Cleaning Tips and Tricks: Wash Less Dishes

Once upon a time, three little kids used a cup at breakfast, another at lunch, a third at dinner and then 47 more throughout the day whenever they needed something to drink.   By noon, their weary mother had an avalanche of dishes. By 5:00 p.m. the family was out of cups and the weary momma had to wash them. You see, she was a rather busy momma, homeschooling her kids, taking them to tromp through creeks, pinning cleaning tips and tricks from Pinterest that she never got around to using and accidentally becoming an assistant scout leader.  She had no time for all these dishes.

So she invented the “My Cup Today” system and has been using it successfully for at least two years. She can’t remember exactly when she made it but, for ages now, people have been coming to her home and remarking about how clever it is. In fact, she just made a lovely set for her friend Janice, who also prefers not to do dishes. She will now share with you, the easy 3-step process, so that you, too, can do less dishes.

How to Wash Less Dishes

  1. Take cardstock and trace a glass for each person in the family and write their name below their circle.
    my cup today tracemy cup today write names
  2. Laminate it.*
    best laminator ever
    *And now, a word from our sponsor. Well, actually, it’s an Amazon affiliate link. This awesome laminator  has gotten a workout in the Creekside house for the last two years and it’s still going strong [link is to the updated version]. Paired with Scotch Thermal Laminating Pouches, you will be ready to laminate schoolwork, important documents and possibly, one of the children.
    laminator and Scotch laminating sheets
  3. Put it on the kitchen counter and say to your kids, “Children, you may use one glass per day. When you’re not using your glass, it goes on the circle. Rinse your glass after you drink something, unless it is water.” (Or rinse it for them if they’re itty bitty.)
    My Cup Today system to reduce doing dishes

That’s it.

The laminated sheets wash easily, right in the sink, so clean up is simple.
my cup today laminated sheets wash up easily

If you want to be vey fancy, you could make these on your computer and print them out in pretty fonts on fancy paper that matches your kitchen decor.  You show off, you.

My Cup Today system

Follow the Clean the house! board on Pinterest. It’s full of awesome ideas that I totally am gonna use someday. What? I am!

Thank you to our sponsor, Brave Writer.

Solving the Stinky Laundry Problem

Guess what? I just solved my stinky washing machine problem.

“Um, isn’t this a homeschooling blog?”,  you ask.

“Yes, but we are on Spring Break. And my washer has been stinking, so today I decided to get to the bottom of this problem while the kids played ‘fort’ and video games in their pajamas all morning.”

So, I have a top-loading high-efficiency washer. You are supposed to clean it with a specific brand of tablet whenever a light comes on and tells you “Clean With XYZ Brand Tablets”.  Well, the problem with the tablets is…

  • (a) They are expensive.  And,
  • (b) They don’t sell them at the grocery stores or Target, so I have to go to Home Depot. For high-efficiency washing machine cleaning tablets. There is nothing efficient about that. And,
  • (c) Did I mention they’re expensive?

So, I figured since vinegar and baking soda clean everything else so well, why not see if they would clean my washer which was getting stinkier by the day and making my family’s clean clothes smell to the point of which even my children noticed (you know that is serious, if the kids even notice).

I poured the vinegar into the soap dispenser of the machine and also into the bottom of the basin.  I used about 2 cups total. Then I turned the washing machine on the “Clean Washer” setting.

After that cycle finished, I sprinkled baking soda around the bottom of the basin and ran a regular wash cycle with hot water. I used about a half a cup of baking soda.

And, guess what?  No more stinky clothes! No more stinky machine! It worked.

UPDATE: I’ve experimented with smaller amounts of vinegar and baking soda as well as putting them in together and running them on one “clean washer” cycle and it works just as well. I now use 1 cup of vinegar and 1/2 cup of baking soda, both poured into the basin together. 

And here’s a little trick I used to get the stinky smell out of the clean clothes without having to re-wash three loads of  “clean” laundry.  I took a wash cloth and sprinkled a few drops of tea tree essential oil on it and threw it in the dryer with a load of clothes. Took the smell right out. I refreshened the wash cloth with a few more drops for each load. The laundry didn’t smell like tea tree oil when it came out of the dryer but it didn’t smell stinky anymore either. It just smelled clean.  I experimented with lavender essential oil and that didn’t work. The clothes still smelled stinky. So tea tree oil is definitely the way to go.

