Living with Less

Over the past few years, we’ve been simplifying our home of excess and have become more mindful of the things we allow into our home.

Living with less has proven to have wonderful benefits. We’re spending less time shopping, spending less money and our home is clutter free.

One of the biggest benefits to living with less has been an easy to manage home.

Having small children and keeping a perfectly clean house is impossible (and is not my goal). However, not having an overabundance of stuff has made keeping our home tidy easier.

During the day, the floors never look clean and there are toys and books in random places which may appear to some to be a mess. But, we focus on the fact that the ‘mess’ is manageable.

Each night, we spend about 10-15 minutes as a family tidying up our home.

Our boys are learning to pick up their toys and books and put them away. They don’t always cooperate and some nights are much easier than others but they are learning. Our toy rotation makes this routine easier. Every toy that they own is not always accessible to them. We keep about half of their toys on a shelf in their playroom with the other half stored in the playroom closet along with puzzles and games.

My husband and I spend this same time encouraging the boys as they pick up, tidying our living areas and sweeping the floors.

At the end of our clean up time, our home is tidy and becomes a relaxing place to read bedtime stories to our boys and for my husband and I to relax in once the boys are sleeping.

Living with less makes our home management easier and are evenings much more relaxing.

What are benefits you have found to living with less? 

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Having a Christmas Baby

When we found out the due date of our second baby, I was sad.

He was due December 31.

I did not want a Christmas baby!

While December 31 is not Christmas, December tends to be all about Christmas with parties, festivities and family gatherings throughout the month.

Growing up, I always thought December birthdays must be awful. You get all of your presents basically at one time, instead of spread out. I was sad that our baby was going to have an awful birthday.

I spent my entire pregnancy hoping he was at least one day late. Something about January 1 seemed much less Christmas-y than December 31. And, I absolutely did not want him to come before Christmas.

Well, all my hoping didn’t matter. He was not overdue. Instead, he was early. 9 days early, arriving in the early morning hours of December 22.

I was thrilled to have my sweet, tiny baby in my arms. And, his early arrival certainly made for a memorable and special Christmas but I was sad that he was born so close to Christmas Day.

During his first year, I often thought about how we were going to make his first birthday special, as well as future birthdays. I just wanted to separate it from Christmas – trying to make the most of the fact that I thought it was an awful birthday.

His first birthday fell on a Saturday that just so happened to be the day a family gathering was scheduled. I was so afraid that his birthday was going to be overshadowed by Christmas.

However, our family made it a wonderful first birthday. Everybody stopped the Christmas festivities to have a small birthday party – complete with cake and singing – for the birthday boy.

After his first birthday, my attitude began to change about his birthday.

If we, as his parents, didn’t think or act like December 22 was an awful birthday, our child wouldn’t grow up thinking that it was a bad date.

I started to think positively about his birthday.

December 22, 2011 was winter solstice – how neat is it that he was born on the first day of winter?

December is a month of fun, yummy food, friends and family – truly a wonderful time of year and a wonderful season to celebrate a birthday!

And, thinking positively about his birthday has made all the difference. This year, there was no sense of dread or worry about trying to make his day special because it was so close to Christmas.

Instead, I focused on making his birthday special because we were celebrating the day of his birth!

birthday balloons

This year, he woke up to a hallway full of balloons on his second birthday! He loved the balloons and both boys had a lot of fun playing with them.

birthday giftWe gave him his birthday gift which was a wooden barn that his daddy made and I painted for him. He loves farm animals and farming. We moved his animals into the barn as soon as it was opened!

We had plans to go out for breakfast as a family that morning but big brother woke up with a fever so we had to stay home. We ended up waiting until the next day to have birthday cupcakes since I try to avoid giving our boys sugar when they’re sick. The day wasn’t necessarily ideal due to sickness but that’s real life and is not enough to ruin a birthday. (Having this mindset is proof that an overall positive attitude makes a world of difference – especially when it comes to life with little children!)

And, I laugh at my childhood thoughts about December birthdays being bad because you receive all of your gifts at once. As a mama who desires to live minimally, it’s actually a beautiful thing – the bulk of the gifts are received at once which means we are not bombarded with gifts all throughout the year!

Parent’s of Christmas babies, December birthdays are not awful! Just have a positive attitude and joyfully celebrate the birth of your child.


A Simple Christmas

We live simply so naturally we also celebrate a simple Christmas.

We’ve said no to busyness, consumerism and unrealistic expectations. Instead, we simply enjoy the season.

Here are some ways we’re celebrating a simple Christmas:


We give our children 3 gifts each.

This year our oldest is receiving a Thomas Wooden Railway engine, a Richard Scarry book and a pack of 3 pair of Thomas socks (socks sound boring but he saw them in a store a few months ago and has talked about them since then!)

Our youngest son loves farming so we’re giving him a toy piglet and goat to add to his little farm and a book about spring called Let It Rain. (We have the 3 other books in this series about the seasons Let It Shine, Let It Fall and Let It Snow. They are cute, simple books that are perfect for teaching toddlers and preschoolers about the seasons.)

Only giving our children 3 gifts may sound cruel to some, but it’s perfect for us. After all, we live in a small home and don’t like clutter! And, for those who feel sorry for our children because of our 3 gift policy, know that our boys have grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and great aunts who send them gifts so they’ll be receiving more than 3 gifts at Christmas.


