My Exercise In Decluttering

The amount of stuff that our small family has accumulated is absolutely astounding. We have a 2,200 square foot house (thats 12 rooms) thats just bursting with STUFF. We hope to list our home in 4-6 weeks. The amount of work we need to do before that is staggering, but it is possible. The neat freak inside of me (you should see my moms house) is coming out.

When I first got my condo and lived with my roommate our place was clean almost all the time! No pets and no kids certainly helped that. Somehow we managed to do the dishes and keep the trash picked up and for the most part everything had a place and stayed in that place…. Over the next 5 years or so things changed, a lot … My roomate moved out, I got a cat, then another, then I got married, then we got a dog, then we got a new roommate, then we got another dog then our condo had too much stuff and we had to move. :/ We moved and had several roommates in and out throughout the years, managed to get THREE more dogs and have a baby!

Our house, needs some help. Badly. I’ve read several sites on how to declutter and get organized and I’m actually slowly doing it myself! You should see how much stuff we’ve already given away and how many more boxes we still have to give away! I’ve found three things that are absolutely true in the times I’ve had to work at this.

1. Uninterrupted time is the best. 

If you have a toddler or people bugging you, its near impossible to get any real work done. I’ve mostly been working during nap time or when Ace has Mark. This next week we will all be out of the house a lot due to painting, but I’m hoping the following week to have even more baby free time.

3. The three or four box method WORKS. 

Depending on who you ask there are either three or four boxes you need. They change a little from list to list, but basically they are “Keep” “Get rid of” and “Other”. Sometimes they are “Keep” “Donate” “Trash”. For us there is generally “Keep”, which usually isn’t a box, but a place somewhere in the room, “Get rid of” for anything that isn’t staying in the house or isn’t trash, this goes in the garage for our friends to pick though before it goes to salvation army, and “Trash”.

Sometimes we do have an “other” box which is usually for things that need to be returned to someone, or need to go to a different room of the house.

4. Deal with all the boxes NOW! 

Last night I had a decluttring success. I went though the kitchen again. I already did back in November, but there was still more to purge! In a 20 minute sweep I had three boxes of stuff to donate and a big bag of trash. With Ace’s help I got the boxes and trash out to the garage before going to bed.

Last week I had a decluttering FAIL that is still sitting there. We started to go though all our clothes, putting keep clothes away, donate clothes in a box, and trash clothes in a bag. I had to leave to put Mark to bed. Those clothes are still sitting on the floor in our room, now next to a pile of dirty clothes. Decluttering isn’t much good if the clutter is now out of your dresser and on the floor! Every time I get the boxes dealt with right away it really makes a big difference. When I put it off even for a few minutes it gets put off for days!


I’ve found that a little inspiration each day can help a lot! For example, has a “Workspace of the Week.” It is clean, clear, organized workspace. It looks how I wish my whole house looks! Looking at other people’s sucsess really helps me get a vision of my own.

Also working in smalls sections really helps. Back in November I decided I was going to deep clean and organize the entire kitchen. I didn’t succeed, but because I worked in small sections I made lasting change. The most noticeable is the fire place.

Fire place - Before


I took all my old trophies and gave them to my Tae Kwon Do school. I scrubbed the entire fireplace. I went though Ace’s photography and found my most favorite non-personal pictures.  Then I went to the local grocery store and got it printed in a large size. I hung it on the fire place and rearranged some of the coolest bottles from our collection.

Fireplace - After


Though its not perfect, its certainly, much better than before! Not pictured is the new watering station I made for the dogs. I bought two matching stainless steel bowls and a waterproof mat. Much nicer than the mismatched plastic bowls on the fireplace.

I hope in the near future I can share more uncluttering success, but for now I must get back to work!


Mandatory Spay and Neuter Laws

Mandatory spay and neuter (MSN) laws are all the rage lately and for some reason many in the rescue community are getting behind them. Most of the time animal rescuers are very smart, researching what they do. That’s why thy save animals instead of breed them. They are smart and have hearts for the helpless in our society. Yet, for some reason they, and many others, seems to have skipped their research when it comes to mandatory spay and neuter. They also seem to have forgotten which country we live in.

It is very much a fact that spaying and neutering domestic cats and dogs reduces the pet population. People simply can’t stop nature! Dogs and cats are driven to make more dogs and cats, and when the time is right they will stop at nothing to do so! In fact, leaving your dog in-tact is a good way to lose him, as he will be driven to track down any in heat females he can smell. Dogs that have never gotten out of the yard will scale a 6 foot fence for a good opportunity to make puppies! Spaying and neutering in itself is highly recommend by about pretty much everyone and the benefits go on and on. All 5 of my dogs, including my purebred AKC registered Irish Wolfhound are spayed or neutered, along with my two cats. No puppies here unless they are rescued!

