Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ways to be a minimalist with books

I've mentioned before that I am a big reader. I read or listened to 90 books in 2018, which doesn't include the many children's books I also read to my kids. However, I limit the number of books I actually OWN (besides children's books, which I'll talk about in a minute) to just one small shelf.

I know Marie Kondo fans are up in arms about her recommendation to get rid of books, but I agree with her and have been donating unwanted books for years. Here are a few reasons:

  • I have such a huge to-read list that I rarely read books more than once
  • I don't have any built-ins in my home (though they're on my wish list), and I don't like buying bookshelves
  • Books are HEAVY to move around, and I don't want to have to pack them up if we move

I get that books are sentimental for many people, and some people use them for decorating (I'm looking at you, Joanna Gaines and A Beautiful Mess team). However, I'd much rather fill my home with photos and other items that bring me joy than shelves and shelves of books I will never read or even touch.

If you want to start minimizing your book collection, here are a few tips:

  • Only buy books you know you'll read more than once. The biggest way I keep my book collection slim is being REALLY picky about the books I own. I generally only buy books after I've checked them out from the library or borrowed them from someone else. If I decide I loved the book, I usually check eBay or a thrift store for a used copy first before buying it brand-new. I occasionally buy children's books that I haven't read beforehand, but I'll read reviews online or use the "search inside" feature on Amazon to get a feel for whether I'll like it.
  • Don't keep books just because you loved them at one point in your life. I used to love the Baby-Sitters Club books and had quite the collection as a tween. While I sometimes feel nostalgia for those books, I also know that I'm past that stage of life and probably won't make time to track down one and read it. If you think your kids will love a series you liked as a kid, keep only your very favorite books (maybe like the top five) and donate or sell the rest. By the way, I just discovered that Scholastic has reprinted several BSC books, so you can probably find them at the library.
  • Give books to schools or shelters. When I'm attached to books or series I know I'm not going to read again, I feel better giving them to shelters or schools where other people might enjoy them. Children's books are harder for me to donate, so getting them in kids' hands is especially rewarding.
  • Invest in hardcover children's books. I used to get so excited when my kids brought home book orders from preschool, until I realized that most of the books are paperback versions. I will gladly buy paperback novels for myself, especially secondhand, but I also know how to be gentle with my books. Henry and Norah have ripped way too many pages or bent covers while flipping through books in their room. If they love the book, I then have to try to repair it or replace it. The other thing that bugs me about paperback picture books is that the binding is stapled and there is no title on the spine. This makes it impossible for me to find on their shelves. Hardcover books are a better option for kids, in my opinion. Although they can be more expensive, I often find gently used hardcover books on eBay (and sometimes in thrift stores or at yard sales) for about the same price as a brand-new paperback copy. Investing in hardcovers means you'll have to replace fewer books, and they'll look nicer on your shelves.
  • Make a goal to only fill a certain space with books. The bedrooms in our home are really small, so space is at a premium. I've surrounded my kids with books since they were babies, because I think it's important for them to love reading and find stories they love, but I also don't want to cram their rooms with bookshelves. Instead, we bought simple four-cubby storage units from IKEA for each of their rooms. One cubby holds a bin with stuffed animals, and the other cubbies are for books. If I can't fit the books in the cubbies (fortunately this hasn't happened yet), I know it's time to weed through the books and donate the ones they don't look at anymore. I also know I have to get rid of a book if I can't fit it on my single shelf in the office.

Really, my main solution for being a minimalist with books is going to the library more often and, in particular, using the library's Libby app religiously. I've posted about ways to read more in the past, but I think I'll do a separate post about the Libby app and how I get new releases quickly WITHOUT having to buy them.

Stay tuned for that, and let me know if you have more questions or suggestions about paring down your book collection!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ways to be a minimalist with kids' stuff

When my husband and I found out we were having twins, he told me he immediately started seeing dollar signs before his eyes. It's true that having two kids at once certainly costs more (especially with my emergency C-section and then their six-week NICU stay), but I was determined NOT to fill up our home with baby stuff we didn't need and couldn't afford. 

Every pregnancy and child is different, and you may decide some items are must-haves, but here are a few ways I've been able to scale back:

