things. If you're not going in looking for something specific, only look at the Best Bargains, and you'll be amazed at the markdowns and save the most money.

Every store is different, of course. How they're managed and how they're shopped makes a huge impact on the feel of the location, as does where their merchandise comes from, since I assume they're all different and dependent on what's nearby. This location in Owensboro is wonderful. I've now been there twice. Here's a peek at my savings round up from my most recent visit:

This purchase of under $17 included the following--and I promise I'm not exaggerating!
- 2 long sleeve pajama tops for me (0.50 and 0.70)
- 1 pair of jeans for me (0.70)
- 1 winter coat for me (3.50)
- 2 sets of 100% cotton standard pillowcases (2.00, 2.60)
- 1 set of 100% cotton king pillowcases (2.80)
- 6 seasonal items (0.50 each)
- 1 camera case that Pip plans to transform into a lunchbox for her dolls (0.90)

My first visit was nearly as successful, but I didn't share it because I wanted to make sure it wasn't a fluke. After my second trip, I don't think it was.

Do you have a Bargain Hunt near you? Have you ever shopped there? I'd love to hear about your favorite finds!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

November Thing a Day Giveaway Update

At the beginning of November, I shared my plan to find one thing in my home every day that we no longer use, and remove it. We're a couple of weeks into the month, and I'm pleased to report that besides giving myself a little breathing room that I was desiring, I have also made and saved myself some money!

On day one, I listed an item on eBay that had been sitting on my desk for months, waiting for me to do just that. It only took a few minutes to take photos, write a description, and set a price, and it sold that day. Although I knew the rest of the project wouldn't be like that, kicking things off with a little extra cash was fun!

After that, the task started slowly, in Pip's closet. Each day of the first week, I reached in and pulled out something that I knew she could no longer wear. Some items are going to a local assistance center, and a few seldom-worn more formal dresses are going to be sold at a consignment store. One dress that she loves is so battered and stained that I put it into my craft stash; I'm thinking it will find another life as doll clothes.

I moved on to my clothes next. For a couple of days, I pulled out one item that I knew I wouldn't wear any more, either because it didn't fit properly or because it was so worn or stained that I had to wear it under something else. Stipulations on how I can or cannot wear a garment have no room in my life. As I was rummaging through my chest of drawers looking for a top that I wanted to wear, I realized I would save time by just dumping out an entire drawer and sorting the contents into "I still wear this" and "I no longer wear this." It took just a few minutes to pull about 10 items from two drawers that I didn't need to keep. I tried on three of the tops once more, for good measure. All of those are now out of there. The drawers open and close easily and everything inside is something that I currently enjoy wearing. Everything else was either tossed out or is going to the assistance center to be enjoyed by someone else.

I did the same thing in my closet, which took about 20 minutes (I recognize that I don't have a large closet), and besides tidying it up, I discovered a nice stash of health and beauty items that I had forgotten about. So I'll save a little money in the coming weeks and months by not needing to purchase shampoo, soap, razors, deodorant, toothpaste, and so on. We already have it!

Chris recently went through his clothes, and since I make almost all clothing purchases and handle the household laundry, I know where his wardrobe stands. I am not tackling that one this time around.

Other spaces in our house have benefited from a quick clean-out, although the things removed from there were not to share, but rather to discard. These locations include bathroom storage cabinets, our medicine and first aid stash, and the top of the refrigerator. I found several things I had forgotten about in my "gift items purchased for a later date" bin, which will also serve me well in the upcoming holiday season!

Getting started in our school room (which is our formal dining room) has encouraged me to re-imagine the space, and I'm very excited about the potential outcome of that change and how it will affect my peace in the house and our use of the room.

I am joyfully continuing this project and looking forward to seeing how the second half of November plays out.

If you've been doing the same thing, I'd love to hear how it's going! And if you haven't started yet, I invite you to join us today as we bit-by-bit clear our homes of things we no longer use and pass still-good items along to someone who can enjoy or benefit from it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My Little Pony Birthday Party

Pip requested a My Little Pony themed party for her 7th birthday. It was a wonderful celebration!

