Surviving with Four Under Four

Running a household is tough, with or without kids.

I got my first taste when I was fifteen when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She lived about two years with the disease, but the second year was especially tough. Multiple brain surgeries, and treatments left her partially paralyzed and wheelchair bound. My father was taking a lot of time off work to be with her and take her to treatments, my older sister had just started her junior year of college, and my older brother had graduated high school and was working and taking classes locally. I was a senior in high school and had taken over paying the bills, making dinner and doing the food and household shopping.

Fast forward a few years, my father remarried and moved out, and when he told my sister and I, both living at home (her out of college and me now commuting to a local school) we had to pay the mortgage if we stayed, jumped ship. We got an apartment together and were confronted with utility bills and internet bills and rent.

Seven years later I moved out and into a new apartment with my fiancé, directly above the apartment I had been living in. We married a few months later, and six months after that bought a house.

I’m the organized one. I remember the appointments, I rake the leaves in the fall, and I keep on top of how many rolls of toilet paper we have. But anyone who owns a home can tell you it is a never-ending litany of broken things, repairs and hassles. I wouldn’t trade home ownership for a rental but it is a lot of work. And to top it off, we added a sewer bill, a fire department tax (that comes two weeks before Christmas each year), property tax, homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance and an oil bill. In our first year, our water pump died twice, the dishwasher died and our oil tank exploded in our basement (that was when I was 8 months pregnant). The second year, we lost two burners on the stove and the fridge.

No one prepared us for home ownership, especially not for the ownership of a house built in the nineteenth century. And we are still learning.

I love my husband to the ends of the earth but I’ll be honest with you. This amazing man had never raked a lawn, dusted furniture or cooked for himself before he met me. And he still can’t fold clothes. But he works incredibly hard, long hours so that I can continue to stay home with our girls. And I am so grateful to him for that.

There are a few days a week when he doesn’t get to see them at all because he works early and gets home late. So it’s just me with the girls, and everything has to be done purposefully or the entire household just falls apart.

People ask me all the time how I do it. I’m assuming they mean how do I function as a human with three toddlers and a baby. And my response is always, ‘I don’t know’. Because I don’t. It just happens. We survive and thrive and the day ends and a new day starts. It gets done because it has to get done. Sometimes with screams, sometimes with tears, and sometimes with a late night junk food binge fest. Someone, somewhere, and of course I like to think it’s my mom, is looking out for me. My house isn’t always the cleanest and my dinners aren’t always the healthiest, but we manage, and I’m glad for that.

The more I ruminate on that particular question, the more I realize that over these last four years, I’ve come up with these little coping mechanisms that take some of the pressure off this stay at home parenting and household running thing I’m trying to survive through. I never really sat down and decided to make all these changes. These are just things that sort of developed over time that make things just a little bit easier.

1. Family Calendar – my husband is a teacher with normal hours, but he also teaches private music lessons, plays in a community band, and plays in parade bands. He also plays/sings during holiday masses at a local church, so his weekend schedule can be a bit unpredictable. And December and May are both concert months for his middle school so during those months there are numerous additional weeknight commitments. We keep a small 2-year calendar in a bin in our dining room. Everything goes in there, and then when the month arrives it goes on our large calendar. I remember nothing and having this big visual reminder of late nights, appointments and social engagements right in my kitchen is a lifesaver.

2. Reminder boards – I keep small marker boards in different spots for reminders. I’ve got one in the mudroom door leading outside, mostly to tell my husband to bring home his lunchbox, one in the kitchen as a honey-do list, and also a weekly one on my fridge for meal planning. When you’ve got so much on your mind, it helps to have it written down. We also have one of those ‘to buy’ notepads on the fridge for our running shopping list.

3. Outfit Preparation – I have clothes organizers on the back of the girls’ door and my door (for the baby) with ready made outfits. As I’m putting the girls to bed, I just grab a stack of outfits and bring them in my room so I’m ready to go for the morning. My clothes are always laid out the night before, and my husband’s work clothes are always hung up ready for the morning. Having clothes already picked out is a lifesaver, especially on the days my oldest has preschool. Those days they can get up at 7:30 and I can have everyone dressed, fed, and hair brushed by 8:10 to hop in the car.