Borrow some gear or wait to buy it

Don't believe all the advice you get from family, friends and even perfect strangers about what you need for your baby. YOU are the parent, and you get to decide what to buy and bring into your home. The following is a list of gear/supplies we did not buy for our babies (but remember, this may not work for you):
  • Bumbos: These overpriced pieces of plastic may be helpful for some parents, but I thought they were ugly and expensive and never wanted one. A friend brought over their old one for us to try, which was nice, but Henry and Norah didn't really like sitting in it. I also read that some pediatricians say it doesn't help your baby develop the abdominal muscles needed to sit on their own. However, I have some friends who love the Bumbo. If you can, borrow one from a friend or get one secondhand to try it out before investing a ton of money.
  • High chairs: Blasphemy, you say? Here's the thing: High chairs take up a ton of space, and most of them are really ugly and a pain to clean. Your baby also grows out of a high chair pretty quickly, and then you have to buy a booster seat or something else for him to sit in. We were also living in a condo with a pretty small kitchen, and two high chairs would have eaten up most of the room. Someone bought us these inexpensive seats from Walmart for a baby shower, and they were awesome. They strap to a kitchen chair or even a folding chair, if that's all you have, and are super easy to clean up. They also fit your kids for a really long time. Henry and Norah sat in these until they were almost three and we decided they could sit up to the table.
  • Swings: I know some people swear by swings, and I've seen many a happy baby falling asleep in a swing, but I don't like the giant amount of floor space they take up. We were gifted a rock 'n' play at a shower, and that was life-changing. It lets your baby recline and gently rock, but it doesn't take up tons of space and folds pretty flat when you're not using it. I wish I could buy every mom one of these.
  • Bouncers: We had one of these for about two weeks, because I bought it secondhand hoping it would help Henry's croup if he was more elevated while sleeping. I don't think it really did, and to me it was another gadget that we didn't really need. I gave it to another mom.
  • Diaper Genies: Dirty diapers are gross, and no one wants to smell them or deal with them, but I thought this gadget was way overpriced and unnecessary. Instead, we would put all the dirty diapers in a small garbage can with a lid and then take the bag out to the dumpster when it was full. When Henry and Norah got bigger and the diapers were bigger, we'd keep the plastic bag  by the door and throw it out whenever we needed to go outside. As a new mom, it was also a chance for me to get some fresh air even just running out to the dumpster (and later, when we bought our house, to the trash can).
  • Walkers: The jury is out on this one. We borrowed an old one from Andrew's mom, and Henry and Norah really loved playing in it, but I hated how much room it took up and all the plastic you had to wipe down when they threw up or it got dirty. I don't think you need this or the plastic toys with wheels that kids push around, but kids do seem to love them.
  • Big baby tubs: You use baby tubs for such a small window of time before your baby can sit up on their own, and the big, bulky plastic tubs take up room you probably don't have in your bathroom. We loved our Puj flyte tub because it was easy to fold and clean and didn't take up a ton of room. It also sat easily in the kitchen sink. Once Henry and Norah were bigger, we bought an inexpensive inflatable duck bath you could deflate and store flat. At about 10 months old, they were fine sitting in the tub on their own.
  • Bassinets: I know some moms want their babies right next to their beds as newborns so they can feed them without having to walk into another room, and a bassinet is great for that. However, your baby will only fit in it for a small amount of time, and then you're stuck with another piece of gear you have to store. I suggest buying a pack 'n' play and having your baby sleep in that in your room instead. Your baby can use the pack 'n' play for a long time, and you can easily fold it and take with you while you travel.
  • Toddler beds: Toddler beds are overpriced and not worth buying, in my opinion, because you'll have to move your child to a bigger bed way too soon. You also have to buy specific toddler sheets and mattresses that then don't fit a twin bed OR a crib. We bought cribs from IKEA with one removable side instead so we could keep the crib mattresses and the crib sheets. Once they were three and too big for the cribs, we bought two twin beds and mattresses that they can hopefully sleep in for years.
If possible, wait to buy some things until after you have your kids and know what they need and what you can't live without. Borrow gear like walkers and swings if you can, and look for secondhand options. If your baby doesn't end up using something, sell or give it away to free up more room in your home.

Use closet space and clear drawers to store clothes

I have always loved cute little dressers for kids' rooms and dreamed at one point of buying a beat-up dresser and having Andrew refinish it and paint it in a fun color (Andrew is definitely the handy one; I'm not much for DIY projects). Then we had twins, and with no space to fit more than two cribs, a changing table, a rocker, and a small storage unit for toys and books, we needed a different solution.

I bought clear stacking drawers (can't find the exact ones, but you get the idea) and stacked three each in Henry and Norah's closets. Pajamas go in the top drawer, shirts go in the middle drawer, and pants go in the bottom drawer. I have separate small cloth bins to keep their underwear and socks in, and they each have another small, clear bin for shoes. Obviously, from this picture, we need to work on folding. :)

There are several reasons I have been really happy with storing clothes/shoes like this:
  • Your kids can see through the bins and quickly learn where to put their folded clothes when you do the laundry.
  • You can tell just by glancing at the bins whether they're stuffed full and you need to go through some clothes.
  • The drawers are cheaper than buying a solid wood dresser.
  • The drawers stay in the closet, so they free up valuable space in the bedroom for other furniture or room to play.
Once Henry and Norah grow out of clothes, I take them out of the drawers and throw away or donate anything that's stained or ripped and can't be worn again. I store the rest of them in bigger clear bins in the basement until I can sell them at an upcoming sale (more on that later).

Make it easy for your kids to put things away

If you are tired of cleaning up your kids' clothes and toys, consider whether you've made it simple to put things away and taught them where things go. Is the dresser too tall or too heavy, making it hard for them to put clothes away? Do you have hooks or low hangers? 

