Category Archives: homeschool


A few years ago I used an exercise DVD with several types of exercise. One of my favorites was a beginner’s ballet routine. I followed it so many times–not that it turned me into a ballet dancer, but it did program some of the instructor’s words in my mind. Sometimes I still hear them.

One of the things she said about ballet was, “So the arms make it appear effortless at the top, while the legs are working hard at the bottom.” The beauty of this has intrigued me quite a lot because ballet is, in fact both very hard work and an elegant art of gentle movement.

Last night was one of those times I heard those hard-effortless words in my mind, but this time it had nothing to do with  ballet. Instead it was a picture of the dance of mothering.

We are in the middle of upheaval right now since we discovered mold in our house.  The boys and I left home and lived in SC for nearly a week and Virginia for a little over two weeks while Steve worked on getting rid of the mold in three rooms in the evenings and weekends after work.

We came home two weeks ago to our main living area crammed with the contents of other rooms waiting to be cleaned and sorted. Most of the living room furniture is in temporary storage and Steve and I are sleeping in the guest room while the master area is torn apart.

We definitely were reacting to the mold that is still in the house and tried to keep those parts of the house closed off as much as possible. Still we didn’t feel feel well at all.

This past weekend we all moved into a hotel for a weekend, so Steve could tackle the next three rooms–a closet and our master area.  Our friends Eric and Linda so generously came up to spend the weekend with us. Eric helped Steve work on the house on Saturday and we got to enjoy time together.

Although the men got a lot of work done on the house, it wasn’t ready for us to move home on Monday like  we had been expecting. We hadn’t taken our school books with us, so I planned a field trip to keep us from losing a school day.  I planned to go to a nature reserve a few miles away, and they even happened to be hosting a  homeschool day.  Then it started raining.

I searched a little more and decided to take the boys to a train museum about a half an hour further north. It turned out to be a great, low key place for us and we all enjoyed our time there.

We killed a little time at a library close by, ate a little food then started toward home. I’d heard about a really great Christmas light display, and thought we could drive through on the way home. At that point I was so t.i.r.e.d., but how hard can a drive through be?

It was fantastically fun, only we ended up needing to get out and walk around.  Finally everyone was packed back into the car and we were driving HOME after a long weekend away. I didn’t know what to expect at home, and besides for the mold there are lots of big things on our minds these days.

The boys were happy and there was Christmas music playing.  Zac was sitting beside me, and his eyes were sparkling. He let out a long happy sigh.  “This has been the best day of my LIFE.”

In that moment I recognized the contrast between my experience and his. And those words from long ago came back, “So the arms make it appear effortless on the top while they legs are working hard on the bottom.” They felt very true to my mothering in that moment.

In a sense mothering had been [working hard]

All day I’d been fighting to find joy while hard things pressed against me.  I had also been thinking about how to make the change in plans work for us, how to incorporate school, how to keep this day happy for the boys even when it felt hard to me. I needed to redirect whining, find snacks, and keep boys safe on the street. I’d been looking out for places to eat that would work for our diets and places to go to fill our time without requiring a lot of energy from me because I wasn’t feeling great.

while also [making it look effortless]

All day we had been sleeping in, eating lots of good food, going to new places, stopping to play at a playground we passed, finding a bridge to run through, hanging out as long as we wanted in the museum’s educational play room, never rushing, visiting a great light display, listening to holiday music, and coming home and drinking hot chocolate.

Of course there’s a little bit of heart between the arms and legs for us, too–the times when they hear me recognize a problem and ask God to help us or when we talk about asking Jesus to help us find happiness or when we take our fears to Him.  But mostly I love that the boys don’t really see the ugliness of life, yet.

Maybe because there’s so much hard stuff in our life I know our children will see and feel sacrifices and brokenness a lot. Obviously we want to engage them in processing it well, but I also want the boys’ childhood to be carefree.  While there is all kinds of turmoil in our world and we’re working our way through it, they can lean back in their seats with stars in their eyes and see it as the best time in their lives. Effortless.


I’d love to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment here.


