Updating and Improving Our Living Space to Make us Love it Again

Our house was starting to bug us! Or at least, certain parts of it were. We really want our present home to be our ‘forever home’ so this was not a good feeling. So… my husband and I decided to reassess the way the living space in our home is utilised, to spot opportunities to help it meet our needs better and feel more positively about it.

Since moving to our current home five years ago with one toddler, we have given little thought as to whether the various living spaces still work for our family as it has grown to include three kids. I wonder: how many of us simply move into a home, fill the space haphazardly with our existing furniture with little forethought as to how well it does (or doesn’t) suit or fit that space? Probably even fewer of us periodically review how well the current setup meets our needs as our families grow and shrink.

The Kitchen Dining Area

First we cast a critical eye over the kitchen. The dining area was the part that bugged me most about this room. The large rectangular table fitted well in our former home where it resided in a large separate dining room, but in our current kitchen diner it has never fitted or looked quite right. If someone was taking something out of the fridge or freezer it left little space for people to pass by, yet there wasn’t quite enough space for the table to be turned the other way either. See the pic below:

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After visiting someone’s home that had a round kitchen table my brain started whirring. For some reason, a small round table seems more functional and cosy as well as lending itself better to a small space. I picked up a bargain second hand one locally which has the advantage of being extendable as and when we need it to. The tall black faux leather chairs never meshed well in our informal kitchen and were heavy and bulky for our young kids to push in and out. I’m delighted with the grey plastic wipe-clean chairs we replaced them with which suit a kitchen diner far better.

We finished off the look with a grey polka dot oilskin tablecloth which is easy to wipe clean.

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What do you think? Each time I enter the kitchen now it strikes me how the space feels more airy and spacious and the table more inviting to sit down at.

Family Room: increased Seating and Storage

The other main project was the family room. This comprised the extension we had built a few years ago to replace a flimsy conservatory that the previous owners had constructed.

The family room is multi-purpose, with built-in cupboards along the full length of one wall, including a concealed desk with desktop computer where all my writing gets done. At the time of completing this family room we just had two very young children aged three and one, so we only bought one three-seater sofa and a Scandi-Style red egg chair to furnish the seating area. At the time, we didn’t anticipate that the family room would be used as much as it is now- our original living room is rarely used nowadays by comparison. Alongside the egg chair, lined up against the bifold door were several plastic tubs stuffed full of toys for the kids (that looked pretty unsightly to be honest!).

We decided to sell the egg chair as, although the modern design of it looked impressive, it wasn’t particularly comfortable to sit on and it demanded a lot of space for a one-seater chair. In its place we bought a two-seater sofa and next to that a wooden sideboard to discreetly hide many of the kids toys out of sight. The sideboard is also practical for storing shoes that all family members pop on to exit into the garden through the adjacent bifold door. Previously we tossed the shoes into a plastic tub by the door but it looked so ugly and I was desperate to change it. Sadly I didn’t remember to take a ‘before’ pic but here is the new setup:

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What do you think?

Have you made similar changes in your own home? Or perhaps you would like to as there are niggles about hotspots in your house that do not function as well as they should?

I’d really love to hear about them so please drop me a comment below. 😊

Take Heart: Those Repetitive Daily Tasks DO Matter…

Doesn’t daily life seem to involve a great number of repetitive and mindless tasks? I feel that now more than ever before, as a stay-at-home parent. There are all the usual basic housework tasks that everyone has to fit in, but of course these need to be carried out far more frequently with preschoolers around the house. Sometimes I could swear my little ones are programmed to incessantly destroy the clean and tidy environment I strive to maintain!

What if We Just Stopped Bothering?

It’s easy to feel there is no value in performing these basic, repetitive tasks over and over again and they can certainly feel tedious at times. But what would happen if we just stopped doing them? If we simply didn’t bother to wash the dishes or do the laundry, cook the dinner, change nappies or do any of the myriad other small but not so insignificant little jobs. Everyone would be sure to notice that things weren’t done and nobody would be happy living in the resulting disarray.

