Keeping your head above water when you’re exhausted and/or going through a major life change

As a parent with an infant at home, I haven’t been getting much sleep. Oddly, though, I’m incredibly happy to be exhausted. Even when she’s screaming at 2:00 in the morning for a bottle and a diaper change, I’m smiling. We waited so long for her and having her in our family is an incredible blessing.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the exhaustion is taking its toll, however. I wrote an email to my mom, never hit send, and then wondered for a few days why she didn’t respond — all the while the drafted email was just sitting on my computer’s desktop, staring me in the face. Clean laundry is hanging out on the bed in our guest room, waiting to be put away. And, those of us in the house with teeth, well, we have eaten more pizza for dinner in the last month than we had in the previous six months combined.

Thankfully, I know this exhaustion will pass as our daughter gets older. She’ll start sleeping through the night and I’ll stop trying to open the front door of the house with the car key. In the meantime, there are steps I’ve been taking to keep things from spinning out of control that I thought might be able to help other new parents as well as anyone going through a major life event or bout of exhaustion.

Embrace chaos in the minor priorities

I have an infant, a four year old, a full-time job, and numerous other responsibilities to care for right now, and very little energy. The energy I have is going toward the things that must be done, and pretty much zero energy is being spent on other things. I’ve resigned from a committee I was serving on that I enjoyed but that my participation isn’t essential to the success of the committee. I haven’t made my bed in the last month except for the two times I’ve changed the sheets. My pile of filing and scanning is three inches high. When my energy levels return, I’ll resume taking care of the minor priorities in my life. Until then, oh well …

If you are unclear as to which priorities in your life are major and which are minor, take a few minutes to list them. What deserves your attention right now? What doesn’t? Be honest with yourself and remember you’re only human and you lack super powers.

Hire, accept, and ask for help

My mother-in-law stayed with us the first week after our daughter was born. A cleaning crew has come to the house twice to clean the toilets and floors and to dust. Next week, I’ll be hiring the neighbor boys to rake the leaves in the yard and do the last mowing of the season. I can’t do it all and I’m not about to let pride or having things done my way get in the way of my family’s sanity.

Also, it’s a good idea to remind yourself that people cannot read your mind. If you need help, you have to ask for it. If someone offers to bring your family dinner, you have to respond to the person who made the offer that you think this is a great idea and then provide them a date, time, and information about any food allergies. Now is not the time to be polite for the sake of being polite and decline the offer if you actually would like the help. If you are overwhelmed by a project at work and everything else going on at home, you need to tell your coworkers/boss that you are overwhelmed and ask for help to rectify the situation. Don’t just wish for someone to help you, ask for help if you need it.

Simplify tasks

I have an inbox for each of my children that is collecting stuff I want to keep or remember for later, but don’t have the time to process right this moment. For my daughter, I’ve been writing important milestones on notecards and tossing the notecards in the box to eventually be recorded in her baby book. “Rolled over unassisted first time 10/16″ is on one of the cards, for example. Yes, I could just write the information into the baby book now, but getting out and putting the book away each time I want to record something isn’t going to happen. Writing on a note card is more my speed. It’s all about the bare minimum right now.

On the television show Holmes on Homes, host Mike Holmes often points out that other people’s work has been done to “minimum code.” He means the contractor or plumber or whomever only did the work the law required, and nothing else. This phrase has made its way into our family’s regular dialog when we want to refer to doing something as easily as possible, and nothing more. Minimum code is now how we make lunch and dinner — a protein and a vegetable. Minimum code is how we take care of the car — put gas in it when the tank is low. Minimum code is how we maintain the house — put stuff away after using it, but let a cleaning crew take care of the rest. Be realistic about what you will do and simplify tasks to minimal code.

Hit pause

Now is not the time to become commissioner of the softball league or volunteer to spearhead the silent auction for the annual PTA fundraiser. It’s also not a good time to make a major life decision. Get through this period of exhaustion and then start adding new things to your life and contemplating your next move. This wave is temporary and you just need to ride it out.