And, now back to your regular homeschooling blog topics.  I’m off to put away our clean, non-stinky laundry.

Our Workbox System

I’ve decided to try workboxes again.  We haven’t been homeschooling long, still in our first year, but I keep thinking there has to be a better way to get organized.  I feel like I’m all over the place, looking for the math book and Firefly’s handwriting workbook every day, and even if he puts them back where they belong, nothing seems to be located in the same place.  This will be our third major re-organization, but each time it gets better and makes things easier.   As always, the first requirement is that our new system must be toddler-proof.  Here’s what I’ve come up with.  We’ll see how it goes for a while and I’ll update my blog and let you all know how it’s going in the future.

In Target stores, this is the R.E. (Room Essentials) Organize brand Large ShowOffs Box by Sterlite. Holds letter-size hanging files.

We have a new, hanging file type of workbox system in portable file  boxes.  The file boxes fit easily on our already existing shelves (Expedit from Ikea), they have handles on top so the kids can easily carry them to wherever they are working, and if Love Bug just can’t keep his cute, pudgy hands off of them, I can easily move them to a secret, undisclosed location.

It also enables me to easily carry them to my desk in another room where I fill them prior to the next school day.

Here is our former, short-lived workbox system.

Old workbox system. A bargain, the rack and boxes were purchased at a yardsale for $10. Unfortunately, they didn't work out as workboxes but are great toy bins for small cars, action figures, and apparently, rocks, as I discovered the other day.

The problem with this workbox rack and boxes were that (a) we had angled boxes, which did not fit some of our books, abacus, etc. and (b) Love Bug kept dumping them so we had to keep them behind the gate that was at the bottom of our stairs. Not terribly convenient. And I was carrying the whole heavy rack back and forth every night from my home office to refill the boxes, and then back to it’s place behind the baby gate. Yeah, that got old kinda fast.

So anyway, back to the NEW system (click on the images to make them larger).

Next to the workboxes, there are activities containers, which hold educational toys and games for each child.  This is their go-to place when I am working one on one with a sibling.  They can also choose to pull things out of their workboxes and make a go of it independently or use the computer for educational sites during these times.

If you’re reading about workboxes, you’re probably familiar with how they started.  Sue Patrick is the creator of the original Workbox system and author of the book by the same name.  If you ever get an opportunity to attend one of her workshops, I recommend it, because Sue has a lot of really great ideas not only about workboxes, but lots of other creative educational ways to make learning activities for kids.  And she has a great deal on Velcro dots on her website (and, no, I am not getting anything for saying that).

If you do a search on workboxes, you’ll find as many variations of workbox systems as there are homeschool blogs out there. Here’s how the rest of our system works. We’ve actually been using these task discs for some time now and they’ve worked well.

My master sheet of discs. Easy to find, so I don't have to sort through a pile. These attach to the front of each file folder. Tasks that don't involve paperwork, books or supplies are attached directly to the front of the workbox. Discs made with Microsoft clip art, then laminated, and cut with a 1.5 inch circle punch from the scrapbooking section at a craft store (Another addictive tool. I've worn out one and am on my second. Oh, the many uses of the circle punch.).

Coordinating supplies boxes hold pencils, scissors, glue stick, crayons, etc. They fit inside the front of the workbox when not in use. Available in Target stores.

I went ahead and made a workbox, an activity bin and a supplies case for my two year old, too because (a) I wanted all the workboxes to match and even though he isn’t doing school stuff yet, it would bother me if, a couple years down the road, Target stopped selling these boxes or changed the design or color. I’m OCD like that; and (b) When Love Bug starts digging through one his siblings’ stuff, I direct him to his own boxes, etc.

Supplies box, file folder and lid to workbox all fit with plenty of space for more. Larger books and other items go on the shelf next to the workbox.

Each child has their own colored name labels, which coordinate their workbox and supplies box and whatever else I can stick a laminated piece of cardstock with velcro dots to. (Have I mentioned that I am kinda crazy about my laminator and my velcro dots?)

I was inspired to re-organize and try the workboxes again by a couple of other blogs I’ve read lately. Check them out, they have some great information.

Peace Creek on the Prairie I got the idea for the “Look What I Did Today!” page and also putting some discs on the outside of the workbox here.  Thank you, Peace Creek Mom!