Lessen the Burden

With regard to the housework, I try to get my children involved in helping with it where possible. They have helped unload the dishwasher and pair up laundered socks since they were two years old, for example. For jobs that can only fall on me, I often play a podcast or some music in the to make it more pleasurable. Sometimes I dawdle  which makes things worse, so using a timer to force me to tidy faster works well.

Those Small Actions Add Up to Something Significant 

On reflection, life itself can be seen as a long series of small actions that need doing, a large percentage of them repetitive ones. Getting on and doing them as and when needed oils the machine that is life and keeps things running smoothly. In some cases, the many repeated small actions contribute cumulatively to the creation of something wonderful: changing all those nappies, reluctantly reading the same story by request, preparing nutritious meals and countless other routine actions result in a healthy, happy child and eventually adult.

Make Time for Little Luxuries and Simple Pleasures Every Day

This is crucial. There should always be time for petits plaisirs as the French would call them, no matter how busy we are. Sometimes when we are frantically racing around to get everything done, we fail to notice the beautiful things that are right in front of our eyes. Challenge yourself to spot the little things that lift your spirits and that you feel grateful for. You will notice a shift in perspective that helps you enjoy life more no matter how much drudgery some days may seem to involve. I wrote about enjoying simple pleasures and would encourage anyone to make a mental or physical list of their own.

Get Organised!

I find that when I plan my days carefully I achieve more and feel more positive as a result. If you prioritise the tasks that are most important to you and get them out of the way, you will gain a sense of achievement and remove that sense of unease that follows you around until you can tick it off your list.

Ultimately, I tend to agree that “a tidy house equals a tidy mind” as per the old adage and know that I feel more peaceful and calm if my surroundings are tidy and serene. This positive impact on my mental health is a powerful motivator and it is just a case of planning my time carefully and remembering to slow down and smell the roses no matter how busy I am.

Do you have any other tips on how to ensure you enjoy life even at the times when much of your daily tasks are mindless and/or repetitive? I would love to hear them 🙂

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home office makeover

Home Office Makeover

Our home office area has been ripe for a makeover for some time now. I spend a lot more time here than used to as I’m in the process of writing a book, so I really desired a work space that felt clear and welcoming to spend time in.

A compact space

Alas, I don’t have the luxury of a separate room that could be called a study or home office. Most of our rooms are allocated as bedrooms as we have three children. When we had a small extension added on a few years ago we planned for a built-in cupboard to house a desk, filing cabinets and shelving to be a designated home office area. There are folding doors that can easily be closed to these cupboards when no one needs to be working there, to keep the room looking neater. On the whole I am pleased with how much we have managed to fit into such a small space. Planning good storage and organisational systems is the key to a tidy home.

Over time though, the desk area had become increasingly cluttered and messy. It didn’t feel a positive space to work in and was embarrassing when friends and family came round who might see the mess if I couldn’t close the doors to it fast enough!

Concealing the ugly pinboard

Firstly, I decided to get a small piece of fabric to cover the pinboard on the wall. A lot of the items pinned to the board are important bits and pieces that I want to keep easily accessible but they don’t have to be on view the whole time. I found this piece of pale blue ‘Paris’ printed fabric on Ebay for about £7 including postage. It’s pretty cute with Eiffel towers, Sacre Coeur and Arc de triomphes dotted over it. I thought it teamed up well with the mosaic photo frame next to it which holds a selection of photos from my last trip to Paris with my husband. I can scarcely believe that was a whole seven years ago, but it must be because I found out I was pregnant with my eldest daughter the day before we went (so sadly missed out on the wine and unpasteurised cheeses…).

