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Organizing Kids Toys So Mom Can Stay Sane {Part 2}

I love the idea of play kitchen because it can keep my little one out of my kitchen {if only for a little while}. It's a great training tool to help kids maneuver through a kitchen and introduces them to organization, at least it does in my house. Play kitchens and play food can very quickly take over the room and random pieces of fake food can end up everywhere. Let's talk about keeping the play kitchen free of clutter!

Our Play Kitchen on a Bad Day

No matter how organized a mom is, their kids are always a different story. Kids need to be able to play freely {within reason}, but in our house, when playtime is over, it's clean up time. Just to show you that I'm not immune to the mess of a preschooler, here is the mess I find:
Sad to say, but it looks similar to how our own kitchen sink area can get at times. Ouch! To top it off, my son is a dumper. Yup, any chance he gets, he just loves to dump toys into a mountain of mess which we then have to sort through together. That, parents, is the key...teaching through play.

Teaching Through Play

Play kitchens are wonderful things because they have storage already built into them! I used it as an opportunity to teach my son how a kitchen is organized and what goes where. By doing this, he learned what foods go in the fridge, how to separate fruits from vegetables and how to put dishes away {a skill I hope he'll use often as he gets older}.

There were some accessories that came with the kitchen itself, then we also bought a play BBQ grill to accompany the kitchen. We bought the play food separately, and found it at our Costco when the toys make their appearance during the holiday season. In order keep it all organized, all I needed was the help of two tiny pieces to make this organized playtime successful.

How I decluttered the Play Kitchen {and took a baby step to go green too}

Along my journey to a clutter free house, I have been taking baby steps toward being green {who isn't, right?}. Part of that meant getting rid of our plastic tupperware and replacing them with glass containers. What does this have to do with decluttering the play kitchen, you ask?

I used two of my smaller somewhat beat up pieces of tupperware and used them to organize my son's food in the play kitchen. Because a major part of being green is reducing waste, I decided to reuse them instead of toss them. Your'e welcome, Earth. Baby steps, right?

So now instead of food spilling out each time we open the fridge, a simple piece of old tupperware organizes "fridge food" and contains the clutter that can spill over.

I also took the labeling method is used in the first part of this series and made labels where I could. Each bin has a picture and word label and the spot where the bin goes has a matching label.
My little man loves to match, so this was right up his alley. Easy and fun clean up! A win for everyone!

Our Play Kitchen on a Good Day

Because I love a good before and after, let's take a look at our play kitchen on a good day.
Are you ready for a closeup!?! Here is your aaaaah moment!
I'm not one for keeping a perfect house. Messes happen and I am not a fan of cleaning. But organizing? That's right up my alley and if I can use my gift for organizing to train my son, then I'm using my gifts in the best way I know how...gift it forward! Is your play kitchen organized to emulate your own kitchen? If your house is not like that, this would be a great opportunity to engage with your kids! Declutter that play kitchen and teach your kids the value of keeping things orderly. Gift.

Has anyone else used something around the house to organize their play kitchen? I'd love to know what it is! Share it in the comments.

If you missed the first part of this series, read it here!

Gifts You Use {Quick & Easy Awesomely Sweet Easter Treats}

I am super excited to introduce Jennifer from PinkWhen! She is a sweetheart and I have asked her to share her crafty cooking skills with you and get you in the Easter mood! These little treats are so cute and easy, I think even I could do them. Check it out y'all.
My name is Jennifer and I am visiting from PinkWhen. What is PinkWhen you might ask? It is a blog that is dedicated to all things crafty, creative, and recipes that are yummy to eat. I am so excited to be guest posting here at GiftsWeUse! For a special Easter treat, I have put together a couple of my FAVORITE Easter snack recipes for you and your little ones to try. I hope you like them!

Let’s get started! These are not only super easy, but also super yummy. For these two recipes we are going to do Easter Cookie Nests and Smeeps!

Gather your supplies:

  • Graham crackers
  • Peeps
  • Chocolate bars
  • Sugar cookies
  • Green cupcake icing (in a can)
  • Chocolate eggs

How to make Easter Cookie Nest:

Bake your Sugar Cookies as directed and let cool.
Once your cookies have cooled, add your green cupcake frosting to the top of your cookies. I used the ‘star tip’ as to create a grassy looking birds nest.
After you have added your frosting, grab some of those chocolate eggs and pile them into the new nest.
Finish making your Easter Cookie Nests and serve immediately for freshness. If not serving immediately, make sure you place them in a covered dish to keep them moist.