Obviously, the advice doesn’t stop here. Please feel welcome to share valuable lessons you have learned from being ridiculously exhausted in the post’s comment section. I’m certainly looking for even more ways to reduce stress and streamline processes right now and I know there are many readers out there who could benefit as well.

Safe storage

You’ve uncluttered your home, and now you’re making sure everything you’re saving has its defined storage place. You’ll usually want to store the things you use most often in easy-to-reach places — but please make sure you’re also storing things safely. Here are some of the issues you’ll want to consider.

Medications

A recent study by Safe Kids found that parents know the importance of storing medications up and away from children — but emergency department visits for accidental poisonings are still increasing. What’s going on? Children are ingesting medicines found on the floor, in purses, in pillboxes, etc. They get into these medicines not just at their own homes, but also at the homes of grandparents or other relatives.

So when you’re looking at storage requirements, be sure to think about those pillboxes and purses. And, remember that pets can also get into medications.

For more information, check out the Up and Away website, which reminds us to put every medicine and vitamin container away every time you use it — even if you’re going to use it again in just a few hours.

Toxic materials

Most everyone knows to keep things like pesticides and antifreeze in places where children and pets can’t get to them. But other hazardous products might escape attention.

For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a safety alert warning about the dangers of single-load liquid laundry packets. These colorful packets look like toys to children, but they often contain chemicals that are dangerous if ingested — so they need to be kept safely away from kids.

If you have pets, please be aware of the materials that may be toxic to them, and store those items appropriately. The Pet Poison Hotline has a detailed list of pet toxins for cats and dogs, including items like chocolate, matches, nicotine, and mothballs. Since so many foods can be poisonous to pets, you’ll want to be sure you have a pet-proof garbage can, one that’s tucked away where pets can’t get into it, or pets that are trained to never raid the garbage can.

Furniture, televisions and other heavy items

Living in earthquake territory, I’ve learned about the perils of toppling bookcases and other heavy items. The Dare to Prepare website reminds readers to tightly secure everything that could injure someone if it falls — as well as any fragile items you would hate to see damaged. The site provides information on how to properly secure bookcases, filing cabinets, etc.

But, until recently, I hadn’t thought about how easily children can get crushed if a television or a piece of heavy furniture were to fall on them — which can happen when a child reaches for something like a remote or climbs onto the furniture to get to an attractive item. The Georgia Department of Public Health has written about these issues, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission has a Tip-Over Information Center. Safe Kids has a report providing extensive information about the TV tip-over problem and how to avoid it.

Plastic bags

Where do you store plastic bags? Do you dispose of dry cleaning bags immediately, in places where young children and pets can’t get hold of them? These bags can present a suffocation risk, so please handle them appropriately. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that you “tie plastic bags in a knot before storing them out of reach and out of sight” if you have children ages 6-12 months.

Being well organized also gives you the opportunity to be more safe in your home. Storing items securely and safely can help to prevent accidents.

What to do with old toys

The winter holidays are coming and, for those who celebrate and have kids, it typically means the acquisition of new toys. It’s great for the kids but becomes problematic when the new bounty is piled upon last year’s. And the year before that. Before long, you’ve got clutter on your hands. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to reduce the mess, keep things tidy, and, best of all, keep the kids happy about it. If you’re looking to part with used toys, the following are several ideas for what you can do with older, outgrown or otherwise unused toys.

Donate

It’s always nice to donate a toy to someone who could use it and there are plenty of options. Here are a few that should be available in many communities for very lightly used toys:

  1. Toy drives. To find a toy drive in your area, contact a local church or chamber of commerce. Organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts also organize drives, so seek them out in your neighborhood.
  2. S.A.F.E. Stuffed Animals for Emergencies. This organization delivers donated stuffed animals, toys, books and blankets to hospitals, children’s services, homeless shelters and hospitals across the country. You can find a chapter in your area here.
  3. Goodwill. Goodwill works to foster employment training opportunities for those it serves. The vast majority of funds brought in through its stores serves that purpose.
  4. Local fire department. Firefighters and EMTs often keep stuffed animals around to give to children they must transport to the hospital. Call the department in your area to see if they have such a program.

