It’s OK to live a cluttered life (there are many things worse).

I have just emerged from the basement, where I am making a valiant effort to de-clutter.  I almost drowned in a sea of game pieces, puzzle pieces, stuffed animals, dress-up clothes, wooden blocks, trains, dolls, legos, and everything in between. I have lived to tell the tale, but the clutter is not conquered. I would say I made a dent in it.

Minimalism. We see it talked about all over the place. And hey, I get it. Materialism has taken over America. Americans seem to live to get more things, and then need time to take care of those things, and then need time to get rid of things, and then end up wanting more things, and working on getting them…. Like I said, I get it. Life is about much more than material goods.musicAs a concept, minimalism is quite attractive to me. I’m not against it, necessarily.  But is it true that we should all be striving constantly towards the goal of living an uncluttered life? Is it true that minimalism is the key to living life to the fullest and richest extent? Should my children play with only one decorative basket of handmade toys every day? Should my walls should be decorated with a single burlap pennant banner that says “Simplify”? Should my kitchen have open shelving with a total of six plates and one ornamental pitcher stored there? I mean, we’ve all seen the pictures, right?

There are only so many goals we can strive towards at once in life, and I’m just not sure that living with less clutter makes it anywhere near the top of my true priority list right now.crayon shelfThere are ten of us under one roof in this household at the present time. And the truth is, people = clutter.

People need clothes, they need food, they need blankets, they need diapers, they need cosmetics, they need coats/hats/gloves/boots, they need sleds for winter and bathing suits for summer, they need things to occupy them (toys), they need to be educated (books/papers/pencils), they need shoes, they need little treasures gotten from here or there, they need gifts, they need their artwork displayed on the refrigerator, they need sports equipment, they need cardboard boxes to cut up and make playhouses out of– lots and lots of things. (Of course I am using the word “need” to include things that are not actually life-and-death essentials.) Organize all that stuff and call it what you will, but it’s still clutter.

{Only the somewhat picturesque clutter at our house is pictured here. I doubt you want to see pics of our ugly clutter. And I’m not sure “picturesque clutter” is even a thing.}booksWe work hard to keep things tidy and organized.  We fight the clutter war valiantly. We take bags to the Goodwill. We throw away plenty of junk, as our faithful trash men would testify. (A few weeks ago the trash men literally picked up a dresser– a cheap one that was broken beyond repair. I was doubtful they would pick it up, but they actually did.) But, in spite of all that, life is just cluttered right now. There is no way around it if we plan to actually live life here in our house.

I love a tidy, organized, and uncluttered environment as much as the next person. As homemakers we desire to keep our nest in order. But the problem I have (and I suspect I am not alone in this) is that any clean and uncluttered environment cannot and will not survive when my crew descends upon it. From the littlest to the biggest, this is one active crew! Coming and going, creating, learning, playing, eating and sleeping, all under this roof, from sun-up to sun-down and beyond.shoesI looked up the definition of clutter. “A collection of things lying about in an untidy mass.” I read it to Steve.

“Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Pretty much defines our daily life,” I groaned.

After a moment he replied, “Yup. And another word that defines our daily life would be clatter.” Clutter and clatter– definitely the stage we are in. The two C’s!

So I am here to tell us all, today, that it is ok. Clutter is ok! Living a cluttered life is not a sign that you are somehow not all that you should be. 

Not that I’m really an authority on the matter, mind you, but to be fair, neither is the next blogger who wants to tell me Ten Things I should do Every Evening to Eliminate Clutter and Reduce Stress the next morning. Ten things? You mean in addition to brushing teeth, and putting pajamas on toddlers, and chasing kids to bed, and rocking babies, and hopefully remembering to thaw the ground beef, and talking to my husband about the day? Yikes. (I did recently see an article that was giving the advice of de-cluttering your home at the pace of one thing per day. I think I might be able to handle that. Might.)scissorsHere are some things that are worse than living a cluttered life–

Losing our peace because of clutter. No doubt I am a work-in-progress in this department. But the truth is, my inner peace (if it’s real, true peace) must come from a much deeper source than the state of my environment.

Losing our joy because of clutter. [See the point above.]

Valuing an uncluttered environment more than we value people. People are more important than things. People are more important than me constantly stressing out about all the clutter. Enjoy the people, invest in the people, clutter or no clutter. Some of the most dynamic people I have known, truthfully, have lived in cluttered homes and worked in cluttered offices.  Not necessarily dynamic in the sense of getting the most stuff checked off their list every day. I mean dynamic as in connecting with people, impacting people’s lives.

One of the great things about children is that they don’t mind clutter one little bit. They don’t even notice it. Funny thing though, they do seem to notice if mom is stressed out and unhappy.

Needing to control everything. There are many things we can’t control, and many things we actually don’t need to control. Relax. It’s completely fine if things are less than perfect, less than what they could be. Totally ok! I say this as someone who can be pretty controlling by nature. God has taught me some big lessons along the way, and one of those lessons has been stop trying to control everything.

