Sunday, May 30, 2010

Household Organization: Clutter, Clothes Storage and Chores

Household Organization: Clutter, Clothes Storage and Chores

Dear Mommy Friends,

This isn't going to be a super long post -- just enough to get you going and refer you to some other resources.  Three of the biggie issues when it comes to organizing a houseful of kids are clutter, clothes storage, and chores.

I've already written posts called A Place for Everything and Organizing with Plastic Zip-Style Bags at Home and On the Go on one of my other blogs. I'd recommend you check those out if clutter is a problem for you. I know it's a constant battle around here with 11 people in the house! If you are trying to declutter a room, the best advice I've heard is to bring in three boxes labeled Give Away, Throw Away, and Put Away. Then be ruthless with the first two boxes! If you aren't using it, why keep it? The third box is for items you need to move to another room. Rather than getting distracted by walking around to put it away, just throw it in the box and keep moving. Then when you are through with this room, or the box is full, you can walk around the house taking things out to store in their rightful places. In some rooms that collect small pieces of clutter, I leave a basket or bin that I empty every month or so. A classic examples of this is the basket on top of my microwave.  The other best piece of advice is to have adequate storage containers, such as baskets and bins, to keep things organized and to make it easy for kids to put things away.  An example of this is a basket of books in our living room.   Go read those other blog posts for more on these topics!

Onto clothing storage! I've been stuffing unused clothes into plastic bags and then cramming them into whatever bin has a little space left in it. As a result, after several years, I had a whole bunch of huge clothing bins that we're totally jumbled up. I mustered up enough courage last week to bring all of them into the living room, dump them out and start sorting. Similar to the declutter method, I designated one bin for baby clothes to give to our local crisis pregnancy center, one bin for clothes to sell at the consignment store, and a bag for stained or torn clothes to throw away. I ended up with less bins to put back in storage -- and now all of them are well-labeled with properly sorted contents.   I was able to fit some of them (not as tall ones) up on the kids' bedroom closet shelves.  The rest will go in our storage room or a mile away in our rental storage unit.   The other benefit of organizing all of these clothes is that I found some summer clothes of the current size for my two youngest daughters, so they have some "new" things to wear.  And one of my motivations for sorting clothes was to see what baby and toddler clothes I could find to pass on to my daughter Mary when her first son is born this next month.  After four generous baby showers, she doesn't need any infant clothes, so I am passing a lot of them on, but she will probably need some of the toddler ones in about a year.  And I will know exactly where they are!  Naomi and I recycled a dress and a baby shirt into an apron and a tote bag, learning some sewing skills along the way.  You can read about that here: Recycling is Sew Fun.

What about chores?  Our kids do most of our regular household work, like vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, doing dishes, taking out the trash, tidying up the public areas, cleaning their own rooms and doing laundry. I supervise, fill in as needed, and do my own and my husband's laundry.  I also cook three nights a week, assisted by two of the younger kids.  It's still quite a juggle to get everything done, and sometimes we don't! I have to revise my chore charts periodically based on changing schedules and to give certain kids a break from chores they've had to do longer than they think they can endure.  For example, the daughter who used to cook on Thursday nights now has college classes then, so she is took Monday.  After I did one draft of my charts, I jotted down the assignments for each kid on a piece of scratch paper, then compared them to make sure the work distribution looked equitable. I still had a few disgruntled kids, but that's life. You can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.   Our fresh new charts are now on display on the freezer door for all to see.  The one pictured here is for dinner preparation and cleanup.    It's going to take a while for us to get accustomed to the new assignments. I have to look at it constantly to figure out who is supposed to do what and when.

Virginia Knowles

Friday, May 21, 2010

Praying for Your Children

"A Parent’s Prayer"

by Amy Carmichael
(Missionary to India)

Make them good soldiers of Jesus Christ;
  let them never turn back in the day of battle.
Let them be winners and helpers of souls.
Let them live not to be ministered to, but to minister.
Make them loyal; let them set loyalty high above all things.
Make them doers, not mere talkers.
Let them enjoy hard work and choose hard things rather than easy.
Make them trustworthy.
Make them wise, for it is written, He hath no pleasure in fools.
Let them pass from dependence on us to dependence on Thee.
Let them never come under the dominion of earthly things;
   keep them free.
Let them grow up healthy, happy, friendly,
   and keen to make others happy.
Give them eyes to see the beauty of the world
   and hearts to worship its Creator.
Let them be gentle to beast and bird;
   let cruelty be hateful to them.
May they walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.
And for ourselves we ask that we might never weaken.
   "God is my strong salvation…"
We ask that we might train them to say that word and live that life,
   and pour themselves out for others unhindered by self.