Heather at Blog, She Wrote.   Heather’s blog has a great update on how workboxes have worked for their family after using them for some time.  The comments that readers are left are interesting as well.  One thing that is mentioned here and other places over and over again is that workboxes can often be used to fill with busy work and seem to be more of a “school at home” approach rather than a flexible, meet-the-learning-needs-of-your-particular-child approach.

I can see how it would be easy to fill workboxes with busy work.  But who says you have to fill all the boxes/folders every day?  I only put the number of folders in the box that need to be done that day. If we are doing reading, math, science, handwriting and art on Monday, that’s what goes in the workbox.  On Tuesday, if we are only doing reading, math and Five in a Row, there’s only 3 folders that day.

So there you have it.  Workboxes, take two.  I’ll keep you posted.

***An update on our workboxes can be found here.  This includes a video of how our workbox system is organized.

Our Learning Room

Of course, the kids can and do learn all over the house, and beyond, but this is our main Learning Room.  The maps and calendar are hung up higher than child-friendly height, but since we have a toddler, it’s necessary.  The little desk in the corner is a great place to spread out a project.

Below, shelves of books, activities and toys.  Each child has a stack on the upper shelf of games or puzzles that highlight the skills they are working on currently.  I also keep a stack of handwriting and math things there that I can easily grab.  Toys are on the lower shelves for my toddler.

This cabinet holds our seasonal books and not much else right now, as Love Bug likes to empty it out. On top of the cabinet is our toad habitat as well as my spinning organizer, which holds the books and supplies we are using for the week, some basic office supplies for me and extra file folder games and crafts, if one of the kids asks for more to do. Our white board is mostly used to hang things that we are currently working on from magnets.

Below, a low table is the perfect place for me to leave something out for Love Bug to discover each day.  On this particular day, it was our Aqua Doodle mat with a small bowl of water and a paint brush.

Our Learning Room is the formal dining room of our house, but we’ve always used it for the kids.  It started as our playroom before being transformed, a bit at a time, into our Learning Room.  We’ve now dedicated a corner off of the kitchen for some toys and the rest are down in the basement.  I rotate the toys from the basement periodically with the toys that are not being played with upstairs.

Our New Art Room

We’ve had many spaces for art in our home, but having a very active toddler has compelled us to designate a room in our house just for art.  I believe that kids should be able to go and create whenever the mood strikes and have the supplies available to inspire them.  Unless they are under the age of 2 and in total destruction mode. You know who you are, Love Bug. Anyway, the Queen Bee especially loves to spend hours each day coloring, painting, gluing, cutting, etc.

We had many of our art supplies in our home office with a little table and kid-sized chairs. The Queen Bee’s art projects overflowed the little table onto my desk as well as The Husband’s on a daily basis. It was time to give her more space. With the resident in-laws recently vacating one of the room’s in our house, it was time to put my art room plans into action.

Here are the components of the art room.  First we have an easel set up with paper, paints and smock, ready to go at any time. Also, here is our table and roll of butcher paper.  As you can see this is an old folding table and they can do whatever they want to it, Mom won’t fuss about paint or glue getting all over it.

Next we have our drawers of markers, colored pencils, glue, extra paint brushes, etc. This is actually a c.d. storage system that I got at a garage sale for ten dollars.

I took photos of the contents of each drawer, laminated them and made a label on my labelmaker. I punched two holes in the top of each laminated photo and tied them to the drawer pulls with pretty ribbon.

In this corner we have shelves for paper, drawers for stickers, containers to stash extra smocks, and my favorite, our “candy jars” of fun stuff to glue onto other stuff.

Here’s a close up of the “candy jars”.  I saw this idea at the Children’s Museum of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia.  I plan to change out the items periodically, but for now we have feathers, flowers and leaves (I just bought a few sprigs of silk flowers at the craft store and snipped them off their fake stems), small beads, and ribbons and wrapping paper (I cut up various lengths of dollar bin ribbon. I also took wrapping paper and cut out circles that said “Happy” and “Birthday”.).

In the corner I have a comfy glider and foot stool for myself.  When I’m not doing art with the kids, I can sit with my laptop and/or cup of coffee and…

…enjoy the view.  We have a hummingbird feeder and plan to add several more feeders, especially over the winter months.