We used to have a small rack in our coat closet hung at kid-level so Henry and Norah could hang their coats and backpacks right when they got home from preschool, but the velcro strips weren't strong enough to hold it and it kept crashing down. I'm trying to figure out a new way to hang it without damaging the door.

Once you make it easier for kids to put things away, it's also easier to figure out what you have too much of and what your kids really don't use or play with.

Use clear bins in different sizes to store toys

My sister and I absolutely loved playing with Barbies while we were growing up, and I have kept a lot of the Barbies and the furniture I had as a kid. Henry and Norah now love playing with it, which means there are constantly tiny shoes, brushes, and other accessories all over the floor. I was storing all of it in one big clear bin until I realized that my kids would dump everything out just to get a pair of shoes or a certain Barbie.

One of the best hacks I ever found on Pinterest had tips on storing Barbie clothes and accessories in different sliding drawers. This seriously changed my life. I got rid of a ton of Barbie furniture and Barbies that were 30 years old and had broken heads, and then I bought a cheap three-drawer unit at Target or Walmart. I put Barbie food and dishes in the top drawer, shoes and accessories in the middle drawer, and clothes in the bottom drawer. I then bought two other small clear bins with lids and put all the Barbies in one and the few pieces of furniture in the other one.

Every family has different toys, so it's hard to give storage recommendations to everyone, but I've been really happy with the IKEA Trofast storage system. We have three of the vertical units with the translucent bins in different sizes, all lined up next to each other. Lincoln logs go in one drawer, all the dress-up clothes go in another, and Matchbox cars go in another. 

Basically, I think it's easier to have a bunch of bins rather than having one toy box to throw everything in. This makes cleanup fast, but your kids will then dump out an entire toy box looking for just one certain toy. You can label them, but since my kids can't read yet, it doesn't make sense for me. I also frequently go through the bins and donate anything my kids haven't played with for a while and then move toys into smaller bins if needed, so I would constantly be relabeling.

Eventually, I would love to have built-ins in our basement to store toys and games in, but that is not in the budget right now. I encourage you to work within the budget you have. We already had most of these bins storing different things throughout our home, and then I got rid of other things and repurposed them for toy storage. Once they're out of the toy phase, a lot of these toys will be donated or sold to someone else who can use them.

Sell or donate your kids' clothes

This is one of the easiest ways to cut down on clutter and save yourself a ton of storage space, and yet I know so many people who are hesitant to do this. I get your hesitation, but below are some reasons I recommend doing this now:
  • There is no guarantee that you will have more children. We probably all know someone who had a child (or children) and then wasn’t able to have more children when she wanted to. I know way too many people in this situation, and it’s heartbreaking. Storing boxes and boxes of your kids’ clothes can only make you feel worse when you can’t have more children.
  • You don’t know when your next child will be born. If you’re lucky enough to have children during the month or season when you planned to have them, congratulations! Unfortunately, most people aren’t that lucky. Even if you do have more children, you don’t know whether your baby will be born in the summer or the dead of winter — which means that one baby’s rompers and shorts may be way too big or small for the next baby born in a different season.
  • You can’t predict your child’s gender. Unless you bought only gender-neutral clothes for your child (which is not realistic), some of the clothes you’re storing will not work for your next baby.
  • You have no idea how quickly your children will grow. I have twins, and even as babies they were often in different sizes. Henry ended up needing 6- to 12-month onesies when Norah was still wearing 3- to 6-month clothes. There’s no way to know what sizes your baby will wear or how fast they’ll grow out of certain outfits.
  • Children’s clothing styles change without warning. Right now, everyone puts their babies in leggings and skinny jeans. Not that long ago, little girls were running around in flare-leg jeans. And when I was little, I wore overalls ALL THE TIME, and I rarely see kids in overalls now. You may not think you’ll care and just put your kids in the clothes anyway, but trust me. You’ll open up a box of your kids’ clothes and wonder why you ever bought a certain outfit.
  • You can earn money back now. Kids’ clothes may be cheaper when they’re tiny, but you still spend a fortune on clothes at that age because they grow so quickly and stain everything with poop or vomit. Selling your kids’ clothes right after they grow out of them helps you recoup some of the cost and ensures that they don’t go out of style before you dig them out of the box.
  • You can help people in need. While I sell most of my twins’ clothes at sales for different charitable organizations (like the Salt Lake Mothers of Twins group or the Hilltop Methodist church), I also donate a few things to the homeless shelter or thrift stores. I would much rather give clothes and toys to people who can use them now than have them sit in my basement to go through later.
By the way, I’m not suggesting you get rid of ALL your kids’ clothes. I kept the pajamas Henry and Norah came home from the NICU in and several of my favorite outfits (especially Christmas and Easter clothes). I also think it’s a great idea to hold on to onesies and pants that work for both genders if you’re having more children. Figure out what works for your family, but consider selling or donating clothes that you may never use again.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

5 things you can do right now to tidy up

I think one of the reasons many people have qualms about practicing minimalism is that going through your belongings can take forever. If you have a garage packed full of stuff, this is true, but you can make small changes that don't take much time and make a huge impact. Try one of these five ideas this week when you have an hour or two. I promise you will notice a difference in your home.