Repurpose Old Toys

Repurposing is where it gets fun. You and your child can let your creativity run wild and think of fun and useful ways to repurpose old toys. It can soften the blow that comes with giving something away. Often children can have an emotional bond to a toy they haven’t touched in years. Tricks like these allow them to keep that toy around (or a part of it at least).

Repurposing helps kids (and parents) realize that making something can be more fun than buying. It fosters a real sense of ownership and accomplishment. Finally, you’re keeping a hunk of plastic out of the landfill in many cases. Here are some great ideas for re-purposing old toys.

Website Apartment Therapy has gathered 10 fantastic projects for old toys from around the web. My favorites include:

  1. Plastic toy as planter. This fantastic tutorial shows you how to turn a plastic dinosaur into a cute planter.
  2. Wooden block wall hangings. My wife and I bought so many wooden blocks for my children. At 7 and 9 years old, they’ve lost interest. This quick how-to from snug.studio shows how to turn them into wall hangings for book bags, hats, jackets and more. Very clever.
  3. Animal head toy coat rack. A very clever and useful project from Make: Craft uses the heads of discarded plastic animals to make a good-looking coat rack.
  4. Tree ornaments. When I was very young, my mother cut the plastic animals that hung from the mobile above my crib and turned them into Christmas tree ornaments. They’re still among my favorites (wooden peg puzzle pieces also make great ornaments).

I know that kids aren’t thrilled about receiving clothes as gifts, but it happens. Even I have a T-shirt collection that drives my wife a little crazy. Last year, she had several made into the quilt pictured below that has graced my bed ever since.

Honor the Memory

We often fail to part with things not because of the item itself, but with the memory or emotion it represents. This is especially true as kids grow up. One way to honor the memory without incurring clutter is with a shadow box like these from Lawrence Frames. Add an item or two and discard the rest. The memory is intact, and the clutter isn’t.

I also love this wall decoration made from small, unused toys. What a nice way to let Jr. keep some of the items he loves without letting them form a space-hogging pile.

Sell

You won’t be able to sell all of your old toys, of course. But some vintage toys and collectibles can attract buyers. Before you list your little treasures online, you’ll need to take some photos. A good photo can make or break a sale. Here’s a fantastic tutorial on how to photograph your items for the likes of ebay. And, Thomas train sets are very popular this time of year for sale on Craigslist.

There’s a lot that can be done with old toys. If you can, have your kids take part in the process you choose. They’ll feel a part of the decision and enjoy seeing the toy’s new role.

Casa Kids: Space-saving children’s furniture for small-space living

The November 2012 issue of Dwell magazine (content not yet online) introduced me to Casa Kids, a Brooklyn-based children’s bedroom furniture company led by designer Roberto Gil. What amazes me about the furniture is how it is perfectly designed for small-space living. In addition to being very well made, almost all of the furniture also increases the function of a room — something that is so important in tight living quarters.

A few of my favorite space-saving pieces:

The Dumbo Loft Bed with Closet, which includes a desk and a closet in the first level and even has a hamper drawer for dirty clothes:

The Dumbo Storage Bed, which would significantly increase the amount of storage in any room. (Note, those are shelves on the front of the unit. There is a ladder that goes on the front left like in the picture above but that isn’t in this image.):

The Dumbo Folding Bunk Bed, which would be terrific in a room that serves as both an office and a guest room.:

You can check out the furniture online or in person at their showroom at 106 Ferris Street in the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Most of the large pieces of installed furniture hover in the $4,000 price range, but smaller items are significantly less expensive.

