Clean out your child’s “idea box.”

Christmas is coming.  My preschooler has tons of toys, books, crayons, etc., and she will inevitably get more toys, books, crayons, etc. for the upcoming holiday.  So I decided to use the next week or so to clean out her stuff.  And it’s Saturday, so I opted to start with something simple.

My daughter watches “Creative Gallaxy” on Amazon, and that show encourages kids to have an “idea box,” which is basically a box of scrap items to craft with.  My daughter’s idea box had mostly oatmeal canisters, wrapping paper and other cardboard tubes, and Pringles canisters in it.  And these had all been hanging around for a year or more.

So I decided to declutter the idea box.  I discarded all but two of the oatmeal canisters, one of the Pringles canisters, and two of the tubes in recycling–and then something strange happened!  My daughter discarded the rest in our recycling canister herself!  We still eat oatmeal; my husband still eats Pringles chips and work; and I will use more wrapping paper this Christmas.  We can replenish the items later if necessary, but in the meantime, we’ve cleaned out clutter.

Now I need to figure out what to do with the plastic crate that was holding these items.  (Coming soon!)

So if your child has an “idea box,” declutter it today.  Get rid of things that have been hanging around unused for a while.  And decide whether you can replenish the items you have left at some point in the future.

Time required:  5 minutes.

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Bonus task: Create a holiday planner.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas–and especially if you go “all in”–you know these holidays can be stressful.  So before the holidays get into full swing, grab a binder or a folder and create a holiday planner.  I have five dividers in mine:

  • Tips:  I make notes in this section immediately after Christmas, ones that I will never remember the next year if I don’t put them in writing.  For example, I bought my daughter’s Christmas pajamas for 2017 in December 2016.  I needed a reminder; otherwise, she would have ended up with two pairs.  And while that isn’t a catastrophe, I do want to be a good steward of our Christmas budget.
  • Calendar:  In November, I make a calendar that includes “bucket list” items such as a local church’s living nativity, the night we will go view Christmas lights, the local symphony’s Christmas concert, etc.  I don’t discard the previous year’s calendar until I make sure I’ve transferred everything over with its current-year date.  Otherwise, I could miss a tradition.  I’m that scatter-brained some days.
  • Cards:  I have a list of all persons to whom I send Christmas cards as well as their addresses.
  • Gifts:  I keep a list of everyone we are buying gifts for, what the budget is for each person, and any gift ideas I have.
  • Menu:  I keep menu ideas and trial recipes for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.  I also have a “Twelve Days of Baking” calendar that I’ll tell you more about later.

Include whatever sections or pages that are relevant to you.  Figure out how you can use a planner to make your holidays easier.  Then incorporate those ideas.

Time required:  30 minutes to update mine this year in January.  I spent about 90 minutes creating my holiday planner in 2011, and that time included looking up the current addresses for all of our family members and loved ones.

Bonus task: Get your flu shot (if your doctor recommends getting it).

If you’re an anti-vaxxer, stop reading right now, and go on about your day.  But if you typically just forget to get yours (or get sick in October and stay sick through December and cannot get yours), put a note on your calendar to remind yourself to get your flu shot.

Apparently studies have claimed that getting the flu shot too early can be bad.  And I’m not a medical provider, so talk to your doctor and find out if and when you should get the flu shot.  And then follow his or her directions.

Again, I’m not a medical provider.  And I’m not giving you medical advice.

But seriously, I had the flu in 2015, and I lost days of time because of it.

Time required:  2 hours, but that included travel time and an actual trip to the doctor for another purpose, too.

Sort through paper products.

Monday is Memorial Day.  While it is a solemn holiday, it is considered the kick-off to the barbecue and cook-out season.  So today, sort through your paper products.  Take inventory of your paper plates, plastic cups, plastic silverware, and paper napkins.  Don’t buy more this summer if you don’t need to.

I actually did this about a month before my preschooler’s birthday this year.  I realized that I had white plates, black plates, white and black damask plates, pink plates, and red plates, all from my preschooler’s previous birthday parties.  (I also had red Christmas-themed cups and plastic Solo cups and a slew of white paper napkins.)  And then I didn’t buy any paper products for her birthday this year because I had enough that matched the theme we went with.

