6 Tips for Capturing Childhood With Your iPhone

At last count, my iPhone contained 8,755 photos. If I ever used Siri, I assume she’d insist, speech slurred, that I whittle that down to give her room to breathe before she could provide me with any assistance whatsoever. Sometimes I think the whole thing just might spontaneously burst into flames.

I am not a photographer. I am a mom with an iPhone. Obviously, the main subjects of my thousands of photos are my kids. A lot of them are total crap. Kids move fast, refuse to cooperate, and sometimes I just miss. But over the last several years I’ve honed my skills and the misses are fewer and far between. I’ve amassed a serious collection of images that I’m truly proud of using only my iPhone and this set of guidelines:

Be Quick!

Full disclosure: I am that mom who (provided the risk level is relatively low) snaps a photo before rescuing precariously perched toddlers. Many photo worthy moments happen in the blink of an eye. For that reason, I often open my camera from the lock screen, swiping up from the bottom right corner. Ain’t nobody got time for passcodes when babies start hugging each other and butterflies land on sticks and stuff.

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Light! Make it natural.

Good lighting is the difference between a photo that’s meh and totally stunning. The morning as light streams through windows and the last hour or so before the sun goes down are my favorite times of day to capture. Experiment with sun rays and silhouettes. Set the flash to off and keep it natural.

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Don’t zoom. Move closer.

Like with your actual body. The iphone is powerful, but not enough to take photos without degrading them when using the zoom feature.  Get in close and take shots that isolate something you want to remember; a grubby little hand full of freshly picked berries, baby toes peeking out under covers, portraits of sleeping faces.

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Speaking of moving, get low.

Kids are short. Generally, anyway. Get down on their level. Capturing them while in the space they occupy strengthens the image.

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Make it interesting. 

Sure, centered photos of your child smiling at the camera are great, but can become tiresome. I use the grid feature (you can enable it on the native camera by going into settings–>photos and camera then scrolling down and toggling it on) to follow the rule of thirds. Placing points of interest in the areas where the lines intersect draw the eye into the photo and make for an overall more appealing result. Shooting from unexpected angles is another way to enhance visual interest. Explore top down shots of lego building and lounging in the grass, or focus on wrinkly toes perched on the edge of the tub as the smiles blur in the background.

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Don’t over filter.

Filters are like the Jnco jeans of the photo world. They seemed fashionable enough then, but eventually become a foolish representation of their moment in time. Honestly, how you can hold in your hand this incredible tool that your ancestors could not even fathom, yet choose to manipulate an image until it looks like something your backed over with your car is baffling to me. I am in no way ANTI filter, but I know the photos which most closely resemble what the eye sees are the ones that will stand the test of time. When I first became an iphone owner, I was very heavy handed with the editing. Looking back, those photos haven’t kept my interest. Go easy. Stay authentic as a rule and break it occasionally.

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This post originally appeared on the blog at NotabliParent Company’s first product. 

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, Week 2: Books

Less Clutter, More Joy

We’re a family of book lovers and book hoarders. My daughter never wanted a blanket or stuffed animal in her crib as a baby. She wanted me to line the inside of her crib with board books. I’m an English teacher and writer. My partner is a writer and editor. We eat, sleep, and breathe books.

We dreaded week two of our family project inspired by home organization consultant Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo suggests stripping your book collection down to 30 books. That wasn’t going to happen in our home.

My partner and I both dream of a home library with books stacked from floor to ceiling, complete with a sliding ladder. The reality is we live in a small home and don’t have the room right now. We reasoned for the amount of money we pay for storage, we could buy books when we have the space down the road.

Kondo recommends taking every book in the home and placing them in a large pile on the floor. It’s an arduous task hauling heavy books to one spot, but it’s part of the process. Sort books into four categories: general (books read for pleasure), practical (reference, cookbooks), visual (photography, art), and magazines.

Pick up one book at a time. If you get a thrill of joy just by touching the book, keep it. If you don’t, donate it.

It’s difficult for Kondo’s clients to get rid of books they think they might read one day or books that once gave them great joy. “Sometime” means “never”, says Kondo. If you want to read a book in the future, you will go through the effort to borrow or buy it.

She argues we rarely read old books that once brought us joy again. “Books you have read have already been experienced and their content inside you, even if you don’t remember.” Only keep books that move you or bring you joy.

Not every book in our home brings us joy. There are some books we have to keep for work. We removed them from our home and brought them to work.

We all flat out refused to whittle our book collection down to 30 books, and here are three reasons why:

  1. There’s a direct correlation between books in the home and childhood literacy.
  2. Seeing a wall full of books brings us immense joy.

  3. We all use books for inspiration on multiple creative projects on a regular basis.

We did manage to remove 50% of the books from our home for other readers to discover and enjoy. Our daughter has a small bookshelf in her bedroom, and my partner and I placed our books on one wall of shelves in the living room.