4. Daily Life Preparation – Firstly, our diaper bag stays in the van. If I use anything out of it during a trip it comes back in the house for restocking and stick it back in the mudroom. I also keep spare diapers and wipes in a trunk organizer. If we are heading out early, I prep a lunchbox the night before with a filled bottle and snacks. In the morning I throw an ice pack in and I’m ready to go. My husband’s lunch and my preschoolers lunch is packed the night before as well.

5. I don’t do bills. Like ever. ’m sure you’ve heard of bill pay through your bank account, right? Well, we do everything through bill pay. Even utilities. We took our first years’ utility bills and calculated an average amount spent each month and set up a recurring bill pay. Sometimes we end up with a credit, sometimes a small balance carries over. And if we find that the small balance carries over for a few months, we just schedule an extra $20 for the next month to square it off. We even took our quarterly sewer bill and started paying it monthly so that we could have a better handle on our finances. The only checks we ever write is for our oil deliveries because they are inconsistent.

6. I have turned over ALL money and bank issues to my husband. This was a tough transition for me. I’ve been working and paying my own bills since I was fourteen years old and rollerbladed to work. Staying at home with the girls and having no income of my own was a huge change for me. But as I’ve become accustomed to it, I realized that constant worry over the bank account balance and what bills come out and when was just one stressor I didn’t want to deal with. My husband knows every bill, and every date, and down to the penny what we can spend on any given day in order to have everything clear when it should. And I am SO grateful.

7. I clean after every meal. For easy meals, like breakfast, the girls do their own cleanup. For bigger meals, I bring a small trash bag right to the dining room table. As the girls finish, I start clearing. I try to load the dishwasher, put things away, and wash AS I’m cooking, so at the end of the meal, there isn’t that much to be done. Of course, it doesn’t always work this way, but I try. We also reuse our cups all day long. I rinse them out after each meal and stick them on the counter for the next time.

8. I have a date with the toilets. I tried coming up with a full on cleaning schedule once, and I failed miserably. But the one thing I FORCE myself to do? Well, that’s to clean both bathrooms every Friday, and empty the trash. And usually, it’s done in shifts. The upstairs one is started before the girls get up, or while they’re chilling in my bed watching some TV before heading downstairs. The downstairs one is usually finished while the girls are there In the tub.

9. I have multiple kid spots. Everyone knows what it’s like when kids have cabin fever, my kids get that way when they’re in the same room for too long. So we have some toys in the living room, we do art projects in the dining room, and we also have a small playroom. On days when we are home all day (and especially if the weather is bad), we switch things up by moving from room to room. It helps keep them entertained, less evil, and there’s usually less screaming. Usually. Sometimes they ever run around up in the bedrooms while I put clothes away.

10. Toys are put away before disaster strikes. When the girls are ready leave the playroom, I stand at the gate and supervise the cleaning process by repeating myself 87 times until my 3 year old FINALLY picks up the last horse and sticks it in the appropriate red bin. Even if we go back in an hour later, they can get more use out of the playroom when they start fresh and aren’t tripping over everything. In the living room the only toys that are always out are a Lego Duplo, a basket of stuffed animals, and a basket of small toys like play keys, and small trucks. We have plenty of other toys like dinosaurs, puzzles, magnetic dress up, gears, bug kits, etc, but there are all packed in their own small bins on a shelf. When the girls want to play with something on the shelves, I take down one type at a time. When that gets old, they clean it up, I put it away and they pick something new.

If this list tells you anything it’s that I totally and completely overthink things. And that I have OCD tendencies. It may sound like things run smoothly around here, but that’s not entirely true. Things are dirty, chaotic and loud. Just today, one of the twins slipped on the directions to a new toy that I left on the stairs, and she tumbled down five steps and got wedged next to the baby gate. And as she fell, she knocked over her older sister. And my oldest has a swollen face (one eye is just about swollen shut) from a bug bite four days ago. And, the icing on the cake, I had to spray and soak two pairs of underwear and one baby onesie after poop accidents.