Ditching the garish pencil pots

Next I decided to do something about the ugly old green striped pencil pots we had. Don’t you think they look awful in the pic?! I’m not too sure what possessed us to buy them in the first place. They had become faded from sunlight and were over ten years old. I ran a couple of empty baked bean cans through the dishwasher and covered them with small strips of giftwrap that I already had. They have a little street scene printed across them which bears a resemblance to the one on my blog homepage image, don’t you think?

home office makeover

Then I just had a good declutter (something I aim to do regularly throughout the house) and filed papers away etc. The difference to sit down and work here is incredible. It feels a more relaxing and positive place to be.

Lighting

The one thing I’m still not content with is the lighting. You will see the string of heart-shaped LED lights hanging above the desk, but to be honest they emit minimal light. Yet I dislike having the ceiling lights on because they are ridiculously bright and almost induce headaches. I really need to get a small desk lamp or perhaps a spotlight integrated under the top shelf.

How about you?

What is your home office like? Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have a whole room to dedicate to it. Or maybe you have had to carve out a small corner of another room, like me? I would love to hear what yours is like, even with a pic if you’re able to add one. I’d also be interested to hear which type of lighting you have in your home office area to help me decide on my soft lighting solution!

How to manage time effectively

How to Manage Time Effectively (while at home with a toddler…)

Time management used to be oh-so easy…

Without wishing to sound boastful, I always used to consider myself a fairly skilled time manager.

I remember as far back as at high school when it came to revising for exams, I made myself a revision timetable and stuck to it religiously. It worked- I packed enough study time in to pass the exams and had enough free time to enjoy.

Then at university I obviously had to attend lectures and seminars, spend time in the library writing assignments, plus worked part-time as a shop assistant throughout the three years (anywhere between 18-36 hours a week) to help fund myself through it. Oh, and volunteered for a charity a couple of hours each week. Not to mention setting aside ample time for socialising in the Student Union bar.  Again- it was all doable as long as I planned my time carefully and kept track of everything in my trusty pocket diary.

I was a primary school teacher for many years and combined part-time teaching with having two children. Most of the time I juggled the balls fairly successfully and kept (just about) on top of my teaching workload and enjoyed my days off with my young children, scheduling lots of fun playgroups and activities for them.

Then something changed!

You may have mentioned I referred to the past tense form of  ‘used to’ in the opening paragraph of this post. That’s right. Since I became a full-time stay at home parent I had been finding that as each day passed I was feeling a growing sense of dissatisfaction that things I really wanted to incorporate in my day were repeatedly not occurring. Important things, such as working on the book I’ve started, and exercising, and reading ing a book with my little boy and toddler.

I know I’m privileged to be able to spend so much time based at home with my young children and I wouldn’t change it. But being in this position can make it more difficult to manage my time well and carve out time for things that matter most to me, such as writing. There are so many distractions (including things that really do need doing at some point). Obviously my young kids expect my full attention for much of the time that they are awake.

Something had to improve…

These days my daily routine is mostly dictated by my youngest daughter’s nap times, as well as the morning and afternoon school run plus my son’s preschool pickup at 11.40am. My children have all been good nappers, something that I’m mostly grateful for, although I do sometimes wish the baby would drop her morning nap so that I could get us both out of the house more.

Still, things are what they are and I resolved to be more intentional about planning my time to get more out of my days, especially to make time for the things that matter the most.

Here’s an example of a typical weekday timetable:

8.35- Leave the house to drop the two eldest children at school and preschool.

9.10- Back home. Check what’s planned for dinner- remove meat or fish from freezer as needed. Make my breakfast – I’ve recently started eating a proper breakfast again after months of not bothering but succumbing to chocolate biscuits mid morning. Eating a healthy, nutritious breakfast has made an amazing difference to how well I’m able to concentrate. See pic below of a typical one- seeded toast with poached eggs, spinach and mushrooms.

Then finish cleaning the kitchen from breakfast, load dishwasher and any other household chores.

healthy breakfast poached eggs for productivity

9.45- Put baby down for nap. Then write- either a blog post or on my book. Aim for 500 words minimum.