That's a good prayer not just for our children's lives, but our own as well.  Here are some more things to think about...

What to Pray for Your Children

  • A heart which personally and fully understands, embraces, and shares the gospel
  • Reverence for God, and a passion to please and serve him
  • Continual filling, anointing, and equipping of the Holy Spirit
  • God-honoring family relationships filled with respect, affection, compassion and cooperation
  • Protection and strength to face moral temptation and cultural pressure
  • Repentance and humble acceptance of correction
  • Guidance for decisions about education options, as well as future college and career
  • Maturity to make the right decisions for the right reasons
  • Wise priorities for using time
  • Preparation for marriage and parenting – pray for their future spouses, too!
  • Ask your children how you can pray for them!

What to Pray for Yourselves as Parents

  • Unity in and commitment to your marriage – or if you are a single parent, basic harmony with the other parent (and any step-parent) in raising your children
  •  A warm and trusting relationship with your children, characterized by healthy and open communication
  • Forgiveness and release from bitterness, whether conscious or subconscious
  • Confidence and boldness to lead, even when a child attempts to manipulate or rebel
  • Wisdom to know which battles are worth fighting, and when to let your child make decisions (and face the consequences)
  • That you will be an example of godliness, wisdom, grace, and good humor

Praying the Scriptures

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11

“…We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Colossians 1:9-12

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:22-23

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things… When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 11

(See also Ephesians 1:17-21 & 3:14-21 / Romans 15:5-6, 13 / 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 & 5:23-24 / 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 & 3:1-5 / 2 Peter 1:2-11) 

Virginia Knowles

More about praying and helping our children grow in faith:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Let Our Ordered Lives Confess the Beauty of Thy Peace...?

Drop Thy still dews of quietness
till all our strivings cease;
take from our lives the strain and stress
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of Thy peace.

John Greenleaf Whittier (from the hymn “Dear God and Father of Mankind”)

What home school mom hasn't wished for the “dew of quietness,” ceased strivings, a little less stress, and an ordered life! Daily life can place overwhelming demands on you. You are the family teacher, doctor, police woman, lawyer, judge, psychologist, manager, interior designer, seamstress, chauffeur, maid, chef and playmate all rolled into one. So what in the world is Whittier talking about? It seems that an ordered life is just an elusive fantasy or that we have to be born orderly. Many moms claim they aren't “the organized type.” By birth and rearing, I fall into the “messy” group, so I was in for a shock when I married Mr. Meticulous, had children, and started home schooling. For a while I used the excuse that getting organized would diminish my creativity and spontaneity, but that soon wore thin. I had to do something!

Home school moms cherish flexibility and autonomy, but some of us overdo it to the point of rejecting any structure. We try to wing it, making up our lives and school from scratch as we go along. We end up feeling frazzled, exhausted, unproductive, unfulfilled -- and guilty. We start to wonder if we really need a system after all, and relish the new idea of taking control of our lives with a schedule, routine, budget, and lesson plan. We realize that we don't have to be victims of circumstance anymore.

When I take the extra effort at putting my life in order, I realize that this gives me peace from the storm. Life makes sense when I follow a plan, and an added bonus is that I now have more liberty to focus my newfound spare time and energy on creative pursuits. My brain is less cluttered by loose ends. Order and organization allow us to live “on purpose,” to see our dreams and goals come to fulfillment. We can make a plan and make it happen. To be honest, there are months and even years when I am better at this than other times. My success ebbs and flows with how much of a priority I make it, as well as what’s going on in the family, such as a new baby. If I’ve let it slide for a while, it’s hard to get going again. Just a word to the wise!

Let me clarify what I mean by order. I am not talking about a regimented minute-by-minute schedule, a white-glove-clean house, robot children, strictly structured classroom-style school, or lesson plans written on stone tablets. Life with children is unpredictable, so we must be flexible. There will be down days when we only accomplish the bare basics. Even on good days, we all need room to live and breathe. If we set ourselves up with unrealistic expectations, we will be bitterly disappointed. There is plenty of room for different personality styles and comfort levels. Some people can't function well with any amount of disorder; others are comfortable with a relaxed loose-ends lifestyle. For all practical purposes, my working definition of an ordered life is:

♥ I will have specific goals and plans in various areas of life. I will accomplish the most important ones, plus some of the optional ones. I will not go off on tangents.