With four under four, it’s all about survival. Having these little cheats makes the days just slightly less chaotic. And right now, that’s all I really need.

That and a mango margarita, with sugared rim.

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A bragger or a liar?

Yes, I judge other people. Other moms. I try really, really hard not to. And even if something pops into my mind, I zip my lips. I don’t say it. But there are things that I just feel are just plain wrong. And so do you.

As humans I feel like we are predestined to put each other in these little boxes to make sense of the world. She is this. He is that. We categorize each other, label each other, and attempt to make order of the chaos around us. And we judge.

As my girls grow, I’m constantly reminding myself that I am their primary role model. I am the adult that’s with them all their waking hours. How I look at the world and how I view other people is not only witnessed by them, but absorbed by them. I want my girls to grow up to be kind, accepting individuals. I want them to be confident, to fight for what they want, and to be open to other’s ways of life.

I don’t want them to look down on others, to judge other people for the decisions they have made, or feel superior to others for doing things differently. Like motherhood, should they choose this path.

If you’ve read any of my posts, or know me, you’ll already know that my mom passed when I was 17. I never had the chance to ask her about anything related to raising children, marriage, love, any of those things that you don’t think about until they happen to you.

I have an older sister, but she doesn’t have any children. I have cousins with children, but none that I’m super close with. When I had my first, none of my friends had children. I had my grandmothers, but they were both in their upper 80s. I also had my mother-in-law, who is amazing, but definitely reserved when it comes to giving opinions or advice

Almost everything I learned about pregnancy, childbirth, and raising children, I learned online.

Nothing I do as a mom makes me any better than any other mom. There are a TON of things I would change and do differently, even in these few short years, if given the chance. There’s also a lot I would do the same. I’m not an expert on any of it, I learn through others and by trial and (mostly) error.

But I’m one frustrated mother. Because lately, I’m either a bragger or a liar.

How so? Well let’s just say I made the mistake of leaving a comment on a Scary Mommy article.

Now I am against mommy shaming. What I mean is that I will never call someone out for doing things differently. I’m get irritated and feel 100% that you are in the wrong (like the mom in one of my FB groups who is against washing hair). But I won’t say it or type it. As someone who struggled with breastfeeding four times around and ended up formula feeding, I know what it’s like to feel judged. Even passive aggressive judging, like that mom who writes, every single time she posts a pic of her baby, that her baby ‘won’t take formula’ and is ‘exclusively breastfed.’ That’s really fantastic. I’m so happy that she was able to feed her daughter in this way. But she doesn’t need to rub it in. Of course she’s proud and happy. But every single post? We get it.

But back to my point. Being home with your child (or children) is hard and exhausting. But this ‘stop mommy shaming’ thing is getting a little ridiculous in terms of some of the articles that I now see being published by one particular group. Because now, no one is even allowed an opinion about things other people do, anything goes.

The article that I commented on, “Why Being The Parent of a 1-Year-old is Exhausting,” and I will admit right now that I did not read it in its entirety before commenting, was about a mom being home with her one year old child. I didn’t finish it because it annoyed the crap out of me. There are days now, and there were days when I only had one kid, that I wanted to tear my hair out. I get that part. It’s hard. And anyone that tells you differently can stuff it. But this mom was writing as if she couldn’t get a handle on her ONE one-year old who was seemingly into everything. Yes, I’m sure she meant this to be funny. She was essentially comparing what it’s like to have a one year old in real life versus what you see in ads and on TV.