You would think because of this that mandatory spay and neuter laws would greatly reduce pet population then, since spaying and neutering works so well. But its not nearly that simple. First of all, the people who are not spaying and neutering their animals now are in one of three groups. Either they are a responsible breeder, that has good homes lined up for their animals, they are people that are already not following the licensing, vaccination, and anti-cruelty laws already in existence, or they would be open to spaying or neutering but do not have access to a vet or can not afford to get their animals spay or neutered.
In the united states, animal welfare laws are very very rarely enforced. It is a well known fact, even among the rescue community. Most of the time a not for profit group has to come in and do all the leg work while local police or animal control basically come along for the “bust.” Groups like the ASPCA or local humane societies will have to step in if anything is going to get done. The municipalities simply aren’t doing it. Putting another law on the books that won’t get enforced is not going to change a thing. The people with puppy mills will still have puppy mills, the people who just dont care about their dogs still wont care.  In fact even the ASPCA is against mandatory spay and neuter laws,
“The ASPCA is not aware of any credible evidence demonstrating a statistically significant enhancement in the reduction of shelter intake or euthanasia as a result of the implementation of a mandatory spay/neuter law.”
 They go on to say,
“[…] in at least one community that enacted an MSN law, fewer pets were subsequently licensed, likely due to owners’ reluctance to pay either the high fee for keeping an unaltered animal or the fee to have the pet altered (Office of Legislative Oversight, 1997).”
Wait, not only do MSN laws not work, but they actually hurt people and animals? Yep. Thats right. It has actually been shown that mandatory spay and neuter laws actually do damage in some communities. Owners that don’t want to spay or neuter, or can not afford it and don’t want to get caught, will forgo medical care (including vaccinations that help the pet population as a whole) to avoid getting caught or fined. Even veterinarians are against MSN laws because they don’t want people to avoid bringing their animals to the vet for other services. The American Veterinary Medical Association says,

” The AVMA does not support regulations or legislation mandating spay/neuter of privately owned, non-shelter dogs and cats. Although spaying and neutering helps control dog and cat populations, mandatory approaches may contribute to pet owners avoiding licensing, rabies vaccination and veterinary care for their pets, and may have other unintended consequences.”

These are not the only major groups that oppose mandatory spay and neuter laws. In addition to the the ASPCA, and the AVMA; No Kill Houston, the AKC, the NAIA, Best Friends Animal Society, and most large no- kill rescue groups oppose MSN laws.

There has been some good research done specifically into the cat over population problem, and it has been found that most domestic cats are spayed or neutered already. The problem lies with the stray and feral cat populations. MSN laws would actually divert resources away from trap-neuter-release programs that are badly needed. My own cat was a product of a lack TNR resources here in illinois. Not only were there no groups to help ta local women trap her ferals, but no groups were willing to take the cats either. So I came and helped with my own time and money taking four kittens. Ally Cat Allies has a fantastic document outlining all the issues with MSN and feral cat populations,

“MSN targets owners of pet cats in an effort to increase the spay/neuter rate—a pointless target given that 82% of pet cats are already neutered.”

In addition to medical care being withheld from animals and diverting resources away from TNR programs, mandatory spay and neuter laws also keep time and funds away from other places they could be better used. Such as, providing education on why it is important to spay and neuter (which has been shown to increase the amount of pets that are spayed/neutered)  and enforcing the laws that already exist. If we tracked down those breeding with out a license or those who are running puppy mills and shut them down there would be less impulse puppies available and eventually less given up to shelters (this is another issue for another day).

Mandatory Spay and Neuter laws are also unconstitutional. At this time in most of the United States animals are considered property (though that is changing in some places) and as long as I’m not hurting anyone I should be allowed to do what I want with my property. Property rights are incredibly important and almost always take precedent over any other issue at hand. Personally, this alone is a good enough reason not to have MSN laws, but I did the research on all the reasons anyway just to show the point that MSN laws don’t work!

Education always works better than legislation and this is just another example of that. If we want less pets, we need to provide people with low/no cost spay and neuter programs and educate them on the importance of spaying and neutering.

Here are the pages quoted and some other good MSN resources:

Please spay and neuter your pets!

The Dog Room (“How can you have so many dogs?”)

Off our kitchen is a family room. This room is not used as a family room at all, but as a dog room. We have 5 dogs and 5 crates for those dogs. Two of those crates are very very large (one being the largest commercially available)! We also have 3 large plastic bins of dog food, 5 main food bowls, 2 main water bowls and a plethora of back up bowls. In addition to all this we have several boxes of treats, grooming supplies, bandanas, and various dog stuff. It has always been most productive for us to have this in the kitchen, or near to the kitchen, as its where the dogs often are gated (because some of my rescues still mark in carpeted rooms). Now that we are going to be putting our home on the market, I needed to make the kitchen and family room look and act like a kitchen and family room. So, the dogs had to move.