11.15- Wake baby from nap. Go to collect son from preschool.

11.50- Back home. Change son’s clothes and sort his bag etc. Sit on sofa and share a book with son (toddler wants to join in too). Then start preparing lunch.

12.30- Eat lunch with kids. Tidy up kitchen afterwards.

1.10- Read another book with my son or play with his cars or a simple card or board game for a few minutes. If he and the baby are playing happily together, jump on my indoor mini trampoline (rebounder) while one energetic song plays on youtube.

1.45- synch nap time for baby and son. Unload dishwasher, carry out any household admin (make phone calls, send emails in relation to our kids, home or anything related to our rental home).

3.05- Wake kids from nap. Son in particular needs time to rouse himself! Get coats and shoes on for school run.

3.45- Back home. Play with the kids, make their dinner, take oldest child to clubs/activities. Bath baby (and others) as required. Spend a few more minutes on the indoor trampoline.

6.45- Start tidying with the kids before they get ready for bed. Read stories.

7.30- Lights out for kids to go to sleep. Start making dinner for husband and myself. If husband will be very late, eat mine first.

8.30- Clean up kitchen, prepare anything needed for the kids for school for tomorrow. Then relax, read, watch a film or recording from TV or take a bath.

Making household chores more bearable

As often as possible, I involve my kids in chores. They will happily load clothes into and out of the washing machine and the three year old finds unloading the dishwasher a real treat. Even if it doesn’t exactly save time, it is good for them to get used to helping out at home from a young age. Plus, it makes me feel better that I’m not the only person doing all the housework during the daytime!

Often I play a podcast whilst I clean the kitchen or do other chores- my current favourite is A Slob Comes Clean. This is so motivating and suggests lots of great ways to organise and clean the home. Listening to a podcast or some music makes chores feel less mundane. Sometimes I opt for classical music which calms me and has been shown to have other benefits.

Having a plan- and sticking to it

Once I made a timetable for the whole day and started allotting specific tasks to certain time slots, they were far more likely to actually happen. It feels great that I’ve gone back to writing again and have carved out time to read books during the day with my son, something that wasn’t always happening before.

It does mean being more intentional and refusing to get sidetracked by other things- eg if post arrives through the front door while I’m writing, I just ignore it now until I’m finished. I keep my iPad out of sight so that I don’t get distracted by checking Facebook or anything. This rigid type of schedule may look oppressive to some people, but I know I feel much better if I stick to it. Some things are so important, they need to be ring fenced!

Honestly, I think I’m always going to have to keep pulling myself up on this on a regular basis. I guess I am very easily distracted!

How about you?

Are you organised about managing your time, or do you manage to get the important things done without having it set out in black and white?

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Do you prioritise your priorities?

Do you Prioritise your Priorities?

I know already I’ve blogged about to-do lists and getting stuff done fairly recently. But a couple of weeks ago it dawned on me that the days and weeks are zooming by, the year doesn’t feel at all ‘new’ any more, yet I didn’t seem to be making much progress on anything that I really wanted to. The sense of dissatisfaction and annoyance that resulted at the end of most days prompted me to find a solution.

Writing

One of my priorities this year is to write more. Both continuing to write blog posts once a week, as well as working on a lifestyle book. I’d been just about keeping up with the blog posts, but had barely spent any time on the book despite having planned out all the chapters.

Part of the challenge is that I don’t have any childcare for my fifteen-month-old baby, but it was time to stop using that as an excuse and work around it. Thankfully, she has been sleeping much better recently and has set nap times. I have now allocated morning nap time to write every day. Perhaps it’s not the best way to do it, but I aim to write 500 words daily. That may sound paltry to full-time writers, but if I manage it consistently from Monday to Friday it equates to 2,500 words a week or 10,000 words a month. Well on the way to completing a whole book within the space of a few months. From acorns great oak trees really do grow!