But I just wanted to reach through the computer and shake the person that published this. If these things actually all happened to this mom… well maybe she needs some lessons in child rearing. So why publish something that makes it seem like moms are incompetent and can’t handle their kid(s)? All you have to do to keep a one-year old in check is WATCH THEM. My comment was just that. I wasn’t bragging about being a perfect mother. My twins have scaled changing tables, my oldest has rocked back so far in her high chair that she almost fell. Things happen. If I had any more fingers and toes I could show you how many times my big butt has knocked out an unsuspecting child. But why was it not valid for me to say that these don’t happen in my house and that if you WATCH YOUR CHILD then you can prevent 90% of these crazy incidences Oh yeah, because I’m bragging or a liar.

I got slammed for my comment. It was astonishing how much thought and time these moms went through to find the perfect emojis and memes to call me a big fat liar. This was an article! Obviously exaggerated for comedic effect. Unless these commenters really have households like this. Who knows.

So here we go… this is for the moms that called me a liar –

I’m sorry not sorry that my kids have never emptied a tube of diaper cream all over the couch. They all get crusty and blocked anyway because I can count on one hand the number of combined times my four kids have actually had diaper rash.

I’m sorry not sorry my kid never smeared a jar of peanut butter all over her sister. My cabinets are locked and they don’t even know where I keep it. Which is in a top cabinet.

I’m sorry not sorry my kid has never flushed toys down the toilet. Before potty training the door was always shut. And now, I don’t know, they just don’t.

I’m sorry not sorry my kid has never reached for the flame of a candle. I’m not dumb enough to leave a lit candle within reach of my toddlers.

I’m sorry not sorry my kid has never chewed a phone charger. They too were out of reach until the kids knew better.

Also, I don’t leave my children unattended. And when I have to use the bathroom or shower, they’re gated into one safe area of my house. And I never had just 1 one-year old. Because when my oldest turned one, I had one month old twins fresh out of the NICU.

And hey, while we are at it, how about I tell you about my toddlers who have predictable naps (or quiet time) every single day and my almost four month old who has been sleeping through the night since 8 weeks old. Oh yeah, and my baby just hopped on that afternoon nap train so I get a blissful two hours to myself daily.

Pissed yet? Got another name to call me? Then good.

But guess what? I accidentally shut a baby gate on my three year old’s face today. And I scraped poop out of two different pairs of underwear courtesy of my youngest twin. And the baby refused a morning nap. And I’ve got to cook dinner for my in laws tonight which I haven’t even started prepping and they’ll make it to my house before my husband even gets home from work which means I’ve got to do this with four kids awake and in my face. I did manage to fold the laundry but I forgot to run the dishwasher which is full of the plates I need for dinner.

I’m not an attention seeking person. And I usually never comment on the articles that I read. This article just just the straw that snapped my SAHM back. I’m sick of reading things that make it seem like being at home with kids is like a circus run amuck. Because we moms are better than that. And those of us with common sense know that for every proud momma moment someone posts, there’s a shit-loaded diaper of a day hiding somewhere between the lines.

Shampoo Bars

 

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We’ve been making small changes to our home and lifestyle since our first daughter arrived in 2015. It’s a slow process, limited by time and money, but we are plugging away at it. It’s unbelievable the amount of chemicals and toxins that we, mostly unknowingly, introduce into our bodies. But also, so much of what we do is just habit. You buy the pasture-raised eggs, the organic vegetables and fruits, all the while sipping out of a styrofoam cup of coffee. Your child’s sunscreen may be mineral-based, free of toxins, but you’re using chemical-laden undereye cream. I too am guilty of this type of contradiction. But little by little, I’m reevaluating our daily routine, looking for ways to make just a simple improvement here and there.

I am so grateful that the changes I have implemented have stuck. For example, since I made my own washable kitchen sponges a year or so ago, it’s all that we use in the kitchen. But this one might be a little more difficult.

A new goal – Shampoo Bars

Recently, washing my girls’ hair in the bathtub, a realization struck me. Four daughters, and myself – that is a lot of hair. Dollar signs flashed before my eyes as I imagined the huge amount of money that we would be spending on shampoos and conditioners. Both my husband and I have thick hair so, taking genetics into account, we could be looking at a LOT of product for the girls.