Since Mark was born I never use the room designated as my office. Its a weird “bonus” room that is accessible though the master bedroom closet (yes, a little like Narnia)  or though a small staircase off the family room. Its over the garage and right against the roof, so its the coldest room in the house, not a good place for a baby. This being right off the former dog room is still close to the kitchen, but that room doesn’t really need to be staged as its a weird bonus room anyway. This past week I moved all the dog stuff up there giving me a chance to reorganize my dogs stuff.

People often ask me “How can you have so many dogs?” It may seem like a lot to many people, but its not really. The tech at my vet has nine to eleven dogs at any given time (she fosters). My agility instructor has about ten border collies. Even my aunt and uncle have four or five dogs. The key to owning so many dogs is being organized and having a good system. After working at a “Camp Bow Wow” location for almost a year in college, I realized how easy it is to take care of as many as 60 dogs if you had a good system in place. Making everything as streamlined as possible helps a lot.

Aiden, my Irish Wolfhound

Our yard is fenced so letting them go out is extreamly simple, they go out in the yard several times a day to go to the bathroom and play. Some days my 3 energetic dogs will happily play for hours in the yard, we dont have grass anymore… but they also don’t need walks! I often wonder how people only have one dog! Who wears out their dog if there is no other dog? When its time for the dogs to eat (twice a day, after the people eat breakfast, and after Mark goes to bed) I just fill up all the bowls at once putting the two big guys in their crates to eat, to avoid bloat. They are both breeds that are very prone to bloat (actually one of the biggest killers of Irish Wolfhounds). Resting after eating is a very easy way to prevent bloat, also leaving the food bowls on the floor, and not allowing the dog to have excessive amounts of water around meal time.  The three litte dogs eat pretty quick (despite their slow-eating bowls) so I just feed them all at the same time and hang out for the few minutes it takes for them to eat. Finding a food all the dogs could eat really helped keep things simple, they are currently eating Natural Balance limited ingredient diet: Salmon and sweet potato. So its just fill up 5 bowls, set them down, close two crates and done. Come back in a little bit to let the big dogs out of their crates and pick up all the bowls!

Really, on most days the actual “work” of owning 5 dogs is maybe 30 minutes. On monday nights I take Josie and Simon to do dog agility, and they love it. That takes a few hours out of my week, but then most of my training for those two is done for the week. The others I find 10 minutes here and there to work their basics, and I’m always doing little things with Waldo to get him better and better with food (he has a history of food agression, but has had months with no issues with people). Once every few weeks I give them all baths, thats about 2 hours of work. The hardest part of having 5 dogs is the cost, but we are always finding ways to lower that too. We buy bowls and crates at garage sales whenever we can and if we don’t need them we donate them to rescue groups. I do like to splurge on nice leashes from I LOVE using hemp leashes, they get softer with time and are durable, but Luther did manage to chew though Aiden’s first collar!

Sorry if this post was rambling, it took me 4 days to write, and I think I forgot the original point after a while!

Potty “Training”

I’m not a big fan of “Potty Training” in the traditional sense. Mark has been using the potty since 3 weeks old. Not even close to every time until recently, but the option was there and we used it as much as we could.

Everything is gradual with babies, walking, talking, eating…. everything except learning to use the toilet. That just seems off to me, and after doing research and reading I learned that it is “off”. Many places in the world people never diaper their baby, they learn starting from birth, the signs that a baby needs poop or pee and then hold their baby over a proper place to do it. Split pants are common in many of these places on babies and toddlers to help this. They are pants that when in a standing postion cover everything, but when in a squatting postion are open to allow a child to use the toilet.

In the US before disposable diapers were common it was normal to be mostly potty trained by 18 months or well before, but today things are way different. It is normal for kids to be in diapers till the age of 3. Kids need to show “signs of readiness” to use the potty. Some of these “signs” are kind of absurd. One from baby center  is “Has “dry” periods of at least two hours or during naps, which shows that his bladder muscles are developed enough to hold urine.” If babies did not have bladder control of some sort pee would just dribble out all day. Another is “Has words for urine and stool.” Mark already tells me he needs to go to the bathroom and has no words for it. Though one time he did say “pee pee” imitating me and I hope it sticks, but so far no luck.


Mark on his throne with his scepter at 6 months old.

After doing much research and just thinking about how I parent, it just seems to me, that going to the bathroom should be a regular thing, just like eating, walking, and talking. There is no reason to hold kids back from it and therefore make it a bigger deal than it is. So that is what we have done, and are doing.