How to make Smeeps:

Smeeps are easy and fun! Everyone loves Smores, so how about some Easter Smeeps! (Smores + Peeps)

Grab your graham crackers and separate them into perfect squares.
Once you have your squares, take your chocolate bars and layer it on top on the graham cracker.
Take your peeps and press them down so they will flatten out.
After flattening, layer the peep onto the chocolate.
Add the final graham cracker layer, and you have an Easter Smeep!
I hope you have enjoyed this quick and easy tutorial for some awesomely sweet Easter treats! Thank you for taking the time to visit, and let me know how your treats turn out!

Jennifer – www.PinkWhen.com

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YOU are the key to Gifts We Use!!!

Tell me about the gifts you use to grow, love and serve.

Click here for more information

The Blog Workshop {Promo}

For my blogger friends, I wanted to share a gift from my friends at The Blog Workshop! Gifts We Use readers can now get a discount on The Blog Workshop registration! If you don't know what the hype is about, read my last post on TBW.

Been Thinking About It?

If you may be wondering if this conference is worth attending, then let me ask you a few questions:
  • Do you want to get back to the basics of blogging and hone your skills?
  • Do you want to take your blog to the next level, but don't know where to start?
  • Would you like to build better relationships with media?
  • Interested in learning how to pitch yourself to brands?
  • Want to know the difference between advertising and affiliate marketing?
  • Want to meet other bloggers?
All these questions {and more} will be answered at TBW and the best part is that you can learn all these things from the comfort of your home {or anywhere you can get internet}! That's right, no need to travel!

Whether you've been blogging for 3 months or 3 years, you will come away with something great. I have been blogging just over a year, but I would still like to make sure I have a good foundation on the basics of blogging.

Who Will Be There?

Key players in the blogging and marketing field will be sharing their knowledge and come from these places {to name a few}:

Promo Gift for You

As a Gifts We Use reader, I have the privilege of offering you a discount! You can get $25 off the cost of registration by using the promo code TBW25GWMU.
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If the savings from this stay-conference didn't excite you, I hope this promo will. I will be right there with you so we can learn together. I hope you will join me.

Did this promo make it easier for you to attend? I'd love to know if you will be joining me, comment below and tell me what you're most looking forward to!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post and contains affiliate links, but all opinions are my own.

The Blog Workshop Online Conference {Save the Date}

This post is for my blogger friends out there, but if you've been thinking about blogging, this may interest you as well. One of my bloggy goals for this year is to attend a blog conference, but with since my family is on a tight budget, we cannot afford for me to travel and be away for an extended period of time. I'm going to share with you one way that I can have the best of both worlds and I want YOU to join me!

The Blog Workshop Online Conference

If you're looking for a way to learn about the business of blogging and get more out of the work you are doing, then The Blog Workshop online conference is for you. Spend three evenings gleaning knowledge and learning from the experience of successful bloggers all from the comfort of your own internet connection. That's right, get the knowledge you want with the comforts of home or your favorite coffee shop! Here's a quick video for the curious.

Why An Online Conference is Right for Me

The most obvious reason that an online conference is right for me is the money. Though I'd love to travel out of town to go to a blog conference, I just don't have the money to spend on business cards, airfare, hotel, transportation, food, etc. The Blog Workshop Conference allows me to gain the wisdom that I'm craving and keep the costs at a minimum.

Another reason I am eager to attend TBW online conference is that I want to "see" what a blog conference is like without necessarily diving into a see of strangers. For me, it's a way to dip my toe into the pool of blog conferences and see if I'm ready {and willing} to take the next step into attending a conference in person.

Finally, it gives me more time to work in my home office. Selfish, I know, but I enjoy every minute I get to plan, create and dream in the comfort of my home. It isn't very big, but it's ours and it's where I think and work best right now.

What to Expect at TBW

The Blog Workshop Online Conference is great for bloggers of every level from beginner to long time blogger. I've got the conference agenda here for you so you can see for yourself if TBW has what you are looking for in a conference.
After a year of blogging, many of these sessions answer the very specific questions I have as I continue to learn how to take Gifts We Use to the next level and make it better for you!

Learn Along with Me!

Excited to learn more about blogging? Then save the dates! Mark May 17th-19th out on your calendar and join me at The Blog Workshop online blog conference! The folks organizing this conference want to do all they can for bloggers and have grant and scholarship programs available for bloggers who want to attend. Are you ready? Let's go!

If this conference is something you would be interested in and heard it here first, it would be a gift to me if you would register for the conference using my invite link. Register for TBW thru Gifts We Use.
I'm all about learning. The idea of being able to learn how to become more effective at what I am passionate about while still being true to my family's financial situation makes this one conference that I know will only get me hungry to learn more. If you are a blogger, you know that learning is the key to long term success in the blogosphere. I'd love to "see" you all there too!

Have you been to an online conference? Do you want to join me this May at TBW, but have some questions? Let me know in the comments!