Get rid of your movie cases

One of the simplest ways to tidy up a messy console or shelf in your family room is to recycle all the DVD and Blu-ray cases and put all the discs in one big zippered CD holder. Andrew and I did this years ago when we were first married and living in a small condo, and it was life-changing. You don't have to keep track of cases or worry about your kids stepping on them and breaking them, and you save so much space. We got rid of an entire bookshelf years ago when we did this.

What to do:
  •  First, put all your movies in one room and go through them. Ask yourself when you last watched it and whether you even like it anymore. In today's Netflix and digital world, you may not need to hang onto some movies. Donate or sell all the movies you no longer need. Donate all VHS tapes as well, especially if you don't even have a working VCR. While it may seem tempting to keep these and transfer them to digital copies, this can be costly and take a lot of time. Ask yourself if it's really worth it.
  • Throw away any discs that are bent, broken, or scratched.
  • Buy a big zipper case (depending on how many movies you own) and slip all your movies into the sleeves. I alphabetize mine so it's easier to find certain movies, but you could also organize them by genre or season (if you have lots of Christmas movies, for example).

Stop keeping the boxes things come in

I always laugh when I see people selling a used iPhone or pair of shoes in the original box. There's no point keeping the original box unless you plan to take something back brand-new because you don't need it anymore. If you're keeping your phone box or any other box something came in, go through your home and recycle it immediately. You'll find you have extra space already.

Go through that box of cords in the closet

I remember reading once that everyone has a box of cords and chargers in a box in the closet that they're afraid to get rid of, and it made me laugh out loud. It's so true! Keep the phone charger, maybe put an extra one in your glove box, and then get rid of any cords you don't recognize or that go to phones or electronics you don't have anymore. You probably won't need them later.

Give away your college textbooks

If you actually use the textbooks you bought in college regularly, you can disregard this one. However, I know very few people who read them again, and they go out of date pretty quickly. If you have a dictionary or an encyclopedia lying around, get rid of this, too. That's what Google is for.

Donate all the duplicates you know about

Andrew just bought a brand-new bathroom scale that's supposed to tell you your BMI and weight. This means that the old bathroom scale will be donated tomorrow. If you got a brand-new TV or blender or really anything for Christmas, put the extra items in a box and take it to a thrift store or someone who needs it. There are very few things you need to keep two of in your home.

There are many more ways you can unclutter your home, but these are some quick ways to make an impact in just a few hours. What tips do you have that take a short time to implement?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

5 ways to be a minimalist this year

It all began in 2003, when I read the book The Gospel According to Larry, a fictional story about a teen who only has 75 total possessions and is committed to living a minimalist, anti-consumerism life. While I certainly don’t limit myself to 75 possessions (I have a love for cardigans that makes this impossible), I do try to limit the amount of things I hold onto and bring into my home. I’ve found that doing this makes me happier, keeps my home cleaner, and brings a spirit of gratitude for what I do have. Here are five tips for becoming a minimalist this year.

Stop accepting free stuff

We all love to hear that something is free, even if it’s not REALLY free (like those BOGO deals where the shirt really ends up being 25% off and you have to buy two of them). Each time I start a new job, I get a swag bag with stuff like branded inflatable beach balls, mouse pads, notebooks, and cups. I appreciate the gesture, but I don’t need this stuff on my desk or in my home. It’s the same with t-shirts they give out at company-sponsored events or the water bottles set on your desk during employee appreciation week: You don’t need them.

What to do:
  • Immediately put all the swag you get that you’ll never use in a bag and donate it to a homeless shelter or thrift store. I fortunately live near several places like this and can drop them off on my way home from work.
  • Politely decline if someone is ordering t-shirts or other gear for an event and asks for your size. You obviously can’t do this if you need to wear branded clothes to represent your company, but you CAN do it if it’s a company gift.
  • Walk through a benefits or wellness fair only to get information, not to scoop up new pens or booklets or handouts about life insurance (which brings me to my next point).

Use your phone instead of paper

One of the biggest things I do to keep clutter away is avoiding paper whenever I can. This is a bit of a paradox, because I am a writer and drool over pretty notebooks and journals at Target (but I tell myself it’s OK to look at them, not buy them). I email agendas whenever I can, I try not to print talks or lessons out unless I absolutely have to (that’s what tablets and apps are for), and I rarely take notes on paper, other than jotting down groceries we need on a magnetic paper pad on the fridge. Avoiding paper helps you eliminate the piles of things to sort through on your counter, and it’s also better for the environment.

What to do:
  • Put appointments in the calendar in your phone instead of taking an appointment reminder card that you’ll probably lose anyway (or forget about).
  • Take a photo of your kids’ school schedule and put reminders of important dates in your phone so you don’t have to keep a flyer. If possible, avoid taking the paper at all.
  • Encourage people who are used to getting paper copies to accept emails or texts instead so you don’t have to print documents off and store them.
  • Take photos of receipts you need to keep, and immediately recycle the paper.