Exercise

Although I’m not completely sedentary, I hoped to increase my exercise levels a little this year. On weekdays I always achieve 16k steps minimum just from doing the school and nursery runs as well as generally running around after my toddler. I decided to make the journeys a little more effective by sometimes adding a little sprint (with the pushchair) from our house to almost the end of our road. To ensure I don’t get lazy and opt out of the sprint I often deliberately leave the house a couple of minutes later than it would take to walk it. Sometimes I add an additional short sprint a couple of minutes after the first one, creating my own interval training in a way.

Reading about Jennifer L Scott’s rebounding at home post recently instantly appealed. Like me, Jennifer has three young children and she admitted that finding time for regular exercise can be tricky. She explained how she had recently bought a rebounder (or mini trampoline designed for exercising) and found it was perfect for fitting in short bursts of exercise into her day.

I was instantly convinced after reading her post and ordered a rebounder. Often I simply jump for a couple of minutes, but have found numerous rebounding workouts on YouTube which are good to follow sometimes, too.

Sometimes I jump whilst watching a film or TV in the evenings to make it more of a productive use of my time.

Getting  everything else done…

Before I stared planning for my priorities, I tended to do house-related chores such as hang out loads of washing and put dry washing away as soon as I noticed it needed doing, ditto for making phone calls and sending emails. But now, these chores simply have to fit in around sacred writing time. Who cares if there’s a pile of dry laundry to be put away? It can wait. I won’t feel any worse for leaving it a couple of hours as it can be fitted in at any point during the day while my kids are awake, but the same can’t be said for my writing which is why I have to carve specific time out for that.

How about you? Are you managing to find time for the things you decided were important on the first of January? If not, perhaps it’s time to take stock and revisit your priorities so that you can be sure you really do priorities them.

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Why you need a 'done' list more than a 'to-do' list

Why you need a ‘done’ list more than a to-do list

Isn’t life busy for everyone these days?

Less physical work, but a higher mental load

In addition to working a paid job or staying at home to care for children, there are myriad small tasks to be carried out. Phone calls to make, online accounts to log into and take some form of action on. Emails to send and reply to, both to companies and acquaintances.

Although modern life is less tiring in terms of physical tasks (I for one remain eternally grateful to the inventors of washing machines and dishwashers), the time and energy saved on the manual tasks of old seems to have been replaced by a significant number of smaller tasks which may not require physical effort but still take up headspace when they accumulate.

The problem with to-do lists

By nature, I am (or at least strive to be) an organised person. I’ve long been a user of to-do lists. As a carefree student, to-do lists were a mere couple of items hastily scribbled on the back of my hand each morning. Gradually though, things have changed and my to-do lists seem never ending. At any one time I have as a minimum an A5 paper sheet listing jobs to be completed for the day plus others that might be accomplished at a push (though I invariably kid myself on that front), plus an A4 sheet of jobs that I would like to tackle at some point (ideally as soon as possible, though often months and months pass and the same jobs get carried over to the next list :/ )

It sounds like a first world problem (and I appreciate that it is, in the grand scheme of things) but I too often end a day feeling overwhelmed and with a sense of dissatisfaction that I didn’t complete half of the tasks that I intended to. That’s not to say that I didn’t achieve anything- it’s just that keeping three kids amused and alive and the basics of keeping the house tidy end up taking most of my time.

Also significant is that other, unplanned tasks spring up unexpectedly each day, many of which require swift action.

Introducing the ‘done’ list

It was a few years ago that I suddenly came up with the idea of a ‘done’ list. Basically, this involves retrospectively jotting down tasks that you complete, either soon after completing them or at the end of the day when you review your to-do list. Any and all tasks can be added; from hanging out a load of washing, to making a phone call that was made a necessary course of action from a letter received in the post that day, to preparing dinner. As soon as I started practicing this, it made a noticeable improvement to how I felt about my accomplishments on a given day as it was easy to see in black and white the long list of (albeit small) things I had got done.

What Went Right Today?