Update: Gifts We Use readers can get a discount on registration {expires April 12th}, register today!
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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post and contains affiliate links.

Organizing Kids Toys So Mom Can Stay Sane {Part 1}

Nothing overwhelms a mom like the wake left behind by a tornado of kids toys. Toy clutter drives me up the wall. The worst part is, it doesn't stop. Kids toys aren't like diapers that stay for a season, they stay around, change and evolve as the kids grow up! From birth to teen, toys take different forms, but it all means one thing for mom...clutter. I will take the tips on organizing toys I shared before and give you the nitty gritty details here on how I organize my kids toys {and keep my sanity}.

Bless Blast this Mess!

When silence takes over the house, it's never a good sign. Silence usually preceeds trouble in my house. It's my cue to check up on my son, and more often than not, I find a mess.
When I see the madness, it's enough to make my hair fall right out, but it doesn't have to be that way. Although I believe in letting kids play freely, I also believe in training them to put toys away properly.

Disclaimer: This is the mess I found after our system has been in place for almost a year. It's an ongoing training process, not a one and done task. You have been warned.

Containment & Categorization

Here's where we get down and dirty. Use this simple formula to take the pile from maddening to magical.

  • Sort the mess into categories
  • Assess the categories
  • Contain according to quantity
  • Store efficiently
  • Label creatively
The Ikea Trofast storage system is by far my favorite way to organize kids toys because of its efficiency and versatility. Efficient in that it can be my toy storage and table top all at once, and versatile in that the clean lines go with any decor and the container size combinations are almost limitless!

Ikea offers a variety of different bin colors, but I chose to go all white because I knew that I would use colorful labeling. I organized from the inside out by planning ahead. It took a bit longer, but in the end it will last us longer and keep us from going back and making corrections. Save yourself some time and money, and think it through ahead of time. My free room organization planner can help!

The labels I used are a bit crude if you own a craft cutting machine; alas, I am without the benefit of a fancy schmancy machine. Dry erase markers in a spectrum of colors works just as well and costs less too! Now let's take a closer look at my categories.

Building Toys {build}
I used the tallest space to house toys with the most pieces and grouped them together into one category, building toys. Notice that the bins are sized relative to the amount of pieces they contain.

Using a dry erase marker, I drew simple pictures to represent which toys belong in that container. In this instance lego duplo, wooden train tracks, and mega blocks.

Placement in the bins is a non issue. As long as the correct toys are in their proper bins, I don't care what they look like inside the bin. That makes it easy for my son to maintain.

Although this space is the tallest, my son can still reach the top bin, and the top is tall enough to put certain items that I want to keep out of his reach. It works for now while he's still a little guy.

Educational Toys {think}
The next column of toys is reserved for educational toys. Puzzles on the top, counting pegs in the middle and other miscellaneous learning toys on the bottom.

The bins are so useful for stacks of puzzles and I don't have to buy one of those metal racks that cost over $10, the bin I use costs $1.50 and it fits perfectly into my storage system. Gift!

Sometimes you have to account for randomness, but often they still somehow fit into a subcategory. That's what I did with the learning toy bin. Letter blocks, interactive laptop toys, and that toy with buttons and knobs that make animals pop up.

I tried to use simple one or two word labels for each bin and category and wanted each of my columns to be action words, hence "think" for this column.

Art supplies {create}
The last and shortest column in this tiered unit is the creative category. I purposely used the shortest column so that the top could be used as a writing surface. He can pull out what he needs and create all in one spot.

Even though these bins are shallow, there is more than enough room for all the art supplies we have in the top bin. The bottom bin can hold tons of scratch paper, coloring and activity books for him to peruse.

You may have noticed that each column is a different color. I did this for several reasons. First, I did it for my son, so that he knows where each bin goes if he pulls them out. Second, it's pretty!

This is the way I organized just one unit of toys. I'll spill the beans on my other unit and give you more inspiration on how to get those toys organized once and for all. We've got lots of toys, and as another birthday approaches, I'm already prepping our son for his first purge fest. More on that to come too!

Were you inspired to organize your toys differently? What other categories do you use to keep kids toys at bay? Tell us in the comments.

Update: Read part two here!
Like what you see? There's more where that came from, follow me on instagram!

Organizing a Family Craft {Our Family Tree}

Our family recently entered a new season in life, we have entered the world of preschool. Preschoolers do not have daily homework, but since Valentine's day we have had monthly family projects. I like the idea of getting the family involved and it forces me to be crafty {which I am not}. This month, we were assigned The Family Tree. Oh those family trees. With all the mountains of paper that come home, this one paper about the project was buried until the weekend before it was due. Yikes! We needed a plan, stat! Luckily we're pretty good under pressure and were able to come up with a plan quickly. Here's how we organized our Family Tree.