Not being willing to sacrifice what we prefer for the good of others. Fulfilling this calling of motherhood/wifehood/homemaker-hood means that I can’t always have things the way I want them. Giving up what I want for the good of others basically sums up the Christian life in general. Making sacrifices isn’t always about the “big” stuff. Sometimes it’s little stuff. Sometimes it’s as simple as keeping a good attitude while I trip over everybody’s stuff, clean out stuff, or just ignore the stuff and go rake a leaf pile with the kids. And then coming inside to the cluttered house, peeling off the hats and coats, enjoying hot chocolate, chocolatey smiles, and making memories of happy times in the home.

My wishes to you for an abundantly blessed holiday season spent with those you love, along with whatever clutter and clatter that may entail for you! God Bless! leaves1


Homeschool chit chat: readiness of the child, state laws, and the question of October birthdays

This blog post is going to be conversational in nature. That’s because it was an actual conversation that happened via texting recently, between myself, my younger sister Rachel, and my Mom. Rachel’s first child is not yet school age. My sister-in-law Esther pops in at one point as well! These ladies have kindly given me permission to publish our conversation here. 

Rachel: Mom and Jennifer, what age did you start first grade? And did you do a year of learning to read before first grade, or did they learn to read in first grade?edit-Sam Toby on swings

Me: This is the law in VA– “Virginia’s compulsory attendance law (§22.1-254, subsection A) states that all children who are 5 years old on or before September 30 of the school year must attend school. This could include public school, private school, a public or private preschool program, a private tutor, or home instruction.” That would refer to Kindergarten age. You should check the WI law and see what your state requires. Every state is different. Some are less strict than VA and some states like PA are much stricter. Some have a “religious exemption” clause, which basically means the school board won’t tell you to do anything, if you file as a “religious exemption” homeschooler. That is one of the options in VA, but we don’t do that. We send testing in to the school board every year and I put them in Kindergarten according to the law stated above. I begin to teach reading in Kindergarten. They usually learn all the letter sounds, short vowel words, and start some long vowel words by the end of Kindergarten. I wrote about this on my blog [here] more in detail. So for first grade, the child would be 6 years old on or before Sept 30 of that school year.

Rachel: So do you do it at those ages strictly because of the law or do you feel that is developmentally appropriate too? The law here in WI is full time school at 6. But it doesn’t specify if that is kindergarten or first grade so I am trying to figure out which one I want to do that year. If I do first grade at six, that means if I want to teach reading before first grade, I have to do that NEXT YEAR. 😳 WI is pretty good with homeschooling. You have to send in a “letter of intent” to homeschool every year, and then by law you have to provide 875 hours of instruction each year.  It’s slightly complicated because Emma’s birthday is 2 months after the cutoff date so I have to decide if I want to start her in school in the fall when she will soon be 6, or wait and start her the next year when she will be nearly 7.IMG_5484

Me: What is the cutoff date in WI? Because according to VA law, Emma would actually be too young for Kindergarten next year, and she would start the following year. She would be one of the oldest kids in the class if she were in public school here. (She is similar to what Sammy is. His birthday is Oct 11. I made the mistake of starting him in K when he was still 4 and technically too young. If he had gone to public school he would have started a year later, and that is what I should have done.)

Rachel: September 1st here. Yes, Emma is in the same situation as Sammy.

Me: So are you not planning on teaching K? Just starting with first grade?

Rachel: I don’t know. This is what I am trying to figure out. 😁 Hence the questions!
edit- olivia tire swing
Me: Right. I see…  I would probably start her in K5 when she is nearly 6. Unless you think she is very advanced and a very quick learner and you basically want to start her a year ahead, which would be K5 next fall.

Rachel: So you are suggesting teaching her to read (Kindergarten) at 5, almost 6, and then starting her in first grade at 6, nearly 7?

Me: Yes. That is how she would be in public school. I think it’s fine to use that as a guideline. When I was having so much trouble with Sammy, about our 2nd or 3rd year…. a dear lady with a degree in education reminded me, “He is actually placed a year ahead. Think about what grade he would be in, if he were in public school.” She was a HUGE help to me. Since Emma is older too (October birthday), she will learn faster and make your job easier. ☺IMG_5486

Rachel: Part of my conundrum is that she is very eager and interested in anything structured, one-on-one attention, type thing. I can make her day by sitting down and working through a little craft with her or showing her how to write her name. So I think she would love to start next year but I don’t want to push her or myself and infringe on her “childhood”, so to speak.

Me: If you want to do some earlier school you could possibly think about ordering some K4 materials. Maybe just one or two worksheets a day of K4, which is very early intro to reading…. along with practicing her name, learning numbers, etc… she would probably love that! Keeping it very low key. If she sails right through everything, mentally, physically, etc… you could always transition her into K5 and then she would be ready for 1st grade a year early.edit-Sam Toby

Rachel: Yes that’s interesting. Looking into it further, it looks like WI is expecting age 6 by September 1st to start 1st grade, with learning to read in K5 the year before. Like you were saying. Which is weird to me because you are going to have some kids barely 6 starting and some kids nearly 7. That is a big difference! 🤔

Me: I guess they have to make a cutoff somewhere.The older ones have a serious advantage, no doubt. Sammy was very eager to start as well, and seemed ready at the time. Looking back I should have just done some K4 with him, if anything, that year. But boys are usually harder than girls with early schooling.