On a similar theme, a friend introduced me to the concept of reviewing ‘what went right today’ (WWRT) just under a year ago. She wrote a great article about it here. WWRT involves taking time at the end of the day to list the positives that came out of it. Naturally, some days there will be more than others. The friend who suggested the WWRT idea is a fellow member of a Facebook group for mums of babies who were due in the same month. Most days, we all check in and focus on the positives, even if there are only slim pickings such as having kept the kids alive that day. Yes, a dry sense of humour if often required, or at least it was in the newborn months. Of course, other days WWRT is a chance to celebrate good news or major achievements, such as receiving a job offer.

Do you have any tips to share about how you organise your to-do lists? I’m always on the lookout for ideas on how to manage mine more effectively.

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Why you should sweat the small stuff

Why you should sweat the small stuff

Doesn’t it seem that small things break or go wrong in our homes on a regular basis?

We have so much to fit into our days, that fixing minor inconveniences such as dripping taps, dead lightbulbs, creaking doors etc often fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Which makes perfect sense, because although we initially feel bothered when we notice something isn’t functioning, it’s all too easy to turn our attention to more pressing matters.

Do these small inconveniences really matter?

Well, despite the fact that in time we become blind to many of these little annoyances as our minds subconsciously accept them (for example, we don’t bother trying the switch of a broken table lamp any more and automatically reach for the switch of the ceiling light), perhaps we shouldn’t just ignore them. In the aforementioned case of the broken lamp, although an alternative source of light is available to use, it can’t be denied that a bright ceiling light doesn’t provide the same sort of ambience as a soft, subtle corner lamp would. Spending evenings under a harsh ceiling light rather than a soft corner lamp can affect our mood, and thus our wellbeing.

A couple more examples…

Our dining chairs need the felt pads under each chair leg replacing every few months. Usually, I leave it too long and just put up with the high-pitched scrape of the chairs whenever someone pushes one in or out. Last week, while I was tidying out a drawer, I came across a pack of felt pads and quickly replaced the ones on all the dining chairs.

Well, I can hardly tell you what a positive impact doing this made. Just testing each chair after I had applied them by gently pushing them backwards and forwards was so pleasing, to feel it glide smoothly across the kitchen floor, rather than scrape loudly.

Periodically, the interior doors in our house become creaky. Hearing that noise when the offending doors are opened or closed does irritate me a little each time, but I often disregard it instantly. Yet when I finally force myself to grab the can of WD40 lubricant and spray a tiny bit onto each door hinge, it’s a pretty satisfying feeling to test opening and closing each door afterwards and hear only peaceful silence instead of the annoying creak.

Yesterday I noticed that our shower head had built up a lot of limescale around many of the spray holes, which explained why the water flow had seemed poorer in recent weeks. It was a simple job to unscrew the shower head and place it in a saucer of vinegar to descale for a couple of hours before lightly scrubbing with a toothbrush. It looked as good as new afterwards.

So, perhaps it’s worth forcing ourselves to fix these minor inconveniences?

Having everything around us working smoothly and efficiently helps us to feel more at peace, less stressed and so helps keep our frequency high. Our homes should be peaceful sanctuaries that we can retire to at the end of a busy day and rely upon to restore our sense of tranquility.

Making the effort to sort niggling little things yourself, if you’re capable, can also bring a strong sense of personal satisfaction when you survey the results of your handiwork. There are also countless clips on youtube that show you step-by-step how to fix just about anything.

If you can’t fix certain things, perhaps you could walk around your home, make a list of little jobs to be done and either pay a handyman to fix them if you can afford it, or else offer a skill swap to someone with more DIY skills than you do in exchange for something you can do in return.

Which niggling little things need fixing in your own home? With many people currently taking an extended break from work over Christmas and New Year, this could be the ideal time to get things fixed to start the New Year with everything working smoothly.

Have you taken action to sort little jobs before and felt that sense of satisfaction? I’d love to hear about them.

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