Keeping it Simple

Simple was the name of our game. No flow charts or photo cut outs for us. With little time and an even littler preschooler attention span, this project needed to pack as much punch as possible. Our supplies consisted of poster board, construction paper, art supplies, scissors and glue. I wanted to make our family tree colorful and fun, so I precut leaves out of construction paper in varying sizes. Simple shapes, simple colors, simple sizes. Even a non-crafter like me can handle this!

Utilizing Family Talent

Thank God my hubby has a thing for drawing because his work was the heart of the project! I found a great tree template from none other than Pinterest, and hub-bub was able to magically draw and color it onto our poster board.
I planned the morning so that while my son was playing and watching his favorite shows, the hubs and I were busy drawing, coloring and cutting. By the time we were ready for our preschooler to participate every piece would be ready and waiting for him.

Easy Enough for a Preschooler

For our project, each leaf represented a family member and family unit. To help it all make sense to our preschooler, I decided to utilize our family picture book so he could associate each leaf with each family member. It was a way for him to make a tangible connection to how our family tree came together.

Putting it all Together

Once the tree was done and all the leaves were made and ready for plucking, we cleared our coffee table and focused all our attention on the family tree. It was a great way for us to go over how our family members are related. Our son had fun plucking the leaves off each page and gluing it onto the tree with the help of Mommy and Daddy.
Look at that cute little hand holding the leaves! So precious! Once we got a few out, we decided to start gluing and placing as we went. There was no rhyme or reason with our placement on the tree either. I didn't want to put too many constraints on the project. It needed to be as free flowing as possible to keep it fun. In the end, I think it turned out wonderfully!
This was a fun way to help our preschooler understand our family and a creative way to spend our morning together. I love that each of us played a significant role in making this piece. It really is like a family, though we are many individual parts, when put together, we create something beautiful {even if we are a little kooky}. I still say I'm not crafty, but it's a gift that I'm learning to cultivate little by little.

Did you do a family project lately? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!
Want to see more of what I'm up to and get behind the scenes? Follow me on instagram!

The Bible Miniseries & a Weekend Giveaway!

It's all the buzz lately. Have you seen it? With ratings higher than American Idol, The Bible miniseries on the History Channel has aired the past two Sundays and will continue this Sunday {check your local listings}. Husband and wife executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett have teamed up to bring God's story and major biblical figures to life in the series that will go on throughout this month. I'd love to share my excitement for this series along with some exclusive gifts just for YOU!

Why this Series is Important to Me

The teachings of the Bible have single handedly changed my life for the better. Some may argue that times have changed, but if you look at the major issues addressed in the Bible, they aren't much different than the issues we face today. I happily support this effort to bring the Bible to many who would not otherwise pick up a hardcopy of God's written word. It is by far the biggest effort to bring the Bible in its entirety to a wide audience on such a grand scale.

Bible Readers Beware

This 5 part miniseries attempts to take the 66 books of the bible, covering hundreds of years, and crams it into 10 meager hours of television. If you are looking for an exact interpretation, it will take away from the bigger picture of what is trying to be accomplished. What I have observed is an intentional bridging of the gaps that were not pulled from the Bible as a way to knit the most important themes of the Bible {faith in God, hope through Jesus and love for each other} together in a way that connects one time period to another. Some accuracy may have been sacrificed, but my prayer is it will only point people to the Bible to read God's word for themselves. There's nothing wrong with that in my book!

Some Bible Fun

If you've enjoyed the last two weeks, or are learning about this miniseries for the first time, I've got a treat for you! Test your Bible knowledge, view exclusive clips and photos from The Bible series and see your favorite Bible figures come to life right here on my blogger app!

A Gift for You

Now that you've had a chance to get to know The Bible series, how about a gift? I knew you'd be excited about that! I've got a weekend giveaway for one lucky reader of the official The Bible companion book A Story of God and All of Us. Read an excerpt here, then enter the rafflecopter giveaway below for your chance to win! I will announce the winner on Monday, March 18th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To appease the techy in me, I'd also like to invite you to take the Bible with you where ever you go by downloading the free and official app for The Bible series, You Versions Bible app for iOS. I use this app everyday as part of my quiet time. It allows me to have God's word in my pocket and handy at all times. It can do everything your paper Bible can do and more-make notes, highlight your favorite verses with an array of colors, and even read the Bible through wide variety of reading plans and devotions.

The moral for today? Feed your mind and soul with God's word and live differently. There's lots of ways to get your daily dose of God's word-read it, watch it, download it, speak it, live it. However you do it, let it change you for the better, like it did for me.

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