Recommendations: Homeschool Edition

After so many, many words (Homeschooling Methods Part I and Part II) I need a minute to catch my breath.

Today I’ll share inspiration from others.

1) In the get-it-right-frenzy that homeschooling posts can be, this is an invitation to take a seat: Homeschooling from a Place of Peace and Rest


2) A cute craft.  (Mrs. Tiggy Winkle?) It would be nice if there were instructions, but the website is unresponsive. Making this hedgehog looks simple, though–like a paper plate folded in half and shaped just a little for the face. Great scissors practice for little ones.

(Edit: We just made a hedgehog with a coffee filter. It was fun, but Ian had a hard time cutting the filter.  Our scissors were pretty dull,  but maybe a paper might be a better material to cut.)

paper hedgehog for scissor practice -- too cute


3) Listening to stories is a great diversion for winter days. The boys like listening to audio books while we’re traveling and while they’re building or drawing. Books Should be Free is a  website that offers free audio books. I linked to a classic that we’ve listened to several times.

4) The Biggest Bear is a delightful read–both because of the story and the illustrations. Enjoyed by ages two to adult.  If you haven’t read it, add it to your library list.

5) It’s Christmas vacation, so you might need extra activities to keep everyone busy. Here’s a chart to help children create their own fun if they run out of ideas on their own.

Free printable - no more, "Mom, I'm bored!"... This is going up on our wall ASAP!

[Get the free printable copy here]

Girlfriend’s Guide to Homeschooling Methods, Part II

This series of posts on homeschooling is a conversation about homeschooling methods. When I started homeschooling three years ago, my former teacher skills and thoughts heavily influenced our choices. Some of them have been helpful, but I'm learning that homeschooling takes it's own form.
Three Factors That Influence Your Method:

1. Your student(s): The first thing to consider in making decisions about homeschooling is your child–his personality, interests, strengths and learning style. Sometimes we look at the material in front of us and think about needing to teach multiplication and third grade language and this whole book of reading. The bigger picture is that, as we school our children, we’re nurturing them as they are on their way to adulthood. We’re helping them grow into mature, responsible, self-motivated learners. When you think of schooling a person instead of simply teaching material you’ll be more intentional, but the teaching process also becomes more natural because it’s simply an extension of parenting.

Parenting has already taught you how uniquely each of your children has been designed. Each child is a whole new discovery, it’s so much fun to learn to know each person and help them grow and develop their abilities and character.

Just like in parenting, in homeschooling you learn to understand your children individually which helps you find unique ways to help them grow to their potential.  All of our children love verbal affirmation, but I’ve noticed lately that Ian really wants to grow when he gets affirmation. Like one day he spilled a drink and cleaned it up without me reminding him. I always try to encourage this kind of habit, so I said, “Hey, Ian, I’ve noticed that you’re growing up. Just now when you spilled that drink you cleaned it up without me even telling you to do it. That shows me you’re becoming more responsible.”

He was really happy with the praise and since then has been trying even harder to clean up after himself. Today I heard a bowl clatter on the floor and soon he was telling Steve, “Mama said I’m becoming more responsible. Did you hear something falling down? But do you see it on the floor? Do you know why? Because I picked it up!”

I’m sure you notice the same kind of patterns in your children.  You see when you explain something,  and it just clicks with your child. You notice how interested he is in patterns or night skies. You might see that his brain seems to freeze if he has to sit still for too long, that he likes for life to be extremely predictable and orderly, he remembers his chores better when he has a visual reminder of what he still needs to do, or if he memorizes words put to music super quickly.  These are clues to your child’s makeup, and you simply use them as a guide in teaching your children in a method that makes learning natural for them. You can use what you already know about your child to help you understand how he might learn best. So far I’ve mostly been working with Zachary, so we could customize everything for him. As we add more students to the mix then we’ll need to adjust a little, I’m sure.

Each person’s personality will influence how they study best, and most people generally have a preferred learning style (auditory, visual, or kinesthetic–just do a google search if you’re unfamiliar.)