We utilized our church's gym so that weather would not be a factor. I concentrated decorating efforts on one small area where we served cake and ice cream and where she opened gifts. That's where the majority of photos would be taken anyway, right? She really liked the "official" decorations that we saw in stores, so I purchased a few licensed items: tablecloth, birthday banner, cupcake liners and toppers, and a pack of "dangling spirals" that I disassembled and used in two places. The galvanized serving pieces were borrowed from friends. To these I added solid colored plates, napkins, and cups, and used solid color plastic tablecloths for the backdrop.

The cupcakes were made from a boxed gluten free mix and topped with a simple homemade frosting. We bought ice cream and offered water and pink lemonade. Simple.

I enjoy making decorations, so the guest tables were my chance to get creative. We set up one table inspired by each of the "Mane Six." I clipped the images of each of the ponies from the "dangling spirals" and used them in my centerpieces. Some of the items I had at home, but anything else I needed, I found at the local dollar store. I used binder clips (one of my go-to tools!) to stand them up.

Applejack: orange tablecloth, yellow gift bag filling

Fluttershy: yellow tablecloth, pink patterned scarf, pink Easter grass

 Pinkie Pie: pink tablecloth, pink curling ribbon

Rarity: white tablecloth, squares of purple tablecloth (although cardstock would do), silver sequins, mason jar, purple sparkly tissue paper

Rainbow Dash: blue tablecloth, orange cardstock, rainbow tissue paper twisted together and pushed through the hole in the bottom of an upside down foam koozy

Twilight Sparkle: purple tablecloth, purple tissue paper, pink cardstock for the star, clear plastic jewels, mason jar inside a fleece sock, purple dish towel

Pip wanted party games that all of her guests could enjoy, and she came up with a great list. Again, one was inspired by each of the Mane Six.

One table hosted Rarity's Cutie Mark Design Station and Twilight Sparkle's Friendship (Is Magic) Bracelet Making Booth.

The table that held Applejack's Sweet Apple Acres Barnyard Haybale Stack (hay bales were just kitchen sponges cut into similar shapes and sizes) also contained ponies to play with.

A pinata had been at the top of the party wish list; who better to assign to this party staple than Pinkie Pie?

And, finally, Rainbow Dash's Thunderbolts Obstacle Course was a huge hit!

The cost of the party was, I thought, reasonable. It was cute, and the guests and the birthday girl all had a fabulous time. The fun started for us in the weeks before, as we figured out the details of the event. I'm delighted that Pip loves party planning as much as I do!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Thing a Day Giveaway

Several years ago, I challenged myself to find one thing in my home every day that no longer served me and get rid of it. It could be something to pass along to a friend or family member, something to donate to a charity, something to sell, or something to recycle or throw away.

Some days were easy. I could open a drawer and quickly spot a top that I passed over on three occasions because I didn't like how it looked or felt. Or notice a lone earring the mate of which was long gone. Or find a plastic storage container in the kitchen cabinet that was stained and whose lid didn't quite close any more. Although I didn't strive for more than one thing a day, if I saw multiple items in a single glance that needed to go, they went.

Some days were hard. I would look at a series of items and think, "Well, I might need that if..." or "Maybe I could use that for...." Even on the difficult days, though, I stuck with it and eventually ran across one or more things that could better serve somewhere else.

Some things I found were items that we could truly use and enjoy, but they needed some work to be functional again. I altered a garment or two. I replaced buttons. I repaired jewelry. I framed and hung on the walls art that had been sitting, unappreciated, in a closet.

What I found as things slowly started to trickle out of the house was that it gave me peace. It gave me breathing room that I didn't even realize that I needed. It was freeing to not have to wade through things that were "just ok" for me to find the things I really liked.

The beauty of one thing a day is how little time it takes. It means you don't have to set aside the time to clean out an entire closet, although there are days that you might get energized by your progress and want to do that, and that's great! But if you're consistent with just one thing a day, then by the end of November you will have found 30 items that you don't need and that can better serve elsewhere.

As I mentioned, it's been several years since I followed this approach to slowly clearing the clutter from my home. As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, and I am overwhelmed by all I have to be thankful for, I am reinstating this practice for myself. I don't know how long it will last, but I intend to do it throughout the month of November, at least. I expect it to bring about that same sense of peace, and I look forward to sharing the things that are still good--just not needed in my home--with others who may truly enjoy them.

I challenge you to do the same in your home!