Study: Physical possessions and U.S. families

According to a recent study released by the UCLA Center on the Everyday Lives of Families, U.S. families have reached “material saturation.” The back areas of our homes (closets, basements, attics, cupboards) are so stuffed with possessions that our things spill out into our front areas (table tops, floors, furniture) and create more visible clutter than ever before in the history of the world. We’re no longer enjoying leisure activities and our children’s stuff is at the top of our clutter piles.

Published July 1, 2012, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century examined the homes of 32 southern California families. The visits took place from 2001 to 2005 and involved families with two parents who worked full-time and who had 2 or 3 children in the home (and at least one of those children was between 7 and 12 years old). The families represented multiple ethnic groups, neighborhoods, occupations, and income levels. Data was collected on each family through week-long in-person site visits, interviews, videos, and surveys.

Children

The study makes one point very clear — clutter and children have a strong correlation.

Our data suggests that each new child in a household leads to a 30 percent increase in a family’s inventory of possessions during the preschool years alone.

How is it that children lead to such a drastic increase (30 percent!) in possessions? The researchers provide two explanations: parental guilt because of working outside the home and generous grandparents.

The United States has 3.1 percent of the world’s children, yet U.S. families annually purchase more than 40 percent of the total toys consumed globally. Spilling out of children’s bedrooms and into living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, and parents’ bedrooms, the playthings of America’s kids are ubiquitous in middle-class homes. … A sense among working parents that they have less time to spend with their children may be spurring them to shower kids with toys to compensate for a perceived loss of quality time at home. Other relatives contribute to children’s material assemblages, including about $500 spent by grandparents each year on toys, clothes, books, and other gifts. Given the high divorce rate in the U.S., many children wind up getting gifts from multiple sets of grandparents.

Refrigerators

Another interesting correlation emerged during the study of the 32 families was that the number of items on a family’s refrigerator seemed to have tracked to how much stuff cluttered up the home. The more densely populated the front and sides of the refrigerator, the more crammed the house was with stuff.

… the refrigerator panel may function as a measuring stick for how intensively families are participating in consumer purchasing and how many household goods they retain over their lifetimes.

Imagined Leisure

U.S. families are no longer taking advantage of the bicycles in their garages, the hot tubs or swimming pools in their backyards, their swing sets, or their patio equipment. Items conducive to relaxation were purchased by the families in the study, but rarely or never used.

Leisure is indoors. Most families have cluttered home offices or desk spaces with computers that are visually stress inducing and intrude on indoor leisure time, reminding families of workplace commitments. The material residue of families’ vanishing leisure includes these overused home offices and rarely used back yard patios and play areas.

How Does It Happen?

In a recent interview in The New York Times, Anthony P. Graesch, an assistant professor of anthropology at Connecticut College and one of the researchers of the study, commented that he believes U.S. families are overwhelmed by their stuff. Stress levels are almost as high as the clutter.

In this interview, he provided more reasons for how he believes physical possessions have taken over U.S. families.

We can see how families are trying to cut down on the sheer number of trips to the store by buying bulk goods. How they can come to purchase more, and then not remember, and end up double purchasing.

In short, a family’s desire to save time ended up costing space and creating anxiety. Finally, he postulated families could reclaim their homes and stress levels if they became more comfortable with letting things go.

The inflow of objects is relentless. The outflow is not. We don’t have rituals, mechanisms, for getting rid of stuff.

Ask Unclutterer: How do you create resolutions when you’re coming up on a major life change?

Reader Amanda submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

How do you define goals or resolutions when you know your life is about to change dramatically? I am due with our firstborn, a son, in early 2012 (our due date is February 4th) … I don’t know how to plan my life around such a big addition. I would like to lose the baby weight (plus some), but I have no idea what that will look like with a baby in the mix. My friends and family are not goal-setters like I am, so I don’t know who to ask for help setting goals around the unknown. Any advice?

Congratulations on your upcoming new addition!