We smile every time we look up at our bookshelves. Every book brings us joy. Books now have breathing room, and our library has room to grow.

We’ve rediscovered and revisited past loves and said goodbye to others. As designer Nicholas Burroughs says, “Minimalism is not a lack of something. It’s simply the perfect amount of something.”

You can read about week one (clothes) here.

Kids, Money and Allowance

The importance of teaching financial literacy to children cannot be overstated. Over at Good Men ProjectZechariah Newman wrote a revealing, useful post about kids and money. I agree with each of the seven money topics he thinks parents should discuss with their children: abundance, give, invest, debt, save, spend, perseverance.

I believe that the best way to teach financial literacy is through experience. That means giving kids an allowance. Vicki Hoefle [stag_icon icon=”twitter” url=”https://twitter.com/vickihoefle” size=”16px” new_window=”yes”] of Duct Tape Parenting has been my guide on this topic.

Vicki believes that there’s one goal behind an allowance: teaching children about money management. That includes saving, spending, and donating.

She doesn’t recommend using allowance as a reward, or to pay for chores. Giving money out for those reasons won’t necessarily teach kids how to manage it. And kids should be contributing around the house anyway.

Letting your kids choose how they spend or save their money is a key part of this approach. If they want to spend all their allowance on junk food and crummy toys, week after week, fine. It’s their money, their choice and eventually their lesson.

Over on PBS Newshour, Vicki writes:

“It’s also important to remember that you become a smart consumer by actually being a consumer. Initially, five-year-olds are not what anyone would call savvy. They get $5, they spend $5 — almost immediately. But by the time they are 10 and have practiced basic money management, they are much more thoughtful and educated consumers.”

A genius element of this approach comes into play when your kids nag you to buy stuff for them when you’re out shopping. All you do is repeat variations of “Did you bring your allowance?”  If they brought it and have enough money, then they can buy whatever they’re begging for. If not, sorry kid. I feel your pain, but already gave you the allowance.

In my house, we started following this practice two years ago. At first our four-year-old spent her allowance on small items like Pokemon cards and Legos. Now, two years later, our six-year old has learned to mostly save. (She currently has over $100.)

Even better, she almost never pleads for us to buy stuff when we’re grocery shopping or at a store.  It took some time, but this approach is now a family habit.

I will admit that this approach has backfired on me. Now that she has her own money, bribing her has become a lot harder. Can’t bribe her with Pokemon cards, for example, because she can buy her own.

A couple other tips from Vicki Hoefle:

  • The child should have a wallet for their allowance.
  • When they’re old enough, help them open a bank account.
  • Never, ever front them money if they forget their allowance when you’re out at a store.

There’s a lot more on Vicki’s blog, including how much to give your child every week.

Allowance: Don’t Wing It  (“In order for you to implement a successful system, you must first ask YOURSELF key questions about your family’s relationship with money.”)

Allowance: 15 Ways Kids Can Rock a Healthy Relationship with Money 

Here’s a podcast from Vicki on the subject.

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Girls Play Baseball: Lessons From Youtube

Girls can't play baseball? Hold it right there, grasshopper.
Girls can’t play baseball? Hold it right there, grasshopper.

 

A few days after Christmas, we slowly started relocating the gifts that remained under the tree to their proper resting places. Among the clothes, forsaken for noisier more exciting things, lay the baseball and glove given to my three year old daughter by her uncle. She had unwrapped it and accepted it graciously, if not enthusiastically, yet hadn’t touched it since.

“I don’t want this, Mama.”, she declared as she plopped it into my hands.

“Why not? Uncle Paul gave it to you. He’s the best.”

“I don’t want to play baseball. Girls don’t play baseball.”, she offered, matter-of-factly.

Here’s the thing. I don’t care how my kids suss out gender “norms”. It seems perfectly natural that there comes a point in each child’s life, when they begin to make delineations between themselves and the rest of the world. Having just started to wrap a rapidly developing brain around the fact that they are an individual, a being completely separate of their parents, there’s comfort in compartmentalizing what they observe. I just don’t want them to get lost in absolutes.

Without even bothering to argue, I ushered her over to the kitchen table.

“Come with me. Sit on my lap.”

As I sat the glove down alongside my computer, I pulled her up and typed “Mo’ne Davis” into youtube.

She watched quietly as the powerhouse of a teenage girl disproved that theory faster than the ball could fly.

After watching a few more, per her request, I asked, “So, do you still think girls don’t play baseball?”

“No. But I still don’t want to play it.”

That’s fine, little girl. So long as you know you can. I can live with that. And may your stubbornness serve you well.

Have you ever used Youtube to teach your kid a lesson? Any favorites that lay down the law?