Sign up for paperless statements and recycle all paper

There are not enough words to convey how much I despise junk mail and unnecessary notifications. Andrew left his job at the bank more than three years ago, and we continue to get letters from them several times a month (sometimes weekly) about his (no-longer-active) benefits or about passwords that were changed. I have been on a crusade to eliminate junk mail for several years now. I have emailed companies and asked them to stop sending unsolicited coupons and catalogues. I’ve even called to have our address removed from mailing lists. It has made some difference, but we still get way more junk mail than I would like.

One way you can put a stop to this is by signing up for e-statements at your bank and for all your utilities, if you haven’t already. Many insurance companies also offer e-statements and send you paper only if a bill is due. This is not only better for the environment, but it protects you against identity theft and fraud as well.

The other habit I’ve put in place is immediately sorting through the mail when it comes and putting anything I don’t need in the recycling bin. I actually do this while I’m still outside the house so I don’t even bring the extra paper inside (although I am less likely to do this in January, because it’s freezing and I normally just sprint to the mailbox).

What to do:
  • Stop saving envelopes. If you need to save a friend’s new address, open up contacts in your phone and type it in there. Then recycle the envelope immediately.
  • Recycle cards after you read them. It’s nice to send thank-you cards (and I believe you should still send handwritten cards for certain occasions), but once you’ve read the message, you don’t need to keep it. I also recycle Christmas cards once the holidays are over.
  • Make a “kind things” notebook for things you don’t want to forget. I have a composition notebook in which I write down compliments I’ve received or sometimes glue in pieces of cards or recognition from work. It’s fun to look back on memories and is a good way to hold on to nice words without actually keeping all the paper.

Don’t feel guilty about getting rid of gifts

Christmas just ended, and you probably got something you don’t really need or want. It is OK to get rid of it. Let me say that again for emphasis: It is OK to get rid of it. I rarely remember what I gave someone as a gift more than six months ago, and your friend/parent/cousin/aunt probably won’t remember either. You are in charge of what you bring into your home, and if a certain gift does not fit in your life, exchange it, sell it, regift it (obviously to someone who could really use it), or donate it. This applies not only to holidays but every time you receive a gift.

And if you’re one of those people who asks friends how they’re enjoying the gift you gave them five years ago or give people weird things like ice cream cone makers (we actually got one for our wedding), you need to reevaluate your gifting policy. If you want to get rid of your unwanted gifts guilt-free, let other people do that, too.

What to do:
  • Sell, return, or donate gifts you don't want as soon as possible after you receive them. If you don't want something now, you're not going to want it six months from now.
  • Don't keep things just because a loved one gave them to you. It's one thing to keep a family heirloom, but it's another thing entirely to keep a set of books you'll never read just because they belonged to your grandpa.
  • Get rid of your kids' unwanted gifts, too. If your great-grandma gives your baby a stuffed animal every time she sees him, you don't have to feel obligated to keep it. You can start teaching your kids about giving away what you don't need at an early age.

Stop keeping things because you might be able to sell them one day

We’ve all paid too much for something we really wanted at the time and then rarely or never used it. Holding on to that treadmill or those albums or the Star Wars action figures just because you might use them or because they’re “worth a lot of money” isn’t going to bring your cash or your time back. Some things, like Star Wars memorabilia, may actually be worth money, but most of the stuff you’re holding onto probably isn’t.

Rather than keeping a pile of stuff, try selling it — but give yourself a deadline. List an item on Facebook Marketplace, your local classifieds website, or eBay for 30 days. Commit to lowering the price or promoting it online for those 30 days to try to recoup some of your money. Once the 30 days are over, though, donate whatever you didn’t sell.

What to do:
  • Take gently used clothing to places like Plato’s Closet or Kid to Kid. You won’t get as much money here as you would by selling them on a classifieds site, but this is a way to get a little cash back.
  • Pay attention to seasons when selling. If you list that brand-new swimsuit in October, you probably aren’t going to sell it (or you’ll make basically nothing).
  • Give yourself permission to just donate unwanted belongings. Selling can be exhausting, especially if people want to haggle or don’t show up to purchase something. If you’re not sure whether you’ll make any money or just don’t want the hassle, it’s fine to just donate your belongings instead.

I have a million more things to write about this topic, but hopefully this helps you jumpstart your journey toward being more of a minimalist this year!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Nine ways to fit reading into your schedule -- and enjoy it

I have read 21 books this year, and it’s only June. I say that not to brag but because I am so proud that I’ve been able to make time to read this year — and I want to make sure you know you can make time, too.

When I was growing up, I was always reading. I was one of those kids who stayed inside to look at books while everyone else went out to play during recess. As an adult, though, I found it much harder to make time to read. I was burned out during college (when I had to read 30 young adult fiction books during a 13-week semester), and I couldn’t seem to find books that appealed to me. I was “too old” for young adult novels (or so I thought) and didn’t seem to like most of the adult fiction either.

Now, 12 years after high school, I feel like I’ve finally found my groove again and discovered
  • How to find books I will actually like
  • How to make time to read
  • How to challenge myself to read more
If you’re like me and you want to read more but don’t know how to fit it into your life — or what to read — these tips can help.