Since you enjoy setting goals and resolutions, I suggest you go ahead and make the ones you wish to make. You won’t stop being you when you become a parent (or when you experience any major life change), so go for it. Do some soul searching, make your lists, and create a 2012 Resolution Action Plan. Resolution enforcement police won’t come and arrest you if you don’t cross all your resolutions off your list by December 31, 2012. Worst case scenario, you won’t achieve any of your resolutions by the end of the year, and you’ll save yourself some time coming up with resolutions for 2013.

Plus, after your son is born and you become accustom to being a parent, you can always revise your resolutions. Think of it as a bonus opportunity — a goal-setter’s dream — to come up with a new plan in the middle of the year! Irrespective of parenting, anyone can revise resolutions and goals as necessary. Your 2012 Resolution Action Plan isn’t law, but rather a living document you can reassess as you wish.

The first two months of parenting, at least in my experience, are very similar to the first two months of a new dating relationship. You’re head-over-heels for this new person in your life and you withdraw from your friends and responsibilities for awhile while you get to know the new person. After two months, you start to enter back into a normal routine, but with this new person in the mix.

Since our son was healthy and a good sleeper, being a new parent was actually pretty easy until he learned to walk. I could strap him in a stroller and go for a run or put him in a carrier and go to the grocery store. When he started walking at 9-1/2 months is when life as a parent got more complicated for us. Luckily for you, most boys don’t walk until around their first birthday, so you could get 2-1/2 more months of the easy life than we did.

All this being said, every child is different and your son’s temperament, health, sleeping and eating patterns, and preferences will dictate how much time you can spend doing things not immediately related to caring for your son. Go ahead and make the resolutions, but don’t feel bad if you don’t achieve all of your goals by the end of 2012. You’ll at least have been loving and doting on your child instead, which is still a wonderful accomplishment.

Thank you, Amanda, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Once again, congratulations on your forthcoming adventure in parenting.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Ask Unclutterer: Preparing for a major life change

Reader Sarah submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My husband and I are hoping to adopt a newborn. We could therefore be in a position of bringing home a newborn with very short notice. On the other hand, we could be waiting years. Some people I’ve talked to in a support group have said that they set up full nurseries, but that doesn’t feel right to us. We want to be prepared, but we don’t want to keep a lot of baby stuff to make us sad that we’re still waiting. Do you have any advice for figuring out and balancing what baby stuff we should get in order to avoid panic if we get the call, but without having stuff around that would end up as physical and emotional clutter until the baby comes? Thanks.

Initially, this question might seem like its answer will only apply to people in your very specific situation. This is not the case. When anticipating any life change, we all go through something similar. We want to look forward to the event (graduating college, starting a new job, having a biological child, getting married), but we also don’t want to be consumed by it. We don’t want the “one day” stuff to clutter up the present, but we also want to be properly prepared.

When we were in your exact situation, we did not set up the nursery. Even after we were notified we had been chosen and we had his delivery date on the calendar, we did not set up the nursery. It wasn’t until after we brought our son home that his nursery was assembled.

For one of our many state-mandated house visits for our home study, we had to show we had a place for our son to sleep and basic supplies for him. We showed our social worker what we had purchased, and all of it was being stored at the back of our bedroom closet. We had a Pack ‘N Play with a bassinet attachment (still in the box), a set of sheets for the Pack ‘N Play (we washed them and had them stored in a shoe box), a stroller (also in its box), a baby carrier a friend loaned us, a six pack of BPA-free bottles (still in plastic), and a diaper bag (but no diapers or wipes). That is all. State law required we buy the car seat within 24 hours of picking up our son, the box had to be unopened, and the receipt had to be taped to the box. So, obviously, we didn’t have a car seat, though we would have had one if the state would have allowed us to. Since we didn’t know at the time if our child would be a boy or a girl, how large the child would be, or if he/she had any dietary restrictions or allergies, we didn’t have clothes, diapers, or formula.