The more I started thinking about this the more I realized that I could accomplish two goals in one if we eliminated commercial shampoo products. First, we could save money, and second, we would no longer be using harsh chemicals on on hair.

I’ve already been avoiding the sulfates that are present in most commercial lathering products. Research has shown that sulfates can irritate your skin and eyes, and come in three forms: sodium laurel sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate and ammonium laureth sulfate. The plus of including these in a shampoo formula is that they are excellent for that nice soapy lather. But, they are also good at stripping away a lot of the natural oils that your body creates.

*Check out xojane.com for more details on the pros and cons of sulfates

My family loves Disney World, and one of our favorite spots at Disney Springs is a bath store called Basin. This is where I was introduced to shampoo bars. That’s right, you wash your hair with a bar of soap. I’ve used them on a few occasions but it was never something that was readily available in a store near me.

And, as it turns out, Basin products, as well as Lush products, (Lush is a similar bath and body type store), contain sulfates. These two stores are the only ones where I had encountered shampoo bars in the past.

A quick google search brought me to travelislife.org and an article by a contributor named Paul entitled, “10 Best Sulfate Free Shampoo Bars.” This is where I found Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve.

After reading through the articles on the website, I decided to follow the recommendation of purchasing sample size shampoo bars in order to find what would work best on my particular hair type.

The first that I chose was Coconut Milk – This shampoo bar is recommended for all hair types and contains ingredients to moisturize and condition the hair.

Second, I chose Neem and Tea Tree Hair and Body – This bar is for hair and body and contains ingredients known for balancing oil production. Tea Tree essential oil (something I already use in my homemade personal care products) can help soothe acne-prone skin and promote oil production in dry scalps.

Lastly, I chose Nettle – Nettle has been used to help calm oily hair AND dandruff, and restore natural radiance to hair. I have a feeling this will be my go to in the dry winter months, as well as a perfect solution to my husband’s hair needs.

I also picked up Coconut Primrose Hair Balm. As someone who ALWAYS runs out of conditioner before shampoo, and with hair incredibly thick, I knew I would need some type of conditioning agent.

I decided to start with the Neem & Tea Tree shampoo bar.

It lathered really nicely, which surprised me. I rubbed it between my two hands and then worked it through my hair from the scalp down.

Many factors affect the outcome so I should probably share a little bit about my hair. My hair is decently thick, even with an undercut, and is a few inches past my shoulders. At this point in my life it’s super healthy. Any coloring products I had used have long grown out, and I can count on one hand the number of times my hair has been blow dried in the last couple of years. I don’t put anything in it, but just wash and condition it every few days. I basically wear it in a mom bun every day.

After I lathered, I rinsed while using a wide-toothed shower comb to try and prevent as many knots as possible.

I will admit that my wet hair felt weird when I ran my fingers through it. The top of my head especially felt almost squeaky clean. I had read on the website that there is an adjustment period for the shampoo bars so this didn’t bother me too much. After showering, I used a very small amount of the conditioning balm and ran it through my hair.

BIG MISTAKE HERE – When I used the conditioning balm, I started at the very top of my hair, right by my forehead. That was my mistake as the balm is made of oils to condition the hair. This left the very top of my hair almost somewhat greasy looking, while the rest of my hair (once dry I mean) took on a nice healthy sheen.

It was a non-humid end of summer day when I first tested the shampoo bar. On a day like this, air drying would still lead to a lot of pouf and frizz. I’m not sure if it was the shampoo or the balm but my hair was pretty tame, smooth and shiny with just an air dry.

I’m sure time will tell how my hair will really react to the switch, but I’ve already seen a few pros having only used one bar one time. Once I’ve adjusted, and the girls have run out of their supersize Johnson’s baby shampoo, I’ll pick out a couple sample bars to try on them.

My hope is to be able to find the right combination of bar and balm that will work for each of us and then fully make the switch. I would also like to try a few from other soap companies as well.