Sign up for Goodreads

The best thing I did when I was trying to get back into the habit of reading was signing up for a Goodreads account. I wish I would have done this a LONG time ago, back when the company first started (2006!).

If you don’t already have an account (and I’ve been surprised lately to learn that many of my friends don't), here are some of the benefits:
  • Connecting with real-life friends and seeing what they’re currently reading or have read
  • Keeping track of what you’ve read and want to read
  • Writing and reading book reviews
  • Getting notifications about new books from your favorite authors
  • Finding recommendations on books you might like
One of the biggest game changers for me with Goodreads, though, is the annual reading challenge. It’s really simple. You just set a goal for the number of books you want to read that year (my 2017 goal is 36) and then watch as you get closer to achieving the goal with every book you read. If you’re really competitive (I’m not), you can see what your friends have listed in their reading challenges and try to match them. This is the first year I’ve had such an aggressive goal, but I feel confident I can make it.

Oh, and if you’re already a Goodreads member, make sure you download the app for your phone. I love logging in and recording books as I finish them and watching my progress. It also helps me keep track of my huge running list of “to-reads” so I can pick the next book I want to start on.

Embrace the ebook

I have to admit that I was skeptical when the Kindle and Nook first came out. I wanted to have physical books in my hands to read, and I felt like ebooks were the beginning of the end of books as we know it. I am happy to admit I was very wrong.

Most of the books I read now are ebooks, and I have grown to love them — in some ways more than their paper counterparts. I’ve discovered that if you want to read more, ebooks are the key. Here’s why I love ebooks:
  • You can download them to a phone or tablet and read them anywhere — which prevents you from wasting time on Facebook while you’re at the doctor’s office.
  • You don’t have to make a trip to the library to check out and return them (which is a big win when you have little kids)
  • They’re environmentally friendly
I used to download books to my iPad and read them, but now I just read them on my phone. It takes a little bit to adjust to reading a book on such a small screen, but I don’t like packing my tablet on the train to work, so I’ve learned to make it work. And since you take your phone everywhere, it means you always have a book you can pull up and read when you have down time.

Download the Overdrive app

While I know some people have Kindle subscriptions or simply buy ebooks they want to read and download them to their tablet, I am a) cheap and b) very picky about the books I buy. If it’s not a book I know I want to read again, I don’t buy it. I actually have very few physical books in my home, and the ones I do have are those I’ve read at least twice (the Anne of Green Gables series, the Harry Potter series, The Lovely Bones and Pride and Prejudice).

If you’re like me and you don’t want to buy books or spend money on a subscription, the Overdrive app is for you. You connect to your favorite libraries, search for ebooks or audiobooks, and download them right to your phone or tablet. When you’ve finished the book, you can either tap and return them to the library or let the app return it automatically when it’s due.

Since the Overdrive app is basically an electronic version of your public library, you can also put holds on books that aren’t available. They are then automatically checked out to you once they become available. Another kind of weird thing I like about ebooks is that you know exactly how many pages you have left in each chapter. It helps you keep going when you realize “Oh, I only have five pages left before I reach a stopping point.”

Take advantage of audiobooks

Audiobooks are a fantastic way to plow through a ton of books without physically sitting down with a novel. They also let you squeeze reading in during small increments of time, like driving to pick up your kids from school, heading to the grocery store or even running on a treadmill.

An Audible subscription is a great investment if you love audiobooks and spend a lot of time on the road. As I mentioned before, though, I am cheap and don’t want to pay for a subscription -- so I check out audiobooks from the library through the Overdrive app instead.

If you're new to audiobooks, try listening to a memoir or a shorter book narrated by the author first. I loved Lauren Graham's Talking as Fast as I Can, which she narrated, and several friends have recommended Jim Gaffigan's books on audio (though I've only read them, not listened to them). Mitch Albom's Tuesdays With Morrie is amazing on audio as well.

One trick you might not know about is speeding up the audio to listen to the book faster. It sounds ridiculous at first, but once you try it, the normal speed on audio books will seem SO SLOW.

Don't waste time on books you don't love

We've all seen those lists of the top 50 books you must read before you die and felt guilty about not having read those classics everyone swears by. But life is too short to read books you don't like. Once you're out of high school and college and not forced to read a book for a class, you aren't obligated to read things that bore you.

There are some classics I love, like most of Jane Austen's books, Les Miserables, and The Count of Monte Cristo. And then there are other books I suffered through that I really didn't enjoy -- but I kept reading them because I felt like I had to read them. I despised Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. I spent way too long reading Kurt Vonnegut because people raved about Slaughterhouse-Five, and I hated that book. I did not enjoy The Old Man and the Sea (though I loved Hemingway's short stories).

The point is, YOU get to decide what you want to read. I try to push myself and read different things, but I also give myself the freedom to return a book if it doesn't capture my attention. Which brings me to my next point...