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, Week 1: Clothes

Less Clutter, More Joy

There was a time in my life when I lived out of a suitcase. I lived in Italy for a year and carried only the bare necessities with me. It surprised me how easy it was for me to part with my material possessions and live with so little. Life felt simpler and more carefree.

When I returned to the United States, the amount of boxes I had to retrieve from storage felt daunting and overwhelming. It bothered me at first, but it wasn’t long before I surrounded myself again with tons of useless stuff.

Years later my partner and I moved in together and combined our belongings. This led to a packed garage, stuffed closets, and a $125/month storage unit. We recently decided it was time for a simpler lifestyle and drastic change.

I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up and recruited my family in a project to help create a more minimalist lifestyle in our home. Kondo is a bestselling author and world-renowned home organization specialist from Tokyo, Japan. She recommends decluttering the home by category, rather than by room in order to avoid reshuffling clutter to other spaces in your home.

The first category to focus on is clothing.

We’re a family of three. We’ve tried several systems to organize our clothes, yet none have stuck. Getting dressed for our six-year-old means emptying half the contents of her bureau onto the floor. Her closet looks like an exploded Laundromat. We can’t find items in our overcrowded closets. The family needed a once-in-a-lifetime purge.

My partner and I included our daughter in the process. We reasoned that our daughter will never learn how to tidy up if we don’t actively teach her how to do it. Rather than sorting through her clothes for her, we decided to involve her in the process and give her some autonomy in the decision-making, even if it meant she might decide to discard an item of clothing of hers that we love.

It started as a game. We let our daughter grab armfuls of clothing and throw them down the stairs. Kondo recommends removing every item of clothing from closets and dressers and bringing them into one room. It’s laborious to do this, but the task is important because it lets you visually see how many clothes you own.

Our daughter made signs for various clothing categories and placed them where she wanted to in the living room. Then the three of us sorted the clothes to the correct sections of the room. Kondo recommends sorting clothing by the following categories: tops, bottoms, clothes that should be hung, socks, underwear, bags, accessories, clothes for special events, and shoes.

Most people make the mistake of asking the following questions when sorting through clothes: Does it still fit? Do I have fond memories attached to this? Will I fit into it one day? Will I offend the giver of this item if I get rid of it? This is how you end up with 20 sweaters you don’t need.

Kondo recommends you only ask one question: Does this bring me joy? Reframing the question and going by intuition, rather than logic, helps one purge more clothing. The point is to only have clothes in your home that spark joy in you and create a more minimalist lifestyle.

We chose to create a sell, donate, and trash pile even though Kondo doesn’t recommend a sell pile since most of the time people don’t get the items out of their homes in a timely manner. Rather than sort through all of our clothes at once, we did it by family member.

My partner went first, so he could role model for our six-year-old. The six-year-old went next, as we worried she’d tire halfway through the project (she did). I sorted last since I have the most clothing in our home and knew I’d need more time.

Items that were difficult to part with included a custom-made tweed coat given to my partner from his deceased grandmother, the first leather jacket I purchased in high school, and superhero shirts that no longer fit our six-year-old. Our daughter broke down in tears at the thought of parting with these and said, “2015 is turning out to be a nightmare!”

We took photos of items that once brought us joy and were difficult to part with, so we could remember them. That helped.

We ended the day with three bags of trash, five bags to donate to Goodwill, and five bags to sell to used-clothing stores (we made $105.00). My partner and daughter parted with 30% of their clothing, and I managed to get rid of 45% of mine. We discovered that we suddenly had plenty of room in bureaus and closets once we returned our clothes to their proper rooms. And we could now say that every item of clothing we owned sparked joy for us.

Having less clothing in our home already makes our space tidier. It’s easier to locate clothing and stay on top of laundry. The six-year-old is still working on not emptying half the contents of her bureau onto the floor, but at least there’s less of a mess to clean up now.

You can learn more about our family’s home organization project here

Your Ultimate Snow Day

With the northeast poised to be slammed by the type of snow storm that clears grocery store shelves of everything from cartons of milk to decks of playing cards, it seems likely many kids are going to be home from school tomorrow whether they sleep with their pajamas inside out or not.

We know there’s a range of emotion that occurs when you’re staring down the barrel of being snowed in with children. Panic, excitement, and anxiety, followed by a mental inventory of toilet paper, alcohol, and hidden junk food stashes. So in an effort to take some of the work off your shoulders, we’ve scheduled your ultimate snow day. And if your kids argue about any of the plans, well, tell them you’re sorry but it’s on the list.

Night before preparations

  • Set bowls outside to catch the base for your sugar on snow
  • Put the cereal on the table and the milk on the lowest shelf for easy access and perhaps snag yourself a few extra moments of snow day “sleeping in”.
  • If your driveway is long, park at the end of it. Save yourself a few feet of necessary snow removal.