Packing the Car

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My husband had been driving our 2016 Honda Odyssey this past June when a distracted driver in a pickup, a young woman, crossed into his lane and sideswiped him. The damage wasn’t too bad, but all the side airbags deployed, leaving him with a lot of bruising and air bag burns.

Here is poor Odessa –

We were very lucky that he only had minor injuries and none of our girls were in the car. The insurance process was long one, but as he was not at fault (thank you to the woman driving behind my husband who stopped and gave a statement) we were able to get the full loan paid off on the totaled car.

And then we were tasked with buying another vehicle.

We ended up with a 2017 12-passenger Ford Transit. Yes, you read that right. And yes, there are only six members of my family. But have you ever tried to sit between two car seats? Or drive an extended period cramming gear for four under four in one small trunk space? Now we have oodles of space, and can take some nice long road trips (with auntie, or grandma and grandpa) and still have room for everyone’s belongings.

When we emptied out the Odyssey we ended up throwing everything into those reusable shopping bags and just left it all sitting in our mudroom during the month+ long insurance process. Getting a new car gave me the chance to go through all those assorted bags and bins and trim things down a bit. It was a chance to start fresh and sit down and decide what was truly necessary to have.

I started with this organizer from Creative Options.

The goal was to us this one organizer to condense the multitude of cosmetic bags that had filled every nook of the minivan. This would include everything from first aid supplies, to feminine products, and even bobby pins.

1. Top Compartment – oversized first aid supplies and feminine hygiene

2. Upper pull-out compartment – first aid

3. Center pull-out compartment – medication

4. Bottom pull-out compartment – personal hygiene

You never know when you’ll need a bobby pin, or itch spray. And with four kids under four years old, that’s not the kind of errand you want run with all the littles in tow. I mean, there’s a reason I keep a self-standing potty seat (with bags) in the car. I even tossed in some spare daily contacts, flosses, and an anti-chafe stick for shoes or thighs that just rub the wrong way.

The hurt-free antiseptic and bandaids came in handy a few weeks ago when one of the twins took two diggers on the concrete at the splash pad. Both knees were actively bleeding. This was the first time that we actually needed first aid supplies since the kids were born. If we had not have had this, my little one would not have been able to go back in the water.

Now to be honest, many of these items were already in our previous car. But they weren’t stored in this way. The personal hygiene was crammed into three cosmetic bags in the center console, the first aid kit was shoved under the passenger seat, and I would keep any meds I may need in full bottles in my purse. This cleared up the clutter, forced me to check expiration’s and replace what I needed to, and put everything in one spot. This caddy will sit right in our trunk, ready for use.

So how do you organize your car clutter?

Boo Boos Everywhere

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It’s been awhile, now hasn’t it?

A lot has changed. About a month ago we welcomed our fourth daughter. It was a difficult pregnancy (she was 10lbs!) and so the priority was simply surviving those nine months with three toddlers running around.

It was a close call, but we did it! 🤪

Summer is full on upon us and we’ve been keeping pretty busy now that Daddy is home from school. We’ve been spending a lot of time in our toddler-safe play area in our backyard, as well as taking trips to an area splash pad, the lake and some new playgrounds. This is a huge change from the last few months of the pregnancy. We didn’t go out much and when we did it was mostly errands.

So what has all this new excitement brought us? Well, it’s just about depleted our supply of Babyganics sunscreen, but it’s also brought on more bruises, bumps and scrapes.

Moms and dads know when it’s serious, and when it’s just a shock. Here, it’s mostly just the shock. Especially if there ends up being the teeniest amount of blood. It’s like someone lost a limb.

I’ll say it right now that I didn’t invent this hack. And I’m sure there are tons of families that do this already. I learned this as a first year Kindergarten teacher way back in 2010. This was pre-marriage, pre-kids, pre-having friends with kids, etc. I knew no little kids at that point. I taught at a tiny Catholic school that did not have a full-time nurse. Our secretary, bless her heart, held the school together. And boo boos? Well, they got sponges.