When we picked up our son, he actually came with some clothes, diapers, wipes, and formula. He also had a blanket, a stuffed animal, a quilted book, and a photo album. As we were walking to the car, my husband remarked that he was unaware children came with so much stuff. Even people who have biological children will comment that they didn’t realize they would be leaving the hospital with so many things in addition to their kid, but everyone does. Manufacturers of all-things baby and different charities give tons of stuff to hospitals every year that are passed along to new parents.

We have no regrets about not setting up a nursery. That being said, if there comes a point when you really want to make up the nursery, go for it. There isn’t a right or wrong way. You do what is best for you. It took us two and a half years from when we started the adoption process to when our son was home, and I can’t imagine walking past a decorated room that entire time. (People who have biological children don’t typically set up a nursery before they’re pregnant, so I don’t think our decision was all that odd.) For other adopting parents, though, a decorated room is a source of hope and excitement. It’s what works for them, and that is great for them. You do whatever you have to do to keep your sanity through the waiting period.

I offer the same advice to anyone eagerly anticipating a life change — do what is best for YOU and helps YOU to keep your sanity while you wait. If the stuff associated with the big change is a distraction (as it was to us), keep it out of the way or don’t have it at all. There will always be a way to get it when you need it. Besides, if your adoption ends up being from out-of-state, you’ll have to spend at least two weeks in that state before being able to travel home. You can always order everything you’ll need while you’re hanging out in the hotel (best yet, get a room in an extended-stay hotel, you’ll want the dishwasher and refrigerator) and all of the nursery stuff will be delivered by the time you get home.

If you feel like you should do something while you wait, I recommend reading books on parenting and child development. Ask your friends and family members with children what authors they like, and read those works. I’m a fan of the Love and Logic series, the Healthy Sleep Habits books, and Laura Berk’s child development texts. You won’t have much time to read once the little one arrives, so check out the books now. Plus, reading a bunch of different books on parenting styles will give you an idea of what type of parent you want to be. Another thing you can do while you wait is interview pediatricians in your area. We did this and it was nice to be able to sit and talk with the doctors about their styles of treatment without the pressure of “we need a doctor right now” hanging over us. The first time we took our son to the doctor, we already felt comfortable with his doctor and knew all about her experiences working with adopted children.

Thank you, Sarah, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I helped you in some way, and good luck to you and your husband on your adoption.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Unitasker Wednesday: Tummy Tub Baby Bath

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

I’m starting to believe that kitchen and baby supplies account for 90 percent of the unitaskers in the world. Why, if it weren’t for cooking and outfitting little humans, there might not even be clutter! (Okay, so there still would be paper and clothing, but those might be more manageable if we could open our kitchen drawers and not be overrun with baby stuff.)

This week’s unitasker could be repurposed after your child weighed more than 35 pounds (that’s the ridiculous weight limit in the product description … and it’s ridiculous because any kid weighing 35 pounds can probably walk and talk and want nothing to do with sitting still in this thing), but so could a regular bucket that didn’t cost $35.50. As someone who simply put a thick towel in the bottom of the sink when she bathed her infant, I can only smile and laugh when I look at the Tummy Tub Baby Bath :

A $35 bucket … wow … someone out there is a genius at getting people to part with their money …

Ask Unclutterer: Prioritizing relationships after the birth of a baby

Reader Nichole submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My husband and I both have large families that we need to travel to see. We also have a large network of friends. We both value these relationships immensely and [try to] make them a priority in our lives. We are expecting in August, my husband is finishing up a degree now, and I am working full time and a doctoral student on the side. We also have 2 dogs that we love to pieces and we enjoy spending time at home with them.

Many of our friends and family members are celebrating big events this year — weddings, graduations, etc. They would also like to see us as much as possible before and after the baby is born. My question is do you have any tips to balance the needs and desires of ours and our loved ones to visit and spend quality time together without overrunning our weekends and our budget? I feel pulled in too many directions. We have stuff to do at home, have a very tight budget (that I manage well, but still), and enjoy being home together, we would like to see our local friends and leave time for impromptu summer BBQs and hikes, but the people and the events that also require our attention feel too important to miss.