♥ I will not create extra work through neglect of details. An ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure.

♥ In my schedule and home atmosphere, I will enable my husband to be both productive and relaxed. When he gets home, I will have sufficient emotional reserves to cheerfully attend to his needs.

♥ My children will know what to expect in the general sequence of the day. They will gain productive habits and self-discipline to launch them into future careers and family life. I will be able to give instructions, knowing they will obey without undue fussing or delay. They will be successful in school work because I will tailor it to their needs and make sure they do it.

♥ I will be able to confidently invite people into my home. Since I will prepare ahead, I won't be so frazzled with the details that I can't pay attention to my guests. This will make them feel comfortable and welcome.

♥ I will be able to find what I am looking for quickly without disrupting the household. I will also recall information from the “memory banks” of my brain without getting overly confused.

♥ When I am sick or otherwise prevented from actively pursuing order, my system will not automatically fall apart. It will have sufficient momentum to function for a while without me.

These are definitions to which we can all aspire! We can personalize these basic facets of order to our own family situations and know that we are taking positive steps in the right direction toward success.

I believe that this reasonable level of order is the prerequisite to true productive creativity. A world-class composer must have a handle on the “laws” of music theory before writing a symphony. The orchestra members must have the self-discipline to practice their instruments, read the music as it is written, and follow the conductor's cues, or the symphony will be a cacophony instead! Our Creator is “the God of order, not chaos” (1 Corinthians 14:33). He designed a gloriously exquisite universe, quite systematically, day by day. He is the same God who gave intricate instructions to the creative craftsmen who fashioned the tabernacle, and he is the same God who can put your life back in order if you will follow his directions!

The order in our lives starts from the center; for Christians, this focus is that “Jesus is Lord.” Everything else in our lives must flow from that, or nothing will make sense. But beyond that universal focus, God has a specific plan for each of us. Our job is to discern our individual mission in life and report for duty. Our approach to this will profoundly influence how we manage our daily lives.


This article is an excerpt from my book The Real Life Home School Mom.  You can find the next section of the "Life Management 101" chapter on one of my other blogs,, in the post Motherhood Management in Your Home School:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Disillusioned and Disappointed? Take It to Jesus!

Dear friends,

For the past several months, I've been reading (and meditating) my way slowly through four gospels, simultaneously studying each event in the life of Christ from the different perspectives each writer brings.  This morning I landed on the story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed boy in Matthew 17:14-20, Mark 9:14-29, and Luke 9:37-43.  I would like to share my notes with you and then end with a poem called "Psalm to Sweet Jesus" that I wrote many years ago.

Here is Matthew's account of what happened when Jesus came off the mountain after his transfiguration:

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

One of the things which struck me is that Jesus' disciples had utterly failed this man, and he was disappointed.  Yet even his disillusionment with Christians did not deter him from seeking out the Master himself.   He needed help for his boy, and he went to the Source.  This is relevant to me because I am often discouraged by what I see in Christians around me, specifically a lack of awareness of the power of God to change lives through grace.  They suck the vibrant faith right out of other people by their insistence on following man-made rules and trying to defeat the powers of evil by human effort and systems.  But I am equally discouraged seeing those on the other end of the spectrum who have been so burned by legalism that they totally give up trying to follow Jesus at all, and end up trading the true liberty (to do what is right and good and honoring to God) for license to do whatever they want.  When they see hypocrisy, they react by not only bolting from the church, but abandoning Jesus and common decency, too.  Instead, we can confidently go to him and say, "I think you have been poorly represented and I am hurting.  Please teach me what you really want me to know in this situation, and heal my heart."

We need the holy boldness that faith in Jesus brings.  He is capable of handling our darkest problems.  I can't imagine anything worse than seeing my child controlled by a demon.  It's bad enough dealing with garden-variety bad moods.  Yet no matter how big or small the problem, I can bring it to Jesus and beg for his help.  Other Christians can help, yes, but there is nothing like going straight to the Master.

Reading in Mark's version, I find the following conversation:

The boy's father: "But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 
Jesus: “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”
The boy's father: "I believe; help my unbelief!”

So the man didn't even need to have perfect faith.  He realized that he was struggling with doubt, and he lays that out for Jesus, asking for help with that in addition to help for his son.   When we are facing problems as wives and moms, we can go to Jesus and be honest about our doubts.  He will take us where we are, and fill us with faith as we open our hearts to him.  Just a mustard seed of faith is all it takes to move a mountain!