Mom: I would say try out K4 (if it were me, K5 to save money on K4 🙂 but just slow it way down and take two years to do it if necessary) stuff now if she seems ready and you are ready. Girls are more mature and ready to learn to read. But keep it very low key. Keep it fun, short and sweet. Do a little every day (no more than say 10 minutes) as long as she is liking it and learning it, but no pressure from you. If she is starting to struggle, or hates it, or can’t handle making mistakes and taking correction on her work, just slow things way down and wait for her to mature. Better late than early in that case. I suspect that she will love it and probably do well. One of the benefits of early readers is that they can entertain themselves and spend hours reading every day and learning a ton. If they can do it without the above mentioned issues, then go for it. She may be young for the fine motor skills of holding a pencil and writing, but you would soon figure that out. With boys I wouldn’t start anything sooner than 5 and then take two years to do one year of school. A lot depends on the child. They will let you know if they can handle it. If you spend all week teaching them the sound of the letter “A” but after the weekend, and by the next Monday they don’t have a clue of the sound of the letter “A”, that is a clear sign it is time to wait 6 months.IMG_5457

Esther: I have been wondering what curriculum if any you older ladies would recommend for K and 1st grade?

Me: I like the A Beka workbooks and visuals and little readers for early reading. I would say Rachel that the workbooks and stuff don’t cost all that much, so you might want to get the actual K4 books. They are paced so nicely for that age and they will give you a few papers a day, etc.

Mom: Jennifer has a good point Rachel. A Beka materials are visually very nice for kids; you might be able to get the readers used on Amazon; of course the workbooks you need to write in; you might be able to get those used as well if someone bought them and never used them. A Beka is pricey new.

Me: If you bought the whole curriculum then yes it would be pricey. But if you carefully select the items you want it shouldn’t cost all that much. Honestly I am really only familiar with one K4 workbook. I haven’t looked that much into what A Beka offers for K4.M2


How to Begin Training Good Workers (spoiler: Don’t say “Go clean your room”)

An adorable little freeloader enters your world. First, he creates mounds of laundry and dirty diapers. Not long after, dirty dishes begin to multiply. Then suddenly, the entire kitchen floor becomes sticky and grimy in 1.9 seconds of your back being turned. Books and knick knacks litter the floor, because your little freeloader has also become a little ten-month-old tornado. Continue reading “How to Begin Training Good Workers (spoiler: Don’t say “Go clean your room”)”

Golden Tones of Late Summer (with kids crying in the background)

The loveliness of the Shenandoah Valley welcomes the change of season a little more each day; days of late summer mixed in with days of early fall. Katelyn and I have been enjoying the scenery on the drive to and from the farm where she and Ethan work on a butchering crew.  So we took a drive out that way the other day, to try to capture some of it on her camera. Yellows and golds are some of my favorite color tones, both inside my home and outside of it. Goldenrod may be Continue reading “Golden Tones of Late Summer (with kids crying in the background)”

Getting started, and two delightful books

And we’re off. Another school year is underway. The getting-ready phase is always a crunch and a scramble, a holding-of-breath type of phase, and then when we actually arrive at the first day it’s like a sigh of relief. It’s like we can breathe Continue reading “Getting started, and two delightful books”

God of the Very Small

{I wrote this several years ago. The photos were taken by Katelyn during a family day at the Blue Ridge Parkway, although not the same day referenced in this article.}

“Look at this, Mom!” My daughter ran up and handed me a lacy green fern leaf. We both gazed at it for a moment, a delicate and detailed specimen.

Our family was enjoying a day together with friends on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had just gazed Continue reading “God of the Very Small”

Teaching Beginning Reading in the Homeschool

Toby and I had a fun year last year. I use the word “fun” carefully. Of course we had plenty of chaotic and crazy moments. It was stressful at times. But it was also a pleasant experience, as I watched him learn and worked with him for about an hour every day.  Teaching Toby to begin to read last year in “kindergarten” was one of the highlights of my homeschooling experience thus far. I ended up really liking the approach that we took. I have tried various things over the years, and kind of landed here last year. So let’s just get practical! I do love talking philosophy and theory, but there is a time to say, “What did you actually DO?”
Continue reading “Teaching Beginning Reading in the Homeschool”

Keeping the Joy in Mothering – Part 1

A young mother of three little ones recently asked me, “How do you keep the joy in mothering?” Ah yes… such a question.

Those days when you go from changing a dirty diaper, to breaking up an argument between the toddler and the four-year-old, to nursing, to looking for shoes, to getting a snack, to nursing again, to wondering where your little boy found those knee-length pink socks he is wearing, to trying in vain to find a clean kitchen towel, to helping the kids do something creative and then wondering why you did it because it only entertained the kids for about 3.25 minutes Continue reading “Keeping the Joy in Mothering – Part 1”