Morning Prep

  • In the event the cereal didn’t cut it, throw down a real snow day breakfast by whipping up these no frills pancakes, or pull out the bisquick. Out of eggs? No problem. Blow their minds by using snow. (WHAT?! It’s true. We learned it on the internet.) Two heaping tablespoons of it can replace 1 egg. Freshly fallen works best, which is great. You might be up to your eyeballs in it.
  • Challenge all participants to a winter gear round up. Capitalize on their inherent need to win and be fast while sparing yourself getting everyone dressed.

Outside

  • Sure, you could build a regular old snowman with a jaunty hat, carrot nose, and some rock buttons. Or you could be the house on the block that makes the rules by building one of these bad boys.
  • Drag your sleds to the nearest hill and bring along a serious shovel. How else do you plan to engineer an epic jump? (Pro tip: Bring some water if the snow is powdery.)
  • Fill spray bottles with water and food coloring. Turn the white canvas into winter graffiti. Don’t use just red. Unless you’re going for a look that’s more hunter/maniac chic.
  • Stage a snowball fight, or if you want to minimize the likelihood of tears, hang a cardboard target from a tree instead.

Are they asking to come in yet?

Any dissenters who aren’t old enough to stay outside alone? Haul some snow inside by the bucketful and fill the bathtub. Retrieve the sand toys you never got around to packing away properly anyway and let them have at it while you move on to warmer things.

Inside

  • Here’s the part of the day where you get all jedi mind trick. Do you want a clean house and happy entertained kids? Inform the crew that the house is about to become a movie theater. However, first that’s going to require a bit of organizing and cleaning up, for which they will earn (fake) money to be spent on the afternoon’s blockbuster. Pillows, blankets and cushions can transform the viewing area, and the craftier among the group can fashion tickets and signs. The cash they earn can pay the entrance fee and all the popcorn and hot chocolate they can eat.
  • Post movie, turn the theater into an ultimate fort for the evening’s board game competition.

Hopefully you’re well stocked on the essentials. And if they’re home longer than a day, remember if they’re old enough to walk, they’re old enough to shovel.

Need to Know: The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up

tidying-upLess Clutter, More Joy

Life clutters easily with two working parents and a young child. We toss around the word “systems” a lot in our home. The hall closet is messy again, so we need a new “system”. Towels aren’t getting hung up properly, so we need a better “system”. We need to plan a trip to IKEA to find a better home office storage “system”. And our “systems” often work – for a month or two.

We’re a fairly tidy family. We regularly weed through unused items to sell or donate. We do what we can to declutter our home, yet we’re stuck in a constant cycle of reorganizing and shuffling our belongings. This is why I didn’t hesitate to read Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up after three different couples raved about how it’s changed their lives to me within the same week. I decided to try the latest minimalist home organization trend for myself.

Marie Kondo is a bestselling author and home organization specialist from Tokyo, Japan. She’s spent decades perfecting the KonMari Method, her own personal system for decluttering homes and spaces. There’s a three-month waiting list for her services, and she boasts that clients who follow her method exactly never need her services again.

What makes Kondo’s method so different is that it is relentless in its process of weeding out clutter. The purpose of decluttering the home is to weed out all unused and unnecessary items until the only items left in one’s home are those that “spark joy.” It’s meant to be a once in a lifetime purging process that will cure your family’s clutter problems once and for all. Kondo claims the process can take up to six months to complete, but then clients never have to do it again.

Kondo says the main home organization mistake people make is focusing on what items to get rid of or throw away. Her method emphasizes what to keep by asking the question, “Does this bring me joy?” If it doesn’t, get rid of it. But it’s not always that easy. People have a hard time getting rid of things they can still use, items that hold information they might need one day, objects that hold emotional value, or things that are hard to obtain. Rational thought often makes it difficult for people to discard of items they no longer use that just sit in storage or clutter up space. Kondo recommends sticking to intuition and focusing on what currently brings you joy.

Another mistake people make is organizing room by room. All this does is reshuffle clutter around and create a revolving door of decluttering room by room. Kondo suggests focusing on categories instead. She recommends purging items in the following order: clothes, books, papers, miscellany, and mementos. By focusing on a specific category, people declutter every item in that category from their home at once, rather than shuffle it to another room.

Our family made a commitment at our last family meeting: to declutter once and for all and only surround ourselves with items that bring us joy. We know it means sacrificing some of our time the next few weeks. It means making tough decisions and letting go of items that have meant something to us in the past, but we’re ready for a more minimalist lifestyle. The first project we plan to tackle is our clothes. Kondo claims that “not every person you meet in life will become a close friend or lover.” The same can be said of the items we keep in our home. We’re ready to discard of past lovers and friends that once brought us joy or never brought us joy. You can follow us here on Parent Co. as we purge our way to joy each week and learn some decluttering tips along the way.