Some students can’t concentrate when there is other noise in the room. Some students might not understand a math concept until they can see a drawing or graph(visual) or they might not be able to think of the answer to the math fact on a flash card until they hear you verbalize the fact (auditory). Some students might need to form letters with clay or draw it in the sad to help them remember the how to write it (kinesthetic). They won’t know to tell you this, though. You get to uncover the mystery. :) A kinesthetic learner (not as common as the other two) would learn much better with a homeschool method that is hands on and explorative such as Montessori. Incorporating all the learning styles into school is helpful no matter which method you choose. Some methods incorporate a variety of learning styles more easily than others.

Even though a curriculum or teaching style is excellent, it may not work for your child.  That’s okay. Even if other moms are raving about this amazing program, it doesn’t mean it is the right fit for your student. This makes homeschooling confusing at first (because you can’t expect the exact formula to work for you as works for another mom), but it’s freeing once you learn to know your student(it takes time–sometimes more than a school year, so give yourselves lots of grace), put together your own collection of ideas and teach in ways that work for your students.  One of the advantages of homeschooling is that it is extremely customizable.

If school is a daily struggle or frustration, it is less likely to be a behavior problem and much, much more likely to be a disconnect between the teaching style and the student.  If school is frustrating or difficult most of the time, maybe you could find someone to help you understand what you could change.  The hardest, best choice I’ve made so far was scrapping curriculum I’d spent $$$ on less than halfway through the school year because it was not working.

"If a Child Can't Learn the Way We Teach..."

2. Your Personality and Abilities: Some of the teaching styles appeal to my ideals and some to my reality. I’m learning that I need to be realistic about the strengths and limitations I’ve been given. One of my strengths is that I’m flexible and don’t need things clearly defined to feel successful. One of my limitations is that I do not have much physical stamina and sometimes need to teach from the couch. Also, I am a terrible record keeper.  

Although I love the structure and discipline a school style or classical education style of teaching would give, I am finally realizing that while I could teach in that way, it would always be a struggle. It would always feel hard for me to put that much organization into school while also running a house and being a mom to children who aren’t in school, yet.  For a person who loves order and schedules, having that much structure might be the key to keeping her sanity, er, thriving. Looking at your parenting style might give you a clue about what kind of homeschool style would work best for you. 


Your level of comfort with teaching will be a factor in whether you use a method that is super-teacher involved where you put together your own materials or if you choose a method with a curriculum that spells out some to all the instructions the teacher should give, or even virtual schooling where you mostly monitor your students. Even if you don’t feel confident in your ability to homeschool, if you want to teach and are willing to learn you definitely can teach your children.

A  factor we needed to consider, of course, was my health. I still have days where I am teaching from the couch. I needed to look at a method of teaching that gave me the flexibility for those days–where it didn’t matter if we couldn’t get through five pages of a lesson every single day. Leaning more toward a Charlotte Mason style means that we spend more time with all three of the boys and I cuddled on the couch reading together which is perfect for us.

Sometimes I still feel so lost in how best to teach and sometimes I worry a lot that we’re missing something important either educationally or with  character development. Homeschooling really  stretches you and shows up your inadequacy. It takes more patience than you have stored, more wisdom, more love, more studying and hard work  than you feel you have strength to give. You sweat, you cry, you rant–sometimes. But it comes back to this–God chose you to be your children’s parent and He’s equipped and prepared you for this step. Just like in parenting He can use our inadequacies to help us realize how much we need Him and to make us more like Him. He is also so gentle and will lead us through each stage and each question and guide us to find the answers we need.

3. Your Circumstances:  So you’re considering your child’s needs and your own abilities then there are a few other things to throw into the mix–your location, your family size and stage, your state requirements, and whether you’re homeschooling for a year or two then integrating back into a school or if you’re likely homeschooling long term.

A few things that have weighed into our decisions–we live in a city,  we have not yet developed a local homeschool support network, Steve and I both have teaching experience, we have long term health issues, Steve works Tuesday-Saturday, our state laws require we have 180 days of school lasting at least 4 1/2 hrs. per day (not a problem! I’m not sure how people finish by noon).