I don’t know if this is an issue of priorities, budget, or too many close relationships (that has always been such a blessing in the past!), but it is stressing me out having to choose between my loved ones and feeling like there is not enough time left for myself. Any ideas?

The truth of the matter is that all of this will naturally work itself out, regardless of any advice I give. When you chose to have a baby you prioritized your growing family over your friends, and the changes that are to come will reflect this decision. You didn’t decide to get rid of your friends, but your relationships with them will be different — some friendships stronger, and others will weaken. So, instead of advice, I’ll explain what the next three years of your life will probably resemble (something I wish someone would have done for me):

In your last six weeks of pregnancy, you’re simply not going to be able to travel long distances to see friends and family members. Even if your doctor gives you permission to travel that close to your due date, you likely won’t have the desire. You won’t be sleeping well, you’ll constantly feel like you have to pee, and standing on your feet for hours on end at a wedding reception won’t be something you’ll want to do. You also might have a strong desire to nest and spend time getting the house ready for its newest addition. Plus, your little one could decide to arrive early and thwart all your last-minute plans. All of my friends who have been pregnant say the last few weeks of pregnancy are physically draining, and I believe them.

Then, your child will arrive and life will be hectic for two months. You may go out a couple times with local friends, just to prove to yourself you can do it, but mostly people will come to you during this time. If friends and family members offer to make you dinner or do your laundry or wash your dishes during this time, take them up on their offers. (You can return the favor at some point.) Your dogs will probably be very jealous that there is a baby getting all your attention, so be prepared to spend daily time with them to help keep their behavior under control.

If you and your child are healthy, things become easier during the three to nine month range in comparison to those first two months. Your social life will perk back up and traveling will be relatively simple. The Holidays might be a perfect time for you to travel to see family — but if you plan to go by airplane, be sure to check with your child’s doctor first. A long car ride might be better suited for your specific little one’s ears (and easier to transport all the baby gear).

The big hit to your social life will most likely happen when your child becomes mobile. Even though your child-less friends will say they love your baby, the novelty starts to wear off when your kid can break their stuff. Family members and friends with children seem to be less annoyed by toddlers, so your social life will probably veer toward these relationships. As a result of this period, I’ve certainly become closer to my parents, which is a wonderful benefit. Also, this time is so much fun with a little one because they start to be less like a blob and more interactive with vibrant personalities and crazy preferences.

There are babysitters you can pay to watch your child in the evenings and on weekends while you socialize with friends (ranging between $15 to $20 an hour where I live) — and I recommend having a date night with your husband at least two to four times each month and some alone time for yourself, too — but you probably won’t use a babysitter as much as you think you will. It’s not just a money issue, but a priority issue, especially if you both work outside the home and your child is in daycare for eight to 10 hours a day. Time with your child will be rare (maybe only two hours when he/she is awake each weekday), and passing up those awake moments can be difficult.

You’ll notice another shift in your social life around age two and three, when your child starts demanding play dates with specific friends from preschool and getting invited to birthday parties. You’ll befriend your child’s friends’ parents, and you’ll start to hang out all together. Your social life will be active again, but in a different way. Your family will also demand that all major holidays and vacations are spent with them (because they want to hang out with your cool kid), and they will be hurt if you don’t come to visit or have them to your place. (This is often less of an issue if your parents already have a slew of grandkids.) This also might be when you decide to have another child and start the cycle all over again.

Children are amazing, and you and your husband will love being parents, but your social life will change to reflect your new priorities. My advice is to jam pack your social schedule this May and June, ask friends and family to come to you July through October, make plans to see family at the Holidays in November and December, and then expect to see more of your local friends in January through May of next year. After May 2012, you’ll just have to follow your little one’s lead. Schedule daily time with your pets to keep their jealousy under control. And, most of all, enjoy the blessing of your larger family as much as possible.