Stick to what you enjoy

I have always been firmly rooted in reality and never liked fantasy. While my siblings were voraciously reading the Wheel of Time series and Lord of the Rings, I was enjoying historical fiction and nonfiction. In fact, I think the Harry Potter series is the furthest I've delved into fantasy -- and I can only handle those books because they're set in a real world.

Do I limit myself by not reading fantasy? Of course. And I understand the appeal of fantasy, of escaping into a different world. But I discovered long ago that I didn't like fantasy (or sci-fi or dramatic romance), so I avoid those books. I have skipped book club meetings when I had no interest in the book, and I think everyone should do the same. If you're not passionate about something, don't read it! Your time is important.

I'm not saying you shouldn't try new things. I have read a few books I didn't expect to like that really surprised me. But if you're trying to get back into reading after a long hiatus, it's important to start out with books you're interested in so you don't lose momentum.

Follow book bloggers or become friends with a book lover

Some people love to browse the library or bookstore for a book that strikes their fancy. While there is something relaxing about walls of books, it's also overwhelming for me -- and it's probably going to be really overwhelming if you haven't read books consistently for a while.

Rather than wandering with a few ideas about what you like, I recommend following a book blogger with similar interests. I've followed Janssen at Everyday Reading for years now, and I've never read a book she's recommended that I didn't like. She has little kids, too, so she often recommends picture books that I check out for Henry and Norah.

I like Janssen because she is completely honest about the books she reads. She'll give you a description of the plot, talk about what she liked, and even warn you if a story (or part of it) may be off-putting. She also puts summer reading guides together, which I find immensely helpful. I follow Janssen on Goodreads as well and often add books to my "to-read" list when she recommends them.

Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy is also a great book blogger, and I've gotten many suggestions for new books to read from her. And Amy at Sunlit Pages reviews mainly children's books, and I love seeing what she's reading or checking out for her five boys.

If you don't want to follow a book blogger or can't find one you identify with, find a friend who loves to read and has similar tastes. I like to ask friends for recommendations, and I really like to ask people I've just met what their favorite book is. It tells you a lot about that person.

Put books on hold immediately

If you get stressed out and aren't ready to commit a ton of time to reading yet, I don't recommend this one. However, one of the ways I challenge myself to read more is by putting several books on hold at the library when they're not available. If the waiting list is huge (I had to wait about three months to get my hands on Talking as Fast as I Can), this isn't usually a problem. It's just a way of ensuring you get to read the book when it's back in the library.

If the book unexpectedly comes back early, though, you may suddenly end up with three or four books at a time that you have to read quickly because the demand is high and you can't renew them. During the past month, I had four ebooks to work through on my phone and then two more hard copies that I actually picked up from the library. Luckily I was able to renew one of them, but I had to plow through the others pretty fast.

It's fun to have a stack of books you know you get to read, because you immediately have something else to start on once you finish one book. It also helps you push yourself and carve out time during the day to read when you know your books are due.

Make reading an important part of your day

I believe there are seasons of life, and you will have more time to yourself during certain seasons than you will in others. When Henry and Norah were newborns, I didn't make time for reading. I ended up falling asleep when I would try to focus on words, and I had to learn how to reorganize my time. I now have more time to read because they're older and because I spend about an hour total on the train commuting to and from work.

Even if you think you don't have time to read, though, I promise that you can carve out chunks of time if you're really committed to it. If you spend 10 minutes scrolling through Facebook or Instagram each morning when you first wake up, download an ebook that you can read instead and hide the social media apps if you have to. Listen to an audiobook while you're getting ready in the morning or while you're working out. Limit your Netflix time to an hour a day (or less) and read when you'd otherwise be watching TV.

If reading is important to you, you'll make time for it -- but hopefully these tips are helpful! And if you have a fantastic book you've read lately, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

22 months

Henry and Norah are becoming more and more fun every day. I am loving this age so much and seeing what they'll learn to do next. Here's what they were up to at 22 months.