Nothing helps a child heal faster than special treatment. So when an ouchie did not need a bandage, but it did cause tears, she handed out frozen sponges. Mini reusable ice packs that cost pennies to make. If it didn’t come back, no big loss. And they worked like a charm.

So my first hack of the summer is homemade kid ice packs. All you need are some cheap kitchen sponges (check the dollar store) and some zipper snack baggies. Cut the sponges in half, soak them, seal them in the baggy, and stick them in the freezer. Voila, easy, cheap, DIY ice packs. They take up very little space, freeze very quickly and are great for when your toddler twins run full speed at each other and bang heads.

Here they are!

So now, “Oh no… grab an ice pack,” is enough to illicit a smile, or at least to stop the tears. It’s a great trick and I’m so thankful to super-secretary Lorraine at OLV for teaching me this hack.

You all know that I am NOT a sponge person. But here, I’ll make an exception. You could probably try this with small cut pieces of cloth but nothing holds the water as well as a cheap kitchen sponge. And they’ll last for years!

Unsponges

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This post has been a long time coming. I originally gathered my supplies over a month ago but alas, life got in the way, and it was only last night that I pulled out the sewing machine and whipped these babies up.

So why make my own sponges?

Exhibit A: My two-week old kitchen sponge

Gross, isn’t it? It was a few years ago that I learned that kitchen sponges need to replaced every two weeks. And I will admit, even since then, I’ve kept them longer. I pay close attention to where our family’s money goes, and kitchen sponges are sort of at the bottom of the list. They get pretty nasty and fairly quickly too. I’ve read other posts where people have microwaved or thrown theirs in the dishwasher to ‘kill the germs’ but I’ve also read contradictory posts that say it doesn’t work. We can all at least agree on one thing – there comes a time when you just can’t hold onto your kitchen sponges anymore. And since my dishwasher busted, that time comes much more quickly.

Searching on Pinterest led me to Etsy where I saw some adorable handmade sponges for sale. More research and I was able to find some tutorials. Most were basically the same. These so-called unsponges are made with three layers of material, a standard cotton or poly blend covered in a fabric mesh on one side, and some form of terry cloth or textured fabric on the other. The center, and what gives it its sponge-like quality, is a rectangle of 1-inch thick washable foam. It’s a cut, sew and stuff project that can be done in just a few hours. Or a couple days if you have three toddlers.

Step 1 Gather the Goods – here is what I used for my sponges

  • 1-inch thick Foam Block (craft store or Amazon)
  • Scrap fabric – I used quilters squares because they were cheap and I wouldn’t be left with too much excess material
  • Black Fabric mesh
  • A pack of standard face cloths

Step 2 Cut

Step 3 Pin and Sew

  • I started with my patterned fabric face up, then the mesh, then the terry cloth.
  • I sewed a rectangle approximately 2″ x 3″ leaving a gap of approximately 1.5″. This is to allow me to flip the material inside out and shove the foam rectangle inside
  • Once sewn, I trimmed the sides so that there wouldn’t be too much excess fabric on the inside

Step 4 Flip and Stuff

  • I flipped the material through the opening I left, making sure the mesh stayed with the patterned fabric, and the terry cloth was on the back side.
  • I rolled up each cut piece of 1″ foam and shoved it through the opening, straightening and flattening as best I could

Step 5 Sew Closed

  • The last step was to sew by hand the 1.5″ openings on all the sponges.

Step 6 Store and Marvel

  • I stored my 14 sponges in a latch-top plastic jar that I found at Wal-Mart. I’m going to keep this jar on the counter right next to my sink to remind myself that I should swap out my sponges every couple of days and toss the used one right into the wash
  • Lastly, I marveled to myself at how adorable my unsponges were

Just before starting this post I washed the dinner dishes and am incredibly pleased with how well my unsponges worked. They hold the dish soap really well, so I actually only poured it on once for an entire sink full (and I made a giant batch of banana bread so I had that coated bowl as well). They suds up really nicely, fit perfectly in my hand and rinse out well. I know not to expect miracles – the mesh covering and the terry are good scrubbing options, but on heavily greased dishes or dishes with a lot of stuck on food, I’ll definitely presoak.

