A Helpful Item For Every Dresser

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In the top drawer of each dresser in our house, there is a pair of scissors. A breakthrough idea? Of course not, but it sure has been helpful—more so than I imagined. From cutting off tags and loose strings to random craft projects happening around the house, scissors in each room has made such a difference.

The two best pairs we own were found at a nearby estate sale. At $2 each and excellent quality (hand forged steel), I couldn’t pass them up. I never thought good scissors could make such a difference (except in sewing), but boy was I wrong. You can find similar ones here and here. Now I look for scissors at every estate sale!

A Simple, Non-Toxic Nursery

When creating a nursery, I like to think of it as a calm, soothing little cocoon. Our nursery is made of varying shades of white and cream with natural fibers (seagrass, wicker, cane) added for texture. Both our son and daughter used the same room and if we have any more children, I don’t anticipate it will change very much for them. We keep the room comfortable yet spare—limited furniture, decorations, and toys. Like many parents, I also strive for it to be as non-toxic as possible (easier said than done!). If you are looking for ideas for your nursery, here are some suggestions:

102011-nurserywhiteThis is not our nursery above, though it is quite similar but without the red and colorful patterns.

Crib. We are not co-sleepers, so a crib is center stage in the nursery for our children. Ideally this would be made from non-toxic materials. (Here and here are some good posts about non-toxic cribs). Ours is from Ikea, but if I was doing it all over again, I’d get this one from Land of Nod. It is made by El Greco and seems to be wonderful.

Crib mattress and mattress pad. The mattress is the one serious, no-compromise-must-be-organic item in the nursery. Ours is from Naturepedic. If I was doing it over again, I’d get this one from Naturepedic without the waterproof cover (the waterproof layer is supposedly safe, but I’d still rather be more cautious. We have a waterproof  mattress pad anyway, so there is no reason for the mattress itself to be waterproof.) This is our organic mattress pad. Natural Baby Mama has a great post about all of this.

Crib sheet. Preferably GOTS certified organic cotton (companies can say the cotton is organic and then still treat it with chemicals). We like these from Naturepedic.

Chair. A comfortable place to sit, feed the baby, read books, etc is paramount. Unfortunately nearly all conventionally upholstered gliders/rockers contain excessive amounts of flame retardants. We had a very comfortable but very toxic glider. I’ve replaced it with a vintage, solid wood rocker with a cane seat and back. The caning makes it surprisingly comfortable (it has more give than solid wood).

Dresser. I don’t need to tell you that dressers are the perfect multipurpose piece of furniture. We use ours as a changing table, as well as a place to store diapers, creams and supplies, clothing, bedding and blankets. Ours is an old family dresser that will grow with our children and hopefully one day live in their homes.

Changing pad. This is another item that really needs to be organic. Conventional changing pads are made of polyurethane foam and contain flame retardants. Naturepedic makes an organic version (which is what we have). Here is the changing pad cover we use.

Bookcase. The shelves can house books and toys, while the top is a surface for a lamp, white noise and a plant (plants help filter the air. Peace lilies are great). Avoid pressed woods and MDF—ideally it would be made from a solid, hardwood with a non-toxic stain or paint.

Window coverings. Whatever you choose, make sure it adequately blocks out the light if that is a goal. We have cotton black-out curtains that I open and close for nap time and bed time.

Rug. Toxins are incredibly sneaky and rugs are often an overlooked haven for these guys. The ideal solution is hardwood floors (with a non-toxic finish) with a natural fiber rug on top (wood floors without a rug could be very loud and echo-y). Wall-to-wall carpeting is nearly always chock-full of toxins, which is why I strongly suggest steering clear from it if at all possible. (Side note: Do not ever remove wall-to-wall carpeting yourself. Ripping it up releases tons of toxins into your house and lungs. Have it professionally removed by someone who specializes in non-toxic removal). I love these seagrass rugs from Curran. They come in any size, and they are made without any treatments, pesticides or finishes (some companies treat their seagrass with pesticides, such as Pottery Barn). The backing is natural latex without any adhesive. Seagrass also naturally repels stains due to its naturally-occurring waxy finish. We have these rugs throughout our house, and I am thrilled with them.