  • Weighs 28 pounds and continues to get taller (now tall enough to look out our front window without tiptoeing)
  • Loves to say "EIEIO" (the chorus of "Old McDonald") over and over
  • Has been talking and listening so much better since getting his ear tubes and says "chee" (for cheese), "sna" (for snack), "bobble" (bottle), hi and bye, "Jay" (for Jake and the Neverland Pirates) and "Ba-dah" (for grandpa)
  • Is very snuggly currently and cries when I leave the daycare after visiting him and Norah
  • Absolutely loves cutie oranges and snarfed down three by himself the other day
  • Has begun to fold his arms, close his eyes and bow his head during prayers
  • Loves to carry his blanket around and wrap it around his shoulders after he wakes up
  • Hates to wear socks and pulls them off every chance he gets
  • Got his first haircut the Sunday before Easter and now looks much older
  • Wears 24-month and 2T shirts and pajamas but still drowns in 18-month pants
  • Loves to go outside and wander around the neighborhood with us
  • Is still terrified of dogs and, we discovered at their Easter pictures, now bunnies
  • Has to push the button on the stereo to turn on music before he goes to sleep
  • Is still obsessed with shutting doors but now likes to play in the pantry and try to shut himself in there
  • Says "bye" along with Norah whenever I'm talking on the phone and about to hang up
  • Likes to unzip things, especially his jacket when we're going outside
  • Has learned to climb up the changing table and will soon be climbing out of his crib
  • Loves watching Little Baby Bum singalong videos with Norah and dancing to them
  • Holds his toy cell phone up to his ear all the time so he can hear the music and dance to it
  • Likes to play with our old keyboard and mouse and gets mad whenever Norah has it
  • Weighs 23 pounds and is nearly as tall as Henry
  • Wears 18- and 24-month clothes, but some 24-month clothes are way too big
  • Loves to stomp around the house in her shoes when we're getting ready to go in the morning
  • Anxiously waits for Andrew to get home so she can run in and say "Hi!" when he opens the door (and "It's dada!")
  • Loves stuffed animals, dolls and her gloworm, all of which she calls "babies"
  • Has learned to say "no" to everything, including wearing headbands or bows, eating more food, having her diaper changed and putting on pajamas
  • Comes to us and says "poop" when she poops in her diaper (and also likes to say it when she isn't poopy)
  • Puts her sunglasses on immediately when we get in the car and then pulls them down on her nose when we talk to her
  • Loves bananas and asks for a "nana" whenever she sees one on the counter
  • Has very fine, straight hair and unfortunately pulls her little pigtails out because she doesn't like them (which means it's usually messy)
  • Loves to shut doors like Henry does and play with the closet doors
  • Is completely obsessed with buckles and has to snap the buckle together on her booster seat and Henry's multiple times whenever they're done eating (and then says "Mama!" until I unbuckle it for her to do it again)
  • Has been chatting nonstop, saying "guy" (referring to her favorite Little People figures), "ball," "chee" (for cheese), "peas" (for please) and "cow" in addition to telling everyone hi and bye
  • Likes to call Andrew "daddo" and has gotten Henry to say it, too
  • Is a daredevil and loves climbing up steps and going down the slide
  • Picks up hairs, threads and crumbs all the time from the floor and hands them to me
  • Also likes to take her socks off and stuff them in the phone holder of their little play kitchen
  • Still loves necklaces and puts them on whenever she finds them
  • Really likes going swimming and even went down the water slide all by herself, then twice with me holding her
  • Says "wa?" every time we open the car door so she can get down and walk into a store or into daycare
We're already planning a party for Henry and Norah next month. It's hard to believe they've been ours for nearly two years now -- and at the same time, it's hard to believe they weren't always with us.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

21 months

Late to the game, since Henry and Norah turned 22 months old on March 6, but I'm trying to squeeze in what they were up to last month. Here's a look back at 21 months:


  • Weighs 28 pounds and has gotten quite a bit taller since his 18-month checkup, judging by how his pants fit
  • Is back to his happy old self since getting his ear tubes on February 16 and smiles and giggles much more now
  • Loves to be chased around the house by Norah, Andrew or me
  • Hates to wear socks now and constantly pulls them off and carries them around the house (or hides them downstairs)
  • Has learned to climb up his changing table to grab things, which means climbing out of the crib will be next
  • Is obsessed with bananas and says NANA! whenever he sees one
  • Loves to open and close doors and gets mad if he doesn't get to close the basement door when we go upstairs
  • Is babbling up a storm now and saying "bobble" (bottle), "chee" (cheese), "please," "bye-bye, dada," "gaga" (cracker) and "sna" (snack)
  • Likes dancing to music in his crib and listening to the songs on Jake and the Never Land Pirates
  • Still loves books and has crumpled several Dr. Seuss books he's flipped through
  • Likes to play outside on his new slide or with the Cozy Coupe and becomes furious when he has to come back inside
  • Wears mainly 24-month clothes but still fits into 18-month pants and some 18-month shirts
  • Has strawberry-blonde curly hair that needs a trim (but I can't bring myself to cut it yet)
  • Weighs 23 pounds and is almost as tall as Henry
  • Wears mostly 18-month clothes but still wears some 12-month hoodies and pants
  • Loves to grab shoes and jackets when she knows we're going to go outside
  • Has unfortunately started to hit and shove us and Henry, so we're working on that
  • Loves all things girly, especially my necklaces, and really likes to play dress-up
  • Has become a really picky eater and is basically existing on PB&J sandwiches, bananas and cheese
  • Gets excited to go to nursery at church and play with the slide and doll strollers
  • Has really bad eczema on her face now, but we're working on it with a steroid cream
  • Loves to be chased around the house with Henry and sit on the ledge of the shower with him
  • Is talking a lot and trying to say "sorry," "amen," "cow" and "book" (among other words like "mama" and "dada")
  • Likes watching Jake with Henry and dancing to the music and says "Uh-oh!" immediately when the show ends and she doesn't hear music anymore
  • Is finally starting to get thick enough hair to wear a barrette in it but loves wearing headbands, too
  • Loves to "read" books to herself and flip through the pages and babble about what's happening
I just adore these two and feel so blessed to be their mom and watch them grow up together. Life is good.