Having access to a great library system is significant in making living books an affordable option.  Some homeschool methods rely heavily on whole books vs. textbooks, and we can more easily use that kind of method than if we didn’t have access to good books. Living in the city also makes it more difficult to do extensive nature studies, but we have access to great museums of historical locations. 

When I taught Zachary kindergarten, I had a fussy newborn, I wasn’t feeling great, and I was potty training. hahahahha.  Yeah, I would not do that again. If I knew then what I know now, I’d know that there is no rush to get through the books. (And, I’d do my best to be okay with lots of people suggesting that I should have started officially schooling even earlier) I’d do a lot more learning through play, keep reading books, and wait until things settled down to start doing workbooks. If I had another baby, even if it was in the middle of the school year, I’d take off a whole month at least, and school later into the summer.

This advice from a friend was perfect for me when I was trying so hard to make school-at-home work:

It took me a few years to find what works for us. Don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to explore and get out of your comfort zone.

The teacher in me had a really tough time being okay with some methods not testing each subject every 1-4 weeks.  I gulped hearing that textbooks might not educate as sufficiently as well-written biographies and non-fiction books. These were the kinds of things that took me out of my comfort zone, but now I’m so glad for the nudge to probe options beyond the obvious.

The next post will begin exploring the methods.  Stay tuned.

Girlfriend’s Guide to Homeschooling Methods, Part I

When first venturing into the whole homeschool world, the huge choice of curriculum can be completely overwhelming.  I think there must be hundreds of curriculums and nearly as many opinions about what will work the best for educating children.

I was really glad that I had gotten to try a few different curriculums at several schools while teaching, so I had an idea for what might be good choices for us when we started homeschooling. In first grade we wanted colorful, interesting books; phonetically based reading programs;  and math with enough review to make concepts stick.

A good jump into our first year after I’d given us time to adjust, I felt like things were not working as smoothly as they should.  Zachary was learning, but he didn’t enjoy school very much and neither did I. Some of the materials that worked well in a classroom did not work so well for us now. Some of my ideals, though good, were impossible to reach with our circumstances.

Researching and listening to  veteran homeschool moms brought up more questions than answers for awhile.  I heard things like, “You can skip a few lessons when he knows the material,” and, “What subjects interest him? Have you thought of trying unit studies?” and, “Spend time reading good books/spend time in nature,” and “Just do what works for you; that’s the beauty of homeschooling.”

The problem was I didn’t know what worked for us.  Also, I didn’t know how we could spend hours reading because that would take time from our lessons and it would simply make our school day longer.


Then I learned something super helpful: There are several different methods of homeschooling. What I was doing–daily lessons in workbooks, reading from textbooks, and regular testing is called school at home It works great for classrooms. It works at home, too, but for some people (us) it can be tedious.

Since then I’ve explored the methods–school at home, classical education, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Unschooling, Cyber school, Montessori, Waldorf, and there are more, to find what method of schooling will work well for our family.  (Here is a brief overview of some of the most common methods of schooling.)

A curriculum may be designed for a particular method of schooling or may be compatible with more than one method.  Discovering my home school philosophy helped me better understand what to look for in educational resources.

I wanted to share a little of what I’ve learned with anyone who might be interested in looking at homeschooling a little less traditionally school-like. I am still so new to this, but I’ll just pretend we were sitting here in my living room talking. In an article I would respect ;) there would be references to sources, but this is just a chat. Okay?

Unfortunately because I can’t see you yawning or growing a little bored, I also might get a little long winded.  To keep this long, long, long chat from making you drink too much coffee, I’ve broken it up into several posts.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss three factors to consider when choosing a method. I’ll chat a little more about a few of the strengths in my favorite methods later.  Then if I manage to finish the series before getting distracted by school and the rest of life, I’ll tell you about some of the curriculum we’ve tried, what we’re using now, and which methods are working for us.

I’d also love to hear what questions you might have about homeschool methods and curriculum.