Minimal art and decorations. I prefer to keep things simple and clean in this department. No need to go crazy and feel pressure from Pinterest to bedazzle every aspect of the room.

Mirror and clock. I like having a mirror in the room so I can see if that sweet little baby has dozed off or not on my shoulder! A discreet yet illuminated clock is vital during those nighttime rendezvous. More on this here.

White noise. Indispensable in a creaky old house like ours. We use an old ipod on a dock.

Baby monitor. Brace yourselves: we’ve given up the monitor. Once I learned that video monitors actually run on wi-fi (What did I think they used? Magic??) I removed it from the room. It wasn’t close to our children (probably five feet away), but I still felt uncomfortable. If we have another baby, we will use an old-fashioned noise-only monitor. The pros of the video aspect are not worth the risks to us. (Talking about wi-fi being toxic definitely could make you think I’ve gone off the deep end. Unfortunately, it might not be as safe as we think. The CDC recently issued a warning about it, and I imagine it will become a much more mainstream concern in the coming years. On that note, we’ve never allowed our children anywhere near our iphones, ipads or laptops, and we keep our wireless turned off in our house most of the time. We—the adults—also only use our phones on speaker or with a headset—never against our heads. No doubt your eyes have glazed over by now!)

A small selection of books and toys. Preferably all non-toxic (no plastic, no batteries, etc.). Fewer is always better when it comes to toys. I promise your children will not be bored! More on this soon. Here are some of our favorite baby toys.

Paint. This must be VOC-free (primer, too!) We use Natura by Benjamin Moore for all of our paint.

About That Dress You Seriously Love But Never Wear

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Do you own any clothes like this? You love it. You look great it in. You may even get compliments on it! And you think to yourself “this is a great dress.”

And yet. You never wear it. Never. At least not anymore.

I had a dress like this that hung in my closet barely worn for the last four years. It was seriously good looking (at least to me!). I loved it. Only, I bought it following my first pregnancy when I was out of maternity clothes but still appreciated those loose, breezy cuts. So now when I put it on, I feel like I’m back in that slightly awkward stage. Ultimately, I don’t feel good in it.

These are the hardest clothes to get rid of. The things that look great, fit, are in perfect shape, etc. But you just don’t wear them for whatever reason. The thing is, there always is a reason. It just may not be clear what that reason is.

What to do? Commit to wearing it within a time period (say, two weeks) or it is gone. More than likely you won’t wear it, so you can even just skip this step. Where did my dress end up? Consigned. And it felt so good—better than I imagined—to get it out of my closet.

Do you have anything like this?

My dress was a lot like the one pictured above. Was available here.

Must-Read: A Beginner’s Guide to Non-Toxic Living

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A question I am often asked is “what should I do to live a less toxic lifestyle?” Such a wonderful question, and I so appreciate any interest in the topic. The tricky part is the vast quantity of things to consider. I admit it might feel overwhelming for someone new to the subject.

My best suggestion is to start with this fabulous, comprehensive, free PDF guide from Healthy Child Healthy World (or free e-book version here). While it is targeted toward pregnant women, I think it is highly beneficial for everyone to follow their guidelines. Though there are some things it has left out, for the most part, it is pretty all-encompassing, rock-solid advice. It might seem long at first glance, but it is a quick, easy (free!) read. Two important things the guide leaves out are the Skin Deep (cosmetics and personal care items) and Cleaners databases from EWG (Environmental Working Group)—key parts to finding the best, safest products available. Combining EWG and HCHW, you are on your way to an extremely healthy lifestyle.

Healthy Child Healthy World also has some really helpful guides here, here and here on DIY/ remodeling, which is always important and particularly important while pregnant (all of you nesting out there, proceed with extreme caution and care).