And finally, Luke concludes his story with: "And all were astonished at the majesty of God."

I still haven't fully processed that statement.  Take a few moments and meditate on it for yourself.  Don't be complacent with spiritual stagnancy, doubt, and disillusionment.   Take your troubles to Jesus, and be astonished at his majesty!

After I wrote all this, I remembered a poem I wrote about a decade ago that fits here:

Psalm to Sweet Jesus
by Virginia Knowles

Sweet Jesus, you bring to me all that is good:
Comfort and hope when I am discouraged,
Peace and reconciliation when I am in conflict,
Strength and enthusiasm when I am weary,
Wisdom and guidance when I am confused,
Courage and confidence when I am afraid,
Forgiveness and mercy when I have done wrong.

You bore the fatal punishment that I deserved,
Yet rose up again in power,
Promising that if I would turn from my awful sin,
And believe in your awesome grace,
I could become your own precious child,
And enter into your everlasting Gloryland.

Such a rich salvation that I could never earn!
As a simple gift of gratitude,
With help from your Word and your Spirit,
I will trust and obey your loving commands,
I will worship you with my prayers and songs,
I will serve others joyfully,
I will share your Good News,
So that each one who hears and believes
May receive the matchless treasure
Found only in you.

Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Nurture Your Creativity!

This article is excerpted from my book The Real Life Home School Mom, which is available as a free PDF in the sidebar of

Nurture Your Creativity with Home Arts
How about home schooling for mom? Our creative home arts skills can flourish in our families and then overflow to the outside world. They make our lives more beautiful and satisfying. Edith Schaeffer, in The Hidden Art of Homemaking, encourages women to develop and express the “hidden arts,” the little creative things you do in your home that sometimes no outsider even sees. You might take them for granted, not aware of their potential, but if you start small and practice them consciously in your daily life, you may see them blossom outward from your home.

Our creativity flows from the fact that we are made in the image of our Creator. The Holy Spirit fills us with unique skills, abilities, and knowledge to serve God and others, not just ourselves. In Exodus 35-36, Bezalel and Oholiab not only crafted sacred articles for the temple, but taught their skills so others could join in the holy task. The shepherd boy David ministered with anointed music to soothe a disquieted king (1 Samuel 16:14-23) and wrote everlasting psalms of praise. Dorcas, in Acts 9, made clothes for poor people. The creative Proverbs 31 woman also spread out her hands to the needy.

What do you think of as creative? Here are a few ideas:

♥ drawing, painting, calligraphy, sculpture, stained glass
♥ photography, photo album arranging, origami, booklet making
♥ toy making, greeting card design
♥ sewing, needlework, clothing design, costuming
♥ hair styling, wardrobe selection
♥ singing, playing a musical instrument, composing music or lullabies
♥ puppetry, drama, poetry, humor, choreography
♥ story telling, fiction/factual writing, letter writing
♥ cooking, baking, menu planning, experimenting with recipes
♥ hospitality, celebration
♥ flower arranging, landscaping, gardening
♥ home organization, interior decoration, furniture restoration
♥ inventing, teaching, mentoring, problem solving

Obviously, you can't do it all! What do you want to do? Are you confined to the things for which you have natural talent? Some things may come easier, some you may enjoy more, and others you may excel at. However, you can learn a little something about many things to enrich your family and home school. Ask yourself these questions:

♥ What talents have I already nurtured?
♥ What hidden arts or secret ambitions do I want to develop?
♥ How can I use these talents to serve God and others?
♥ What steps must I take to get started?
♥ What equipment and supplies do I need?
♥ Can I get a friend to teach or coach me?

As you evaluate the options, please realize that creativity changes with motherhood. Your stage in life may inspire you to delve into areas you had not thought of before. On the other hand, if you have young children but you don't have a separate place for your own projects, there may be some activities you will have to save for another season of life. For me, this includes oil painting and extended quilting projects, since they involve time, mess, spread out space, and hazardous supplies. I still do crafts with the children, draw with markers, sew simple items, make up songs, and write. Calligraphy would be another fitting hobby since it requires minimal setup and supplies, and can be used for home decoration and gifts. What a blessing it would be to have beautiful Scripture passages to grace our walls!