The Boys’ Room: Organized

:: This post on organizing the boys’ room was mostly written months ago.  Though it may be old news and the banner’s grip to the ceiling has been overcome by mysterious gravity pulls that most certainly do not have anything to do with little boys’ pulling, ahem, the good part is that I can tell you how well this method has worked. ::

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A few weeks ago, I found a couple bins for the boys’ room.  I was sooo tickled because they were the colors I’ve been looking for and in the five dollar-ish range.  New storage was inspiration enough for me to go through the boys’ room purging some, but mostly sorting, organizing and labeling.

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Her sentiment: I’m pretty sure that if I find the perfect organizational system, we’ll finally be able to keep the boys’ room neat.

His input: Good luck with that.

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We keep things pretty simple when it comes to toys. Sometimes I see pictures of 20 or more bins of toys in children’s rooms. It looks like a fun place to play for sure, but that is so not going to happen here. There are sooooooo many toys available these days and they all look like soooo much fun.  You would think if children had a lot of variety they would play for hours. Surprisingly, having lots of toys doesn’t necessarily mean that children will be happy with their toys for longer.

I have learned that, as in so many other areas of life, less is more.  My philosophy is that having a simple collection of well loved toys keeps children busy and happy, encourages learning, and develops their imagination. If they get bored with their toys–which happens almost never–they can draw or play outside or take a bath or help me with what I’m doing.

When I tally toys, I realize that we still have a LOT. I’m not even sure I should consider this as keeping it simple.  Our toy list looks something like this:

Our toy collection:

In their room~

1 collection of Legos

1 bin of trains

1 bin of trucks and tractors and machines

a playmat with a road system

In the living room~

1 box of blocks

1 bin of animals

a basket of miscellaneous items


In the hall closet~

Play Dough

board games and puzzles

An art box with a collection of crayons, colored pencils, 1 box of markers, paint, chalk, scissors, glue, stickers, paper

In the attic for occasional rotations out~

Lincoln logs


large trucks they don’t play with when they’re out all the time

We also have~

bath toys

outdoor toys

Probably a few other toys I’m not remembering

So why, why, why if don’t have a myriad of toys do we have a mess all the time? You know that saying,

A place for


and everything

in its place?

Whenever I have a problem area where mess just happens and then has babies and multiplies, it’s because the things do not have a place of belonging!

I’ve noticed this all over the house, and I’m trying to–slowly–designate a home for everything.  If it doesn’t belong anywhere then I need to consider whether or not I should keep it.

Oooookay.  Deep breath.  I got a little side tracked there.  So I was going to tell you how I refreshed the boys’ toy system in their room.  I’m SO excited about this because their room has not been despairingly messy for awhile.


When I was looking over their room, I realized that their magazines and activity books and notebooks were always in a mess.  I decided to use a few magazine organizers to see if that would do the trick. (Spoiler alert: it did!)  

At least a year ago I had gotten a few rolls of wrapping paper for $1 a piece at IKEA. Originally I had been planning to cover cardboard boxes to use in these storage cubbies, but surprise, I’d never managed to find three boxes that fit into this space.  The magazine organizers were an odd collection that were busy and non-cohesive. Covering them made them work for the room and made me just giddy with happiness. I love the owl print! 

Wrapping one of the boxes with Ian who wanted to be with me. Like WITH me.  :)

Is this what they mean by attachment parenting? ;)

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So clean and streamlined and in fun colors.  This makes me wish I’d have a before shot, so you could see the difference.

The box of trucks~

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The box of trains~

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I don’t recommend these bins. One of the handles is already pulled off after a few weeks of gentle use.

A cutie pie enjoying the magazines~

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Magazines, Notebooks, Activity books~

The boys all hate coloring, :'( so I got rid of all coloring books that don’t at least have dot-to-dots or something else they consider fun.

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I’ve also learned that labeling is KEY to keeping a spot organized. Whenever I have labeled bins they stay categorized for months longer than when I’ve assumed people would remember which things go into which bins. These labels were some I had downloaded from Better Homes and Gardens and added my own text–very simple.  I also covered them with contact paper and hot glued them to the boxes, so I have hopes that they will last.