More to come on living a non-toxic lifestyle. I hear your requests and appreciate the interest! :)

Kitchen Workhorse

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I find an unexplainable amount of joy in tiny things that make my life easier. Humble, little items that are easily overlooked but provide an important service in our lives. Clothes pins (the spring-loaded kind) definitely fall into this category for me. We decant most pantry items into glass jars, but that doesn’t always happen (or it just isn’t practical), in which case we bring out a clothes pin. They keep bags tightly sealed (cereal, coffee, crackers, frozen berries, cotton balls), they are made of wood (instead of plastic), they aren’t garish bright colors, they are available at any grocer or online, and they seem to last forever. Easy to store and easy on the wallet. We also use them to clip notes to things—bags, lunch boxes, stacks of papers, etc. Once we started using them for everything, it made me wonder how we ever lived without them.

In my dream world, I also use them to pin clothes on my clothesline in the backyard, but that’s not happening any time soon.

Decluttering Technique: Pretend Someone Else is Packing for You

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Some people have a really, really hard time parting with clothes. Clothes they don’t even like, that don’t even fit, that they haven’t worn in 5+ years. Clothes they never intend to wear again! But I get it—it can be hard. Interestingly, I’ve found that the more clothes my clients own, the more unhappy they are with their wardrobe as a whole.

Many of you told me how much you loved my “this or that” technique for sorting through clothes, and here is another: Only have things in your closet that you would be pleased to find in your suitcase if someone else packed it for you.

I figured this out the hard way in middle school—as if we needed anything else embarrassing happening then in our lives. I was responsible for my own laundry at this point and was way behind. I wore my last decent outfit to school, so of course it was an ideal time to spill something all over—all over—myself during class. Being the very understanding mother that she was and is, my mom drove over a new set of clothes for me to wear. But. The only clean clothes she could find in my closet were an embarrassing and seriously huge musical theater t-shirt (it was Cats, I believe) and strange gingham shorts that I was mortified to even own. This outfit was … incredible … as you can imagine.

Being about 12 years old I did not go home and radically purge my wardrobe. But I think the moral of this story is pretty clear: Don’t have anything in your closet you wouldn’t want someone to choose for you (also, keep up with your laundry). Things that are too tight or too big, that you feel self-conscious in, that are unflattering, that have rips or stains beyond repair, that you just don’t like, etc. All of this must go.

Having this mindset makes it a whole lot easier for my clients to let go of things—suddenly clothes start flying into the “no” pile. If you need some extra help in this area, maybe give it a try.

A Children’s Book Full of Lessons About Simple Living

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What if I told you there was a series of children’s books full of inspiration regarding simplicity, motherhood, organization, farming, domestic arts, hard work, and endless love. Books that so subtly weave in these subjects that you might not even notice them until it is over. A series you’ve possibly already read.

Of course, I am talking about the Little House books. I find endless pleasure in re-reading the entire series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. To me, her writing is incredibly inspiring as a mother, as someone aiming for a simpler life, and as someone who occasionally tires of the daily grind of household and parenting duties.

The Ingalls lived a simple but hardworking life. From sun up to sun down, they cared for their home and family with very few breaks—and certainly no complaints. Their land, house and livestock were lovingly tended every day, with each member of the family playing a vital role in the upkeep. They took pride in their farming, gardening, sewing, carpentry, baking and other skills. The Ingalls saved for, invested in and then used and treasured beautiful heirloom items. After a long day of labor, they relaxed by reading poetry or hymns, singing together or listening to Pa play the fiddle. The occasional day of leisure might include riding horses, playing in a stream or picking wildflowers. Reading about their diligence and good nature is simultaneously inspiring and humbling.

The Little House books are so well written and with such interesting plot lines, I’d argue they provide just as much education and inspiration as books more formally discussing simplicity, time management and family life … perhaps even more so.

Have you read these books? If not, I encourage you to take a look, no matter your age or season of life. You won’t regret it.

Image above of the Surveyor’s house the Ingalls stayed in, in De Smet, South Dakota.