Accelerate Your Learning Curve

When my daughters came home from Miss Dee's house with glowing accounts of baking bread from scratch, I just had to tease Dee about being “homier than thou.” But one day, since my husband has a weakness for homemade bread, I decided to try my hand at whole wheat. I called Dee for a recipe, gathered my ingredients, and plunged in. Three weary hours later, I had four soggy loaves, five dough-covered daughters and a totally messy kitchen. “Why did I ever do that?” I wondered. Yet I had lots of flour and yeast left over, so a couple weeks later I tried it again with a different recipe. I'm glad to say it was much easier and tastier the second time around! Several months later, I could bake four loaves with only about 30 minutes hands-on time. What made the difference? It was the learning curve! I had to discover more efficient ways to work, twiddle with the recipe, invest in tools and supplies, and learn to assemble large batches of dry bread mix ahead of time. I also found sources for bulk ingredients. For example, a two pound package of yeast costs about $2.50 at a warehouse club, which is a better buy than the four ounce $4.00 jar at the grocery store! But now I must confess the pinnacle of my learning curve: my mom gave me her old bread machine and now it's a snap! So was it a waste of time doing all the fiddling and learning? No! I still make my own huge canisters of bread mix with bulk ingredients, and at least now I know how to make bread by hand if necessary. I was also able to teach my daughters how to do it, and some of them actually enjoy the process!

Much of motherhood and homemaking requires learning curves. We need time to acquire the skills of our trade without expecting instant success. Whatever the subject is -- academic instruction, child training, marital communication, cooking, gardening, hair cutting, sewing, crafts or house cleaning -- at the start it seems like you'll never get it right. It just doesn't seem worth the effort, does it? Yet you persevere. Try, try, try again. Practice makes perfect, and all that stuff. Pretty soon you're a veteran.

An extended trial-and-error process is not always necessary. Creativity is not just a matter of totally spontaneous originality. Our projects are often based on previously developed plans such as recipes or patterns. Especially when we are learning a new skill, we must be willing to follow instructions. When we have gained enough proficiency, then we can branch off into more original ideas. In my eighth grade sewing class, the teacher told us to go buy a pattern for a simple piece of clothing. Being a rather fanciful girl, I had other ideas! I sketched an elaborate velvet gown and told Mrs. Gregg that this would be my sewing project. “No way!” she replied. “You don't even know how to sew yet, much less design something like that!” I meekly bought a pattern for a rather plain skirt, followed the instructions, and learned the basics. The principles and practice from two years of home economics classes have served me well for 20 years. Now I can follow packaged patterns as well as design my own projects.

Do you want to accelerate your learning curve? Consider these tips:

♥ Read about your topic; the library is full of how-to books.
♥ Start with some form of written instructions or one-on-one coaching.
♥ If you have problems, ask someone to help you troubleshoot.
♥ Plan ahead to be sure you have the tools, supplies, time, and space.
♥ Relax and take a deep breath. It’s hard to work when you are tense.
♥ Work slowly and methodically, referring to your instructions often.
♥ Make sure you clean up promptly so the project won't haunt you!
♥ Evaluate the results and think of how you could do it differently.
♥ Write down your new ideas and try a few of them next time.
♥ After you have a grasp of the basics, you customize the project as you want.
♥ If you really don’t like it after a while, chalk it up to experience and quit!

Don't be afraid to try new things, including fresh variations on old routines or projects. Allow learning curves for the rest of your family too. Affirm their efforts and encourage their creativity, but don't demand perfection or squash enthusiasm. Let us all curve right on up to success. If we are skilled in our work, we'll serve before kings -- like King Jesus!

Find Your Own Learning Passion!

Forget what your kids are learning for a moment! Do you have a topic that interests you personally? Give yourself permission to do a little research and reading. This is a good example for your children, as long as you don’t get carried away with it to the detriment of your family schedule. You can’t learn about everything, but I’ll bet you could be an amateur-expert (is there such a thing?) about one or two subjects. I obviously love to research family life, education, and Christian growth. In my case, I write from the overflow of what I learn, and this has turned into two books and ten years worth of e-magazines and freelance articles. I also love literature and history, which in turn richly equips me to teach in our home school co-op classes. I’ve been told that my enthusiasm for the subjects is abundantly evident. That’s because it comes from my heart! No, you don’t have to write books or teach classes about your chosen subject, but I do encourage you to enrich your own life and your family by learning for a lifetime.


P.S. You can find my recipe for whole wheat bread using a bread machine on my main blog,, at Whole Wheat Goodness: Pancakes, Bread in a Machine, Peanut Butter Cookies.