When it seems like Mark needs to go potty, I take him. Until recently, I had a very hard time knowing when that was, which is why traditional E.C. (Elimination Communication) didn’t work out so well for us. We had our peak just shy of 10 months old. Mark was always pooping in the potty and peeing in it several times a day. Then we went on a trip… and that all sort of fell apart and then we got home and he started walking, which mad things even harder. So we stopped for a while and now have restarted with much more enthusiasm and commitment.

I feel like going to the bathroom should be just like all other parts of a babies life, slowly learning how it works, doing more and more with help, then eventually doing more and more on their own. Mark using the potty started with my observation, he would fuss, I would hold him over the potty, if he went I made a certain sound. Eventually that sound meant to him, “Hey now is a good time to go potty if you need to!” Before and after naps, after eating, and anytime his diaper was off, we would give him the opportunity to go, sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t, but going in his diaper wasn’t his only option. Going in the toilet was just a regular thing from day one.


Going potty before bed.

After our little break from about 10-13 months going potty looks a little different now. Mark being able to walk has a lot to do with it. If he needs to go, he will either go to the bathroom (where the little potty is now kept) or will grab his butt and cry. He will sit down and pee (he needs a little help sitting down) then try to wipe himself then, with help, dump the pee/poop in the toilet and flush it. He likes the routine. We take him to the potty whenever he wake ups, before and after meals, whenever we go, and whenever he signals that need to go by walking to the bathroom, or grabbing his butt.

At 15 months we have our ups and downs. Somedays Mark will use the potty about 90% of the time, even staying dry through his nap, but other days we don’t do nearly that well. Today so far he has pooped and peed in the potty once, and pooped on the floor once. Whenever he acts like he needs to go potty, or actually does (even if its “too late”) we take him to the potty. Every time. Its really working too. Even at my sisters house he ran to the bathroom to poop (but then he peed on the floor twice… ups and downs).  At home he is doing the best, and we often leave him naked from the waste down to facilitate going to the bathroom easily, if he is chilly we put on a pair of baby legs, or pants with nothing under them. We recently bought some underwear, mostly for him to wear when we have guests. Our plan is to just keep helping him get better and better, just like he’s slowly getting better and better at running, riding his train and stacking blocks.

Mark in his first pair of underwear.

Our Oregon Trail

Its really now beginning. We’ve been saying for well over 6 months now that we are moving to Oregon, but that we were waiting till after the holidays. Well, the holidays are over and we are now starting to rearrange our house for staging. Over the past month we have gone though most of our possessions in the basement and have a garage full of stuff we are giving away and piles of garbage (this is after already throwing out and giving away a lot). 

The big project now is cleaning out my “office” (a strange bonus room off the Master bedroom) to become the dog room, so that the kitchen and family room can actually function as intended, or at least look like they do to potential buyers. This actually will probably be finished by tomorrow as there really isn’t that much to do up there. Moving Aiden’s giant dog crate will be the hardest part…. I don’t even remember how to disassemble it! 

Our hope is to be have the downstairs painted by the end of next week and to have the house on the market by the end of the month… not sure if we will do it, but we will try. 

In the best case situation, someone will come to us in the spring and offer us at least what we paid for our house and be happy to close in 6-8 weeks. Then once the contract is signed we will fly to Portland to find housing and hopefully schedule a closing about a week after selling our house. I very much realize how extremely unlikely this is, but this would be my perfect scenario. 

Everyone ask’s us “Why do you want to move to Portland?” Some people are asking this in a curious way, just wondering what draws us there, but others ask in a guilting way, somehow attempting to imply that us moving away is just a way to hurt them. In fact the guilting way happens more than anything, and I’ve come to the point where I’m constantly defending my decision. I’ve now decided that I really don’t need to do that. To quote Ben Folds ‘Adelaide’, “Because I want to.” should be a good enough answer. Its still a somewhat free country right? 

For those of you that are still wondering why, here is a few of the reasons. First is the weather. For me this is a big draw, I do not like snow and I do not like heat. There is very little of either there. The winters are mild and rainy, but not rainy like it is here. Its a drizzly rain, not hours of downpour. It was watching “Little People, Big World” that originally drew me to the weather.  Second is the affordability of land in proximity to the city. We love both the city and the country and we want a piece of each. In Portland we can have that. You can live literally 20 minutes outside the city and have 5 acres for the same price as 60 or more miles outside of Chicago. The homes we are looking at are in the 200’s with 3-5 bedrooms on at least 5 acres and within 30minutes of Portland, where we will be starting a Tea Shop. Which brings me to third point, the culture. We love the culture, we love the open-mindedness and the friendliness. We love the hipsters!  I love the fact that skateboarding is still popular and there are quality skateparks everywhere. In short, its a great place to live and open our tea shop and eventually start a dog rescue. The business model Ace has come up with, can easily thrive in Portland and I believe our family can too.