While we try to focus on Christ’s birth as the center of the season, we have chosen not to observe advent by following any set of readings or activities. During this season of life with 2 small boys and a pregnant mama, it seemed like more of a stress than a joy to try to do something daily.

Instead, we’re reading picture books about Jesus’ birth and playing with our nativity, teaching our boys in fun, simple ways. (The stories about Christmas in The Jesus Storybook Bible are our favorites!)

Baby Jesus


No Santa or Elves in Our Home

We have chosen not to ‘do Santa’ in our family. We don’t believe Santa is evil, we just have chosen not to have Santa visit our home. Our boys still talk and sing about Santa, they just know he isn’t real.

If families choose to do Santa, that’s their decision, we do not judge other parents for their choice. For us, it just made sense to not have Santa come and bring even more presents to our children since we desire to live simply and not make Christmas all about stuff.

Since we don’t do Santa, there is no need for us to have an elf in our home during December. And, quite frankly, these naughty little elves seem like a lot of work for parents. By the time our boys are finally asleep at the end of the day, I’m too exhausted to do anything creative!


While I love homes that are beautifully decorated for Christmas, it’s just something I choose not to do.

We have a Christmas tree and that’s it. Our tree is a small, artificial tree that was given to us several years ago. It’s not a fancy artificial tree but it’s lovely during the evenings when it’s all lit up.

Our tree is decorated with kid friendly ornaments which my children still manage to break. (During the decorating of the tree we had 3 ornament casualties and have had several more since then!) And, our boys decorated the tree so the ornaments are just randomly placed. But, they had a wonderful time and were proud of their decorating and we used what we had – no going out buying brand new ornaments for a fancy color scheme of the year here!

We’re enjoying this Christmas season and excitedly anticipating gathering with family, having daddy off for several days and visiting with our parents in the weeks ahead.

What are some ways you keep Christmas simple? 

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Gifts to Encourage Creativity

With Christmas quickly approaching, many parents and grandparents are thinking about gifts for the children in their lives.

Many toys that are given to children at Christmas are quickly forgotten, but some gifts have staying power. Classic, open ended toys encourage creativity in young children and are played with for months and often times years.

Here are some of our favorite toys:



You really can’t go wrong with blocks. A nice set of blocks is a simple toy that will be used over and over for so many different things from towers to bridges to play food. We gave our older son a set of Uncle Goose Alphabet Blocks for his first Christmas and they’re still being played with almost 3 years later. We added to that original set when our younger son was given a set of Uncle Goose Number Blocks last Christmas.

In addition to our wooden blocks, we also enjoy the sets of Foam Building Blocks and Building Blocks (like Mega Bloks or Duplos) that we have.

Dress Up

Dress Up Clothes

My boys love dressing up. We have a small collection of dress up items like train hats, superhero capes and a pirate outfit. They really enjoy pulling out the dress up bin and engaging in pretend play. One of the favorites is the Melissa & Doug Pirate Costume, it’s a high quality dress up set that has been played with countless times over the past year and will used for many years to come.

Wooden Train Tracks

Wooden Train Sets

When our older son started showing an interest in trains, we chose wooden train tracks over plastic. We felt the wooden tracks were more open ended and encouraged creativity more than the plastic ones (especially electric trains) available.

You can purchase inexpensive wooden train tracks at various places but we chose to go with the Thomas Wooden Railway. It is expensive but we started out with a Starter Set which included 2 trains and a caboose, he received a track expansion pack and 3 engines as gifts last Christmas from grandparents and another engine for his birthday. Over a year has passed since the initial train set purchase and both boys are still playing with the track and engines and that’s what he wants again this Christmas.

In addition to the creative train play, building the track requires engineering. He’s so proud of the different track set ups he creates and I’m often blown away by what he has created.

We forsee playing with these train tracks for years to come. And, trains aren’t just for boys! Most little girls love trains too – so don’t buy into the gender stereotypes!

Art Supplies

Art Supplies

Art supplies definitely encourage creativity – and big messes! We don’t have a ton of art supplies but big pad of construction paper, colored pencils, fingerpaints, paint and paint brushes goes a long way in helping kids embrace their inner artist. Both of our boys love doing ‘art stuff’. And, art supplies are a consumable gift!

Musical Instruments

Musical Instruments

Our older son loves music. He received his first drum and guitar on his second Christmas and those two toys are still being played with and providing music for our family jam sessions! We added a small wooden drum for little brother last Christmas. Other favorites include the child size child drum kit and our xylophone.



For toddlers, Melissa & Doug Chunky Puzzles are wonderful. The large pieces are easy for little hands to maneuver plus they make fun toys too. We also like Melissa & Doug Wooden Puzzles and have a few Thomas The Tank Engine Wooden Puzzles. The wooden puzzles hold up much better than cardboard puzzles – especially if a younger sibling decides to chew on them!



While books aren’t exactly toys, they certainly inspire creativity and can be the starting point for inspiring creative play. My boys will role play favorite characters and act out their favorite stories.

A few of our very favorite books:

If you’re still looking for gifts for young children, hopefully this list helps you find a wonderful gift to encourage creativity!

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