I probably spent about $15 on the materials for the project, and $5 for the storage jar. I made 14 sponges but have enough foam remaining for about 12 more should I need them. Seeing as how I do laundry 2-3 times a week, I doubt that I will ever run out, even if I used one a day.

This project wasn’t just about the money savings. I will no longer be contributing gross dirty sponges to the landfill. Also, I will not longer have funky smelling hands after doing the dishes. And in just a few hours while my girls slept, napped and made snowflake crafts, I created something that is a safer, healthier alternative for my family.

DIY Counter Wipes

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Having been a classroom teacher for 8 years, cleaning wipes hold a special place in my heart. Desks, keyboards and door knobs got wiped down once a week to stop the germs from spreading. They were quick and convenient for both school and home.

Now, as a (slightly) older, wiser, stay at home parent of three littles, I’m more conscientious about the money I spend and about what I expose my children to. And these chemical cleaning wipes have been wiped off the shopping list.

While browsing through the home section at my local Wal-Mart a little while back, I came across these plastic, cylindrical latch-top jars. My first thought was of cleaning wipes. So tonight’s DIY Project is my take on mass-produced cleaning wipes. Reusable and washable cloths, and a cleaner I can trust are the staples for this project.

I started with a basic (plastic) latch jar from Walmart for 4.99 and a few packs of standard (thin) wash cloths. Our house is full of these already: the gray ones are in our upstairs bathroom, the white are in the downstairs and the tan are for the kitchen. I’m not being fancy – I bought a multipack and moved them to where they happened to match the decor. When the white ones get too dingy (we don’t use bleach around here) they get moved to the kitchen. So for my Counter Wipes, I used all the tan cloths.

Thieves from Young Living is my all time favorite cleaner – it smells great and I know that if one of the girls touches a still wet surface, no harm is done. The $22 price tag for a 14.4oz bottle may seem a little excessive but when you figure that it’s one capful to 2-3 cups of water, it’s not too bad of a deal. If you are iffy about spending that kind of cash, take a drive to your local Target or Walmart. There are commercially available all-natural products out there. Just take a moment to do your homework first to make sure that what you are getting is truly what is being advertised.


As this project is designed for kitchen and dining room wiping (counters, sink, stove, table) I opted for 3 cups water to 1 capful. If I have a heavily soiled area I will add a few spritzes from a spray bottle for the extra cleaning power.

I started with 1 capful of Thieves Cleaner and three cups of water. I then crammed in ten washclothes and added one more capful and three more cups of water. There is still space leftover in the jar which will come in handy when I have to plunge my hand in for a cloth and wring it out.

The idea is to have this jar right on the counter and to have one-handed access to a pre-soaked cleaning cloth. No fumbling in my locked under-sink cabinet for disinfectant spray and no unraveling wasteful paper towels.

Tips!

  • Wash cloths are not the be all end all. Terry cloth also works great and you can buy this by the yard and cut it down (sew the edges to prevent fraying)! Have old t-shirts hanging around? These will also work great as counter-cleaning cloths.
  • If you have a bunch of messy kids like I do, keep a ‘wet bag’ hanging nearby. This will give you a place to store the used wipes during the day. At the end of the day they can just be dumped into your laundry basket. Just don’t leave a bunch of wet wipes comingling for too long… they won’t smell too pretty after that.
  • Keep adding freshly laundered wipes to the jar until you are almost out of solution. If you find that the wipes are sitting in there for weeks on end you may wish to use a smaller jar. I have found that I go through my solution within 1-2 weeks, at which point I wash the jar and start again.
  • Don’t throw away all your paper towels. There are some things that you just don’t want to have to scrape off a piece of cloth before running it through your washer.
  • Whatever solution you do use in your jar, also make a spray bottle of it. That way if you find you need to rinse your wipe and go back a second time, you have the option of a quick spritz of cleaner.