An Eye Cream Worth Knowing About

A few months ago, I shared my morning skin care routine. Not long after, my eye cream ran out. Because it was rated a three EWG, it still had some ingredients I’d rather avoid. Replacing it was an opportunity to search for something new and better. It took me a while to find one worth trying, but I did. And it is fabulous.

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Beautycounter’s Vibrant Eye Perfector is just that—even after two weeks of burning the candle at both ends (work hard! play hard!), I don’t have dark circles under my eyes. They are more vibrant and bright than I would have imagined possible. The cream is supposed to help decrease fine lines, as well. I have noticed my skin feels smoother, but I don’t have too many eye wrinkles yet, so I cannot speak to its efficacy on that front. But if you have dark circles (with or without sleep, like me!), this is your cream.

The cream took about five days, applied morning and night, to really make a difference. At first I thought I had been duped, but I am very glad to say it is a wonderful product. And with an EWG rating of one, this is safe and non-toxic.

Beautycounter has a lot of products that look worthwhile. I love the company’s mission and aesthetic. The thing the bothers me is they don’t allow reviews on their web site. Not only is this less helpful, but it always makes a company seem suspect in my eyes. Maybe they will change that soon. If I try anything else, I will be sure to let you know.

What eye cream do you use?

Decluttering Tip: Stop Putting Things Away

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When I am tidying up our house, folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher, I am considering every item that I touch. Why put away something we don’t need or want when I could easily skip that step and place it directly in the donation bag?

When I tell clients that I purge roughly one bag of stuff per week, they always wonder how I did it so easily and also where the items came from. I’m not usually digging into the backs of closets and drawers. Instead, I am assessing each item I come into contact with by chance and evaluating its presence in our home. Just like we casually examine a piece of fruit before eating it, I casually gauge the items in our lives before putting them away.

This split-second decision becomes second nature with enough practice. I promise I don’t hem and haw over each thing—that would be exhausting! This is quick and painless, and it completely avoids the time-consuming experience of a full-on decluttering session. If you can get into the habit, I think you might find it as effective as I do.

p.s. This applies to broken/ruined items too. These should go directly into the garbage. Putting away these sorts of things is nuts, but we’ve all done it. Break the cycle!

6 Simple Words That Have Made Me a Happier Mom

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There are moments during parenting where things can seem sort of impossibly hard and basically the opposite of simple. Usually it isn’t anything earth shattering, but rather something like doing the evening routine solo with one child sick and the other one teething, plus an empty fridge, a messy house, the favorite pjs are not clean, did you find my missing car?, there’s not enough milk for tomorrow’s bottles, and your to-do list is a mile long.

Usually I have enough tricks up my sleeve to avoid a Jam Jar situation. And my best trick is re-framing.

A lot of people have written about reframing, and for me, it has played an extremely valuable role in creating a more joyful, simpler life as a parent. We’ve all read the famous Ann Landers column, a perfect example of reframing. The inner monologue we each use to reframe will be very different and dependent on our circumstances, but here is one shortcut I use, in case you are interested:

Six Simple Words

When I might be tempted to say to myself something like “I canNOT believe the kids are sick AGAIN and we are out of EVERYthing and the house is a mess AGAIN and and AND and…” I say to myself these six words instead: All I Have To Do Is.

All I have to do is change and dress two children that I love. All I have to do is make a simple dinner for my family. All I have to do is tidy our safe and comfortable house. All I have to do is bathe two healthy children. And so on. Likewise, I usually tack on something like: I don’t have to take care of a loved one in Hospice. I don’t have to decide which child gets to eat tonight. I don’t have to wonder how we will pay our electric bill. This Is All I Have To Do.

It might sound a bit dramatic, but for me, it has a remarkable effect on my attitude toward whatever seems challenging at that moment. Much like we have a choice about the words we use to describe our lives, we have a choice about how we view the tasks at hand. Reframing doesn’t just make a task easier, it can actually make it seem like a good thing.

I realize this makes me a bit of a Pollyanna. But you know, I like Pollyanna. And it certainly doesn’t always happen, and it doesn’t always work. But when it does, I am a whole lot happier for it, not to mention less stressed. And I think my children are, too.