Thank you, Nichole, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Check back in with me in a couple years and let me know how things worked out for you. Also, check the comments to see what other readers have to say and if their experiences are like what I described.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Ask Unclutterer: Receiving unwanted gifts

Reader Wendy submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

What do you do when you come from a culture where gifting is part of etiquette? For example, when my daughter turned one recently, my mother who happened to be visiting from our home country brought back TONS of clothing (whether the right size or not) and toys for my daughter. It was overwhelming. Most of the items are either not usable in the near future, or my daughter has no interest. I don’t have a problem going through and donating or re-gifting, but it takes so much of my time! Should I just talk to my mother although she may get upset? Thanks!

I know it can be frustrating to be bombarded with stuff you don’t need. And, the smaller your space, the larger that frustration can feel. As frustrated as you’re feeling, though, the last thing you should do is tell your mother that she can’t give your daughter gifts.

Showering grandchildren with gifts is one of the joys of being a grandparent. It is clear that your mother is thrilled to have your daughter in her life, and one of the ways she is expressing that is by giving her as many wonderful things as she can. As much as it feels to you like a burden, her generosity is a blessing. Not all kids have grandparents who show interest in them or give gifts or are alive.

Remember that it’s the act of gift giving that is important, not the gift itself. Tell your mother thank you for being so generous with your daughter. Accept the gifts, write her a note of appreciation (have your daughter do this when she learns to write), and then decide what you want to do with the items after your mom has returned home.

Keep the things your daughter wants or that you think she can use in the near future. Donate to charity clothing that won’t ever work for your daughter. Re-gift toys that weren’t a hit with her. If your mother purchased items in the states, see if you can return the unwanted items for ones your daughter can use. It does take time, but not more than a few hours, and it won’t damage your relationship with your mother.

Although you can’t tell your mother what to buy for her granddaughter, you can suggest to her what your daughter needs and wants. Two months before the next gift-giving holiday, let it slip into conversation if your daughter needs or wants specific items like a new bed or new shoes (and what size) or a membership to the local zoo or dance lessons. If she’s computer savvy, create an Amazon wishlist and let her know about it to help her brainstorm gift ideas.

Don’t pressure your mom into buying things your daughter needs or wants. Don’t give her a guilt trip or hint in any way that you have been disappointed with gifts she has given in the past. Just let her know what your daughter could use, and then let it go. Whatever your mother decides to give is up to her, and her act of gift giving should be sincerely appreciated — irrespective of if you keep the gift or not.

As a final note, I want to point out that some of my son’s favorite things are gifts generous friends and family members gave to him that I never would have purchased or thought my son would have loved. Conversely, some things we put on his wishlist that we thought he would love, turned out to be total duds.

Thank you, Wendy, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Sitter information forms

When you leave your home, you may have a babysitter, pet-sitter, or house-sitter watch over your children, pets, or things. Completing an information sheet with important contact and vital data can keep you and the sitter organized and ready for anything.

You can print and fill out these forms exactly as they are, or use them as inspiration for creating your own.

Babysitter:

Pet-sitter:

House-sitter:

Sleek and streamlined diaper bags

Diaper bags — like purses and wallets — can be magnets for clutter. I speak from personal experience when I say that things go into them and rarely, if ever, come out. The smaller the bag, usually the easier it is to keep it clutter free and stuffed only with essentials.

I’m quite fond of the Pronto! Changing Station because it comes in fun, modern prints and it has a wrist strap for easy portability:

Small bags like this also can be slid into a larger bag, if you need food or blankets for a longer trip.

Fisher-Price makes a very similar product for about half the price, but without the wristlet and it is adorned with cartoon animals:

Both options are great for reducing the bulk and the clutter that plagues so many traditional diaper bags on the market.