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I love his expression. :) C Smucker Photograpy  l DIY organize kids rooms-17

What’s great about organizing is how it makes the toys seem new again.  The boys have looked and looked through these magazines since the re-do. 

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 We used to store our Legos in a big bin.  Every afternoon there would be this constant digging and digging and digging  for that one certain piece. (The sound is especially delightful when you’ve had a frazzling morning and are excited for quiet hour) I had seen other people organizing Legos by color, so I decided to try that method.

[May I interrupt this organizing conversation to say that Legos are the BEST toys for boys?!  We love them.  Seth, one of the guys who works with Steve, gave the boys a HUGE collection that he had as a boy.  The boys have played with them for countless hours. If you’re ever looking for a gift for a nephew or little friend–let Legos be your go to.  The boys have gotten several sets since then as gifts and they are always the most excited ever.]   2013 July-48

From ^^^ to  this:

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Let me just say, so MUCH better. They can find specific pieces so much more easily now.

Yes, it is still a constant struggle to stay on top of picking up Legos.  In some ways they dread putting them away more because they can’t just dump them all into one big space.  On the other hand I will often designate certain colors to certain boys (Ian, you pick up blue Legos, Paxton pick up red Legos….) which helps keep them focused on a task vs. the job looking overwhelming.

The box slides under the bed when in storage:

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The Legos have been organized like this for months. The whole Lego situation was hugely improved, but I still kept finding strays here and there and in random toy containers.  Finally I realized that because it took so much effort to pull out the box, open the lid, and drop in a Lego when picking up toys they were just getting dropped into any old box.  I can even understand that.

Soooo… we set a cup on Zachary’s desk to catch the strays.  I think this is working, too.  I had told them to be sure to empty it before they start playing with Legos, but I doubt that’s being kept up with.  Still, emptying the cup now and then is no big deal!

[Since writing this I realized that adding the job of organizing the Lego box should be added to the boys’ weekly chore list to stay on top of the stray pieces that get left on the bottom of the box instead of in their cups.  When they do that job, they can first empty the Lego cup that holds stray pieces.  Sa-weet.]

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A bin for stray toys who don’t have their own category~ C Smucker Photograpy  l DIY organize kids rooms-48

Now for the school and closet end of the room.

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Instead of a dresser we keep the boys’ pajamas and undies in the bathroom, and all the rest of their clothes get hung in the closet.  Because we homeschool (no uniforms/school clothes) and don’t need to wear dressy clothes to church, their clothes are categorized very simply–stay-at-home clothes and going-away-clothes. The clothes for staying at home are clothes that can get muddy and the jeans might have holes in the knees. :)

It is Zachary’s job to put away all the hanging clothes.  We’re working on developing neat habits. :) Ian can put away his staying-at-home clothes and shoes and socks.

We also keep a box in the closet for clothes that have been outgrown but are still in good condition to pass down to the next brother.  When it gets too full (as pictured) :) I take the clothing boxes out of storage and divvy them up.

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Zachary’s school area.  At the beginning of the year we worked up here all the time. The last few weeks we’ve been working on school downstairs, but everything still gets stored here in their room.  (See: this was written before the 2013-14 year was over)

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These printable morning and evening routine charts {link} are from I Heart Organizing.  I adjusted them a little in Photoshop to fit our schedule.

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 After a few weeks of the new clean up, their room has stayed nicely organized.  They clean up their room every afternoon as part of their afternoon chores, but it is never a disaster.  I’m quite happy with how it’s been working!

Every day the boys do a light room clean up during afternoon chore time.  On Thursdays their room is a bigger job when clean areas that might get missed such as under the bed.

::Update.  Yes!!!  Small selection of toys + specific toy bins + labels + routine clean up is still working.   They are little boys and their room is not neat all the time, but neither has it hit disaster zone.  I continuously purge toys that don’t get played with and they really do not miss them.  Overall I feel like this organization has been a win.  They do a big clean up once a week, and I lightly re-organize their closet every few weeks. I am super happy with how manageable this has become for them.::