One more thing:  If you can avoid using paper and plastic disposable products, please do so.  Not only are reusable products better for the environment than disposable products, but also you can save money over the life of the reusable products.  I bought some gorgeous melamine, dishwasher-safe plates and bowls earlier this year from Big Lots for $2.50 each, and I love them.

Time required:  Less than 5 minutes.

Donate items you no longer need/want.

It may not feel like it in your neck of the woods, but today is the first day of spring!  It’s time for spring cleaning.  But let’s start by getting some things out of our homes first!  Some people declutter but never actually get their items out the door.  We’re going to work on this very task this week.  Then next week, we’ll do a little spring cleaning!

Having donations boxes sitting in your garage for extended periods of time is a bad idea because you may ultimately decide you want to keep something you had already decided to donate.

So today, I urge you to donate those items that you decided to donate.  Get them out of the house.

We typically take the standard deductions on our taxes, but just in case we have a year in which itemizing is a good idea, I take pictures of everything donated, and I get receipts.  So the first thing I do when I finally donate items is to take pictures of everything I’m donating.  I don’t do anything fancy.  I just put the item on my dark walnut dining room table in natural light, and I take a picture with my iPhone or iPad.

Then I upload the pictures to my Dropbox account into a file named “Donations.”  I create a subfolder giving more details about the donation:  “Disabled American Veterans, donated 2017.02.21,” for example.  After I’ve uploaded the pictures to this subfolder, I delete them from my phone, and I delete the deleted pictures.  (I need all the space on my phone I can get!)  Why do I take pictures of the items?  First, I like to have a record just in case we ever get audited.  I really don’t know that the pictures help, but I feel better about having the pictures, especially if I’m donating a lot of stuff in a particular year (as I did the year we downsized from a three-bedroom house to a small two-bedroom apartment).  Second, I feel as though I am more easily able to part with items with sentimental value as long as I have a picture of the items.

If I donate something that could harm the person inventorying the donations, I make a note on the outside of the bag.  For example, I recently donated steak knives.  I placed them in Hefty freezer bags, then wrapped them in a reusable shopping bag, then put this note on the outside.

Finally, take your items to be donated, and get a donation receipt.  I scan the receipt when I return home, then put it with my current-year tax paperwork.

One more thing:  Talk to the person taking donations and ask about items that the thrift store doesn’t want.  For example, one of the thrift stores closest to my home does not accept more than five books at a time because they have so many.  (I broke up my John Grisham collection into several donations a couple of years ago for this reason.)  At least in my area, even ragged clothes can be used; Goodwill shreds them, and the Navy buys them for use as rags on the ships here.  So I donate items liberally.  But do keep in mind that items such as irreparably broken toys and puzzles with missing pieces are best sent to the trash.

Time required:  Less than an hour including driving time, but the time required depends on how many items you are taking to be donated and where the donation center is in relation to your home.

Organize your scarves.

You should have sorted through your scarves yesterday.  Today, you’ll need to organize them.  Maybe you just have one and you have a hook on your closet door to store it on.  But if you’re like me and you have more than a few scarves, you’ll need another way to organize them.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m cheap, so I tried just hanging them on a hanger for years.  They were constantly falling off even non-slip hangers.  I ultimately bought two scarf organizer hangers on clearance for around $5 from Burlington Coat Factory, and now all of my scarves are organized in one visible place–and I can move the hanger to the back of the closet during the summer.

If you’d like some different ideas for organizing your scarves, check out my Pinterest board on the topic:

Time required:  I spent quite a bit of time in stores searching for a good organizer, but just five minutes organizing the scarves after I found it.  Your mileage may vary, obviously, depending on the number of scarves you have and how you decide to store and organize them.

Sort through your scarves.

I’m sure that some of you have no scarves, but even though I lived in Florida for most of my life, I have a lot of them.  However, I typically look back in the spring and realize that I did not wear all of them during the winter season.  So in the interest of decluttering, I will need to donate or sell the ones I do not wear.  This is one of the harder decluttering tasks for me because I truly love my scarves.  But if I don’t wear them, they are simply wasting space.

So today, spend some time decluttering your scarves if you have them.

Time required:  Five minutes.  And yes, I did decide to donate one scarf.  My uncle’s ex-wife bought it for me when I was in high school, she has been particularly vicious to him since their separation and subsequent divorce–